“Carnival Craft,” NOLA Defender

By Cheryl Castjohn via NOLA Defender

Arthur Roger Gallery (434 Julia St.) seems to be pursuing the bigger picture with their fall exhibition.

Bruce Davenport, Jr., The Beast That Diego Built, 2013. Pen and marker on paper. 60 x 40 inches.

Bruce Davenport’s meticulously plotted Bruce Jr. Does the Parades involves ten gloriously large diagrams of revelers and marching bands from an aerial perspective, and seven specifically hung 11×14 details of Mardi Gras.

Each framed paper piece is a crisp 60×40 and they are hung in regimented order, like their subjects are arranged in marching band formation.  Davenport worked in marker and pen, but the resulting work feels like a reliquary document instead of a teenage notebook. Davenport takes the viewer through the stories of black New Orleanians by narrating the scenes in ballpoint pen.

The story is told through Mardi Gras, a yearly rite occurring like tree rings, of hardships and triumphs with their ripples and waves. The drawings themselves seem to vibrate, rows of musicians rhythmically offset, pulsating in bright primary colors. Thrown into the mix is running commentary, such as the first black marching band included in Rex in 1967, or a woman moved to her knees when she first saw St. Aug marching on Fat Tuesday in 1969.

The fine art comes through, as Davenport promises.  “Does the Parades” has a strong diaristic feel balanced with sobering dashes of post-Katrina documentation. The ball-point narration doesn’t over-explain, instead it takes on the distinctive shine of passion, even obsession.  His work has so much to say, hanging one on the wall might feel like having another person in the room. The work moves and speaks, entertains and breaks the fourth wall, reminding us that he sees us looking. You can’t look at more than one Bruce Jr. without adopting a goal to stay off his list of Jive Azz Things forever.  The game has indeed changed, as Davenport keeps telling us, and it feels personal in a good way.

Davenport Jr. can’t hide his love for New Orleans and for Carnival, and he doesn’t try. The work has a loving soul for people and traditions, and Davenport is the voice of it.  There is a conversation running in the background of all of the work, however revolving around money and power, and those who have it not.

Davenport wonders, “If the Pope can retire, why can’t Bruce Jr.?”  The bigger question looms like the heavy beam vestibule of the Arthur Roger Gallery:  How does the establishment keep us all marching in such straight lines if the city is too broke or unwilling, to keep its schools open?  There is a barrier that Davenport struggles to cross, like all the lines in his drawings.

In “Check Out My Greatness,” BAD II takes a day, a show, to celebrate crossing this imposing and silent barrier.  Davenport’s exuberance reads clearly, barely wandering into bragging territory. But it isn’t about swagger.

In one drawing Bruce Jr. notes that these are the same kind of drawings he used to do as a child. This work seems more about celebrating the survival of a childhood dream than about waving success in anyone’s face. And even so, being son of a village who brought up a great artist, New Orleans bears reminding that Bruce Jr. has successfully entered the world stage.

Davenport lists coverage his artwork has received, written on the sidewalk surrounding the Lafitte project where he grew up. The list includes Vivienne Westwood Magazine, Art in America, Art Forum, among others.