Allison Stewart is well known to Mobile art lovers, having shown her work at the Eichold Gallery and Space 301, among other venues. She recently completed work for a large one-person exhibit at Southeastern University of Louisiana in Hammond. The exhibit will be on view during June at the Contemporary Art Gallery on the university campus.“In addition to paintings on canvas, I will have two installations of drawings and large paintings on drafting film,” she says. “I’ve been experimenting with new materials and approaches and am looking forward to seeing the work installed.”
Stewart’s work in “Southern Abstraction” is titled “Bayou Haiku #2” and is one of the many pieces she completed in 2006 after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
“Two of those paintings, ‘Bayou Haiku #1’ and ‘Bayou Haiku #2,’ address the dilemma of living in an area where man and nature exist in uneasy and precarious balance,” Stewart says. “ ‘Bayou Haiku #1’ (not in the show) references a dying swamp, with browns and blacks and swirling gray waters filled with detritus.
“ ‘Bayou Haiku #2’ describes a recovering swamp full of verdant color and healthy with signs of new life. In the center is the crimson ‘heart’ of the swamp, with its mysterious and mystical properties. Both paintings address the constant flux of destruction and regeneration.”
“Bayou Haiku#2” is a diptych measuring 48 by 130 inches and was created using mixed media, including gesso, charcoal, acrylic, tar and oil glazes, according to the artist.
“I live one block from the Mississippi River and frequently walk along its levees,” Stewart says. “The life-giving and life-taking power of water has become my primary subject matter. Over the years I’ve been interested in the many problems involving our waterways, the loss of our wetlands and the measures that man has taken to accelerate that loss.”
The “Catalyst” exhibit addressed the problem in an eloquent way, according to Stewart.
“ ‘Southern Abstraction’ has a wider focus and includes more facets of living and working in the South,” she says. “I think we are a region of story-tellers, so narrative and metaphor play an important role in Southern art. I also believe that the South, and especially New Orleans, is a place for the senses.
“The intoxicating scent of night jasmine and chicory coffee roasting, the sound of ships’ horns on the river, the overgrowth and intensity of the colors of the azaleas and crepe myrtle all influence my artistic creation.”
Although there are many notable Southern abstract artists, Stewart thinks the explosion of abstraction occurred after World War II when the center of the art world moved from Paris to New York.
“To me the South could not have produced major movements like minimalism or conceptualism because we are too celebratory and too tied to the land,” she says. “We do not need lofty intellectual underpinnings to justify the art we make. Our art is often filled joy and quirkiness.
“I find that paintings made in the Northeast are often predominately gray and ponderous, while paintings in the Southwest reflect the colors of the sunset and wide open spaces.
“Southern art to me is about living close to our roots and celebrating each day. Southern artists and Southern writers share the same creative bed.”
Stewart says her primary influence has been the British artist William Turner, whose “passion for his craft as well as his fascination with weather and atmosphere, wind and water has inspired me for many years.”
She says the evolution of art in the South has been intriguing and exhilarating.
“Several years ago in New Orleans there was a group of figurative artists loosely called ‘Visionary Imagists,’ which included Douglas Bourgeois, Jacqueline Bishop and George Febres.
“Today there are a number of young artists along the St. Claude corridor in New Orleans doing interesting work in every medium including sound, video, computer-generated art and performance,” she says.
“The line between two- and three-dimensional art, between art and craft, and between high art and street art has been erased. Today anything goes. It’s very exciting!”
WHAT: “Today’s Visual Language: Southern Abstraction, A Fresh Look”
WHEN: through Sept. 16
WHERE: Mobile Museum of Art in Langan Park, west Mobile
NOTE: Exhibit is an overview of contemporary abstract art featuring work by 37 artists with ties in heritage or training to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia. Includes painting on canvas and paper, drawings on paper, glass, fiber/mixed media and collage.
CURATORS: Paul W. Richelson, Ph.D., chief curator for the Mobile Museum of Art; and Donan Klooz, curator of exhibitions.
ALSO ON VIEW: “Boxes & Their Makers,” through July 1; “The Heart of Echizen: Wood-Fired Works by Contemporary Masters,” through July 28; and “Masters of Graphic Art from the Collection of Gerald Swetsky,” through Sept. 24.
HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday
ADMISSION: $10 for adults, $6 for students
INFO: 251-208-5200 or www.mobilemuseumofart.com