Battered but Unbowed

New Orleans artists take to the road for a rebound

"The storm totally crippled the arts community," laments Jonathan Ferrara, an artist himself and the New Orleans gallerist who organized the show. He also returned to his Warehouse/Arts District building to find the roof gashed open, paintings trashed, and walls riddled from hurtling debris. "After Katrina, I found myself calling my artists just to see if they were still alive," Ferrara relates. "Most in this show had their homes and studios destroyed and an incredible amount of their work and equipment damaged. I wanted to get their voices out to the rest of the country. The fact is we have suffered a cultural exodus. Our galleries are just beginning to get back on line, but many have permanently closed. I don't know how many artists have decided to move on or are in limbo and unable to return."

With the hope of keeping the artists he represents in the public eye, Ferrara took his message — and show — on the road. He stopped in New York, Shreveport, Atlanta, and New Orleans before Miami. The exhibit has appeared in several incarnations (depending on the venue) and features a rotating cast of painters, sculptors, and photographers who helped make the once-bustling arts community in Crescent City thrive. "We have been out of the news cycle for months," Ferrara explains. "The majority of these artists are struggling to rebuild, and I felt this would be a great way to support them."

Ferrara is one of the artists whose work directly references the flooding that engulfed his city. In Over Topped #2, he created five horizontal canvas panels the width of a bread loaf, painted them blue, and arranged them cascading down a wall, inches apart from each other. At the top of each panel, thick driblets of sandy blue muck flow toward the bottom of the canvas, giving the impression of overflowing water.

PHOTOS BY charlie varley
The photo that graced the cover of Newsweek
The photo that graced the cover of Newsweek

Details

Through July 10
Steve Martin Studio, 66 NE 40th St, Miami; 305-576-9221

In her unusual ceramic, stoneware, tar paper, and wax pieces, Sidonie Villere addresses the lingering emotional effects and physical residue that have polluted New Orleans. Villere's Void pieces look like part desiccated vaginas, part imploding tissue boxes burnished in molasses-brown hues.

Miranda Lake's encaustic mixed-media works are among the most lighthearted and intricate pieces in the show. There's No Shame in Trying depicts what appears to be a Currier and Ives china moon floating in the center of the composition. Below it two kids wearing stockings, shorts pants, sweaters, and striped beanie caps play together. A strip of a map covers the lower section of the piece, and branches of red coral snake up either side. On the left, a large tern roosts atop the coral; arachnidlike seashells are scattered underneath.

"She has been truly remarkable," Ferrara says of Lake. "She never stopped making art. After Katrina, Miranda had to prepare for a show in New York in October and ended up heating up the encaustic she uses in her work on the hood of her car. It was pretty amazing," he beams.

As pesky Tropical Storm Alberto threatens to dump misery on his opening, Steve Martin clamps a shoe down on a windswept flyer that swirls near his door. It reads, "Hurricane Evacuation Route," so he staples it to an eight-by-four-foot wooden packing crate in front of his space — as a charm. "After Wilma, I had to use a chain saw to cut my way out of a friend's house," he mentions, squinting at the sky.

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