“Review: Now on view at Arthur Roger Gallery,” Gambit

Works by Willie Birch, Bruce Davenport, Whitfield Lovell and Gordon Parks

By D. Eric Bookhardt via bestofneworleans.com

Whitfield Lovell | You're My Thrill, 2004 | Charcoal on wood, bombshell casings | 54 x 36 1/2 x 14 inches

Whitfield Lovell | You’re My Thrill, 2004 | Charcoal on wood, bombshell casings | 54 x 36 1/2 x 14 inches

Black lives matter. All lives matter. Both statements are true, but it is astounding that we are still debating the meaning of those words. We accept equal rights in theory, but things don’t always play out that way on the streets. The past lingers paradoxically in the present, and in Whitfield Lovell’s haunting charcoal drawings on wood, images of African-Americans from old photographs appear to pose silent questions. In You’re My Thrill (pictured), a mid-century war veteran clutches a pistol as he sits in reverie amid a cluster of shell casings. Did he fight for America or for the promise of America? In Servilis, a group of black Victorian-era maids pose stiffly in dark uniforms behind taxidermed crows perched rigidly on pedestals. In America, a stoic black man in a suit seems to recede into the dark woodwork of a fence festooned with American flags. In these and other works, Lovell eloquently explores how America’s understanding of black identity remains a work in progress.

Willie Birch’s large-scale drawings explore the ephemera of daily life in his 7th Ward neighborhood via views of rusty door hinges, weathered facades, sneakers hanging from telephone wires and other prosaic details. Some seem bleak, but by rendering them in a respectful, evocative manner, Birch transforms long-neglected places and things into objects of contemplation that enable more lucid access to their deeper meaning. Nearby, Gordon Parks’ photographs of Muhammad Ali working out in the ring and hanging out with friends take us to an earlier and perhaps more hopeful time while reminding us of the sheer dynamism that the legendary boxer so inexorably conveyed. On the opposite wall, Bruce Davenport’s curiously hieroglyphiclike drawings feature whimsical views of Ali’s exploits in the ring rendered with the contrapuntal whimsy that characterize his well-known depictions of local high school marching bands.