By Doug MacCash via NOLA.com
Louisiana master Douglas Bourgeois‘ soul-satisfying paintings of pop stars and passionate music lovers may be the No. 1 crowd-pleaser at New Orleans’ international art festival, Prospect.3. The mini-retrospective of intimate, meticulous, more-or-less realistic oils are a traditional touchstone among the otherwise avant-garde exhibits at the Contemporary Arts Center.
Bourgeois, who hails from the small town of St. Amant between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, is like a Renaissance church painter, striving to depict scenes of religious ecstasy. But Bourgeois’ saints and martyrs are secular music stars, from Irma Thomas to Bobby Womack to a young Danish diva named Coco O., with an infectious dance tune called “Hey Love.”
That’s her, glancing coyly over her shoulder in Bourgeois’ 2013 painting “Double Holy Spirit Coco.” And those are a pair of Coco clones offering her spiritual support and solace from either side.
Bourgeois said that his father was the neighborhood sign painter, who used thick enamel to produce luxurious lettering in signs for church gatherings and auctions. As a kid, Bourgeois sometimes toyed with his dad’s brushes and paint. His lifelong love of dense shiny color comes through in his paintings, even though his brush strokes are sometimes as thin as eyelashes.
When Coco sings “Hey Love,” it sounds a lot like “halo,” which may be why Bourgeois chose to fill the sky above her with a glorious cloud of old-fashioned circular fluorescent light bulbs in pink, pale blue and white. He said he found the bulb image in the antique Sears catalog he calls his “visual bible.”
“I noticed those fluorescent fixtures, just the shape, that halo shape, like a UFO,” he said. “I still don’t know what that’s about; the luminosity of it. It’s a strange, mysterious object.”
Bourgeois came of age as an artist in the early 1980s. “Twilight High Yearbook” is one of his first breakout works. Compared to the minimalist and conceptual art experiments that had come before and the big, bold neo-expressionist painting trend that was making a splash in New York at the time, Bourgeois’ intimate narrative canvases seemed to be as far out as Pluto.
“I’d call them storytelling scenes,” he said of his paintings. “There are usually very few people, caught in a private moment or an awakening. People ask me what my style is. I say fairly realistic, but not really, like a dream.”
Within a decade, his dreamy paintings had made him a regional hero.
Birds are timeless symbols of spirits, so Bourgeois released a flock of them into Coco’s triple portrait. Most perch on the cloud of light bulbs. But a pair of red-winged blackbirds plunge through hovering crowns of thorns, dripping blood and signifying the penetrating passion at the heart of most love songs. As Coco puts it: “Hey Love, what’s going on in here? You brutalize my soul.”
Everyone gets Bourgeois’ paintings. Everyone knows that sweet magical, sensation when music sweeps us up like fall leaves and allows us to fly. Bourgeois, maybe better than anyone else anywhere, is able to capture that feeling on canvas. A version of his Irma Thomas portrait became the 2008 New Orleans Jazz and heritage Festival poster.
“It’s the description of how a song can reach you,” he said of his Coco portrait. “There’s a spiritual element to it. It’s a transformational experience. You do think it’s otherworldly.”
“In paintings,” he said, “you can’t put the lightening in a bottle, but it’s the next best thing.”
What: “Prospect.3: Notes for Now” is an art festival featuring 58 individual exhibits of works by artists from around the country and world, displayed in 18 museums and other sites in New Orleans. The artists were selected by Franklin Sirmans, the curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Prospect.3 also includes several other popup exhibits that were not selected by Sirmans. These scattered exhibits are called P.3+ or satellite exhibits.
When: The exhibits are on view Wednesdays through Sundays, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., through Jan. 25, 2015. The exhibit will be closed Nov. 27-28, Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1, 2015. University venues will have longer holiday hiatuses.
Admission: Admission to individual venues applies. Adult admission to the Contemporary Arts Center, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art and the New Orleans Museum of Art is $10. Louisiana residents receive free admission to NOMA on Wednesdays, the Ogden on Thursdays and the CAC on Sundays. Visit the Prospect.3 website.
Where: Prospect.3 official exhibits are located at the following sites, with satellite shows in nearby communities. Read on …
Ashé Cultural Arts Center, 1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. With works by Kerry James Marshall (USA).
