In the 70-year journey that has taken him from the New Orleans housing project where he grew up to having his work exhibited in some of the more hallowed halls of the New York art world and back to New Orleans again, Willie Birch has always been outspoken. Even so, his current Arthur Roger Gallery show can seem very quiet. Unlike his earlier 7th Ward street scenes, there are no second lines, stoop sitters or funerals in these big black-and-white works on paper, only stark, empty vistas where ragged buildings and rickety fences initially suggest a social realist view of his hardscrabble neighborhood. But like a back street Pompeii, these scarred, unpopulated vistas have their own tales to tell, and if they lack local charm in the usual sense, they are not without dignity. Rendered with eloquent simplicity, they reveal through their subtle luminosity a resonant depth of presence. “It is what it is,” they seem to say, but like the area’s residents, there is clearly more to them than what is seen on the surface.
New Orleans area art fans flocked in to the Arthur Roger Gallery for the opening this weekend of “Southern Gothic: An Insider’s View by Willie Birch and Paintings, Drawings” and an exhibit of paintings, drawings and photographs by George Dureau.