Critics’ Picks

John Barnes, Jr., Canoe/Shotgun Hybrid, 2008, mixed media, 83 x 26 x 13".

John Barnes, Jr., Canoe/Shotgun Hybrid, 2008, mixed media, 83 x 26 x 13".

New Orleans

John Barnes Jr.

LeMieux Galleries
332 Julia Street
June 6–July 25, 2009

As the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, local artist John Barnes Jr. presents “Eschatology,” a dutiful reminder of the past and present struggles of New Orleans. Dozens of crudely hewn wooden structures are erected like totemic headstones around the gallery. These altars take various shapes: There are abstracted heads in the series “Hooded Lilliputian Gangster,” 2009, boats and houses within works like Canoe/Shotgun Hybrid, 2008, and in Inequity Loft Towers, 2009. Despite ranging in size from ten inches to six feet, they maintain one constant: monumentality. The structures are rough yet complex, featuring shoddy and often scorched wood riveted together and plastered with layers of paint.

The physical and conceptual climaxes of the show converge in the human-scaled Canoe/Shotgun Hybrid, whose towering husklike form confronts viewers with its evicted and abandoned state. Like other pieces in the show, graffitied text on an interior wall reveals sardonic sentiments: THAT BALD GUY TOLD ME THAT WE HAD 2 GO—a likely reference to Mayor Ray Nagin—with the dates of Katrina represented by the calendar page of August, nearby. This work, as well as others including Scorched Hood Fortress, 2009, the “Gangster” series, and Scorched Inequity Loft Towersm\, directly references poverty, crime, and institutional racism—all evocative of a volatile post-Katrina visual landscape still flush with instability and abandonment on many levels. While many artists and writers fear exploitation of disaster-related issues, there are those such as Barnes who impressively manage to engage an audience using a thorough and thoughtful reaction to what remains an ever-present reality for himself and countless others, ensuring that we never forget.