AIA New Orleans Center for Design, 1000 St. Charles Ave. With works by Mary Ellen Carroll (USA).
City Park, 1 Palm Drive. With outdoor sculpture by Will Ryman (USA).
Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St. With works by Manal AlDowayan (Saudi Arabia), Firelei Báez, (Dominican Republic), Zarina Bhimji (Uganda), Douglas Bourgeois (Louisiana), Mohamed Bourouissa (Algeria), Thomas Joshua Cooper (USA), Charles Gaines (USA), Theaster Gates (USA), Pieter Hugo (South Africa), Yun-Fei Ji (China), Remy Jungerman (Suriname), Glenn Kaino (USA), Lucia Koch (Brazil), Sophie T. Lvoff (New Orleans), Pushpamala N. (India) with Clare Arni (Great Britain) and Joe Ray (USA), Analia Saban (Argentina), Lucien Smith (USA), Agus Suwage (Indonesia) and David Zink Yi (Peru).
Isaac Delgado Fine Arts Gallery, Delgado Community College, 615 City Park Ave. With works by Piero Golia (Italy) and Entang Wiharso (Indonesia).
Dillard University Art Gallery, Cook Fine Arts and Communication Center, 2601 Gentilly Blvd. With works by Terry Adkins (USA) and William Cordova (Peru).
The Exchange Gallery, Arts Council of New Orleans, 935 Gravier St. With works by Liu Ding (China), Lisa Sigal (USA) and Tavares Strachan (Bahamas).
Joan Mitchell Center Studios, 1000 N. Rampart St. With works by McArthur Binion (USA), “Los Jaichackers” — Julio Cesar Morales and Eamon Ore- Girón (Mexico and USA), Akosua Adoma Owusu (USA), and Hayal Pozanti (Turkey).
Longue Vue House and Gardens, 7 Bamboo Road. With works by Shigeru Ban (Japan), Camille Henrot (France) and Antonio Vega Macotela (Mexico).
May Gallery and Residency, 2839 N. Robertson St. With works by Tameka Norris (New Orleans) and Garrett Bradley (New Orleans).
The George and Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St. With works by Carrie Mae Weems (USA).
Newcomb Art Gallery, Woldenberg Art Center, Tulane University. With works by Monir Farmanfarmaian (Iran), Hew Locke (United Kingdom) and Ebony G. Patterson (Jamaica).
Note: Newcomb Gallery is on the Willow Street side of the Tulane University campus. Limited parking is available at the gallery. Two-hour parking is possible on nearby Audubon Boulevard.
The New Orleans African American Museum of Art, Culture and History, 1418 Gov. Nicholls St. With works by Zarouhie Abdalian (New Orleans).
New Orleans Museum of Art, 1 Collins Diboll Circle, City Park. With works by Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil), Frederick J. Brown (USA), Huguette Caland (Lebanon), Ed Clark (New Orleans), Andrea Fraser (USA), Paul Gauguin (France), Jeffrey Gibson (USA) and Alma Thomas (USA).
Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St. With works by Jean-Michel Basquiat (USA), Keith Calhoun (New Orleans), Chandra McCormick (New Orleans) and Herbert Singleton (New Orleans).
Tremé Market Branch Theater, 800 N. Claiborne Ave. With works by Gary Simmons (USA).
UNO St. Claude Gallery, 2429 St. Claude Ave. With works by The Propeller Group, featuring Phunam (Vietnam), Matt Lucero (USA), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (Vietnam) and Christopher Myers (USA).
Xavier University, 1 Drexel Drive. With works by Lonnie Holley (USA).
Attention P.3+ artists and art galleries: Share details, photos and videos of your exhibits at NOLA.com/arts. In addition to the 58 official Prospect.3 exhibits, the city will soon blossom with innumerable popup exhibits and events that fall into a category called P.3+. The satellite exhibitions, as they are also known, will be too numerous to cover in detail, but we’d like to list as many as possible.
If you’re having an event related to Prospect.3 and you want to invite our readers, please do so. Just register and create profile on NOLA.com and post details of your opening, a link to your gallery, photos and your opinion of the big art fest in the comment stream beneath the story. Here are some guidelines for posting comments.
Don’t be left out.