Critic Doug MacCash assesses New Orleans art exhibits. The grades are wonderful, valid and whatever. Shirley Rabe Masinter’s exhibition of photo-realistic cityscapes titled “Made in Louisiana”, presented at LeMieux Galleries, 332 Julia St. is great.
Shirley Rabe Masinter’s exquisite exhibition “Made in Louisiana” is a hypnotic tour of the jagged edges of the New Orleans cityscape. The suite of ultra-realistic oil paintings, watercolors, and pencil drawings depict long-abandoned storefronts, bars, and other neighborhood businesses in visually lavish states of decay.
Masinter lovingly reproduces the nuances of peeling paint, loose clapboards, haphazard graffiti scribbles, and corrosion as if it were fields of wildflowers rather than a scourge on monuments. bygones such as St. Rock’s Market and Circle Grocery. There’s something inexplicably compelling about urban grit, and no one captures it better than Masinter.
There may be a whisper of nostalgia in the scenes of once vital, now moribund businesses, but Masinter treats his subjects with such cool, clinical observation that sentimentality is never part of the picture. In fact, the opposite is true.
Masinter’s images, which rarely include humans or much evidence of urban bustle, exude the inevitable entropy and loneliness of a ghost town. “Green Chair” is an example of a haunting exercise in color harmony and existential emptiness.
Masinter masterfully emphasizes the stillness of emptiness in his cityscapes by enclosing them with tight geometry. Look in the exhibit for a painting of a pink Marigny-style house bisected by a telephone pole that bears a sign reading “Narrow Street.”
Notice how the post divides the skylight so perfectly that none of the adjacent shapes seem able to move in either direction. It may be romantic 19th-century architecture on the surface, but it’s a rock-hard modernist composition underneath. Again and again, as you wander through the show, you’ll find blizzards of sumptuous detail frozen in the grip of crystal-like geometry.
Brush in hand, Masinter, 79, is both a scientist and a magician. She uses a camera and sketchbook to rigorously document the details of her street scenes, then hand-draws the compositions in her studio, taking liberties with color and design as she goes. Finally, she begins the laborious painting process, which can take weeks per canvas.
City dwellers may have glanced a thousand times at the same examples of architectural decadence and economic flux, but Masinter gives the scenes a new resonance. Although his paintings are, on the one hand, dead-end exercises in analysis, they also have a metaphysical quality that is difficult to define. In a world of artistic overkill, Masinter’s work reminds us that sometimes visual truth is stranger than visual fiction.
Prices are from $1,300 to $32,000. Gallery hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 504.522.5988. The exhibition continues until May 26.