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Gambit Weekly Picasso, O'Keeffe and Others

Charles Barbier at LeMieux and Adele Badeaux and Wanda Boudreauxat Shooting Star through June

By D. Eric Bookhardt

Over the ages of art history, there is probably no one who has inspired more acclaim mingled with controversy than Pablo Picasso. Prodigal in all things, he was one of the great enigmas of the century. A Marxist who lived in palatial chateaus like a feudal lord, he was the first avant-garde painter to rake in megabucks from his art, dressed like a peasant all the while.

A fragile, dyslexic child who routinely flunked math, Picasso grew into a tough little macho man and master manipulator of the art market. Yet the shadow of his fragile, fearful childhood was never far below the surface of his machismo for most of his nearly century-long life. A tyrant who abused his family yet pampered his servants, Picasso embodied the best and the worst of the human spirit. He was, therefore, a paradox on par with his art, an object of fascination both in and beyond the art world.

At LeMieux Gallery, New Orleans artist Charles Barbier celebrates the enigmatic little Spaniard in Picasso v. O'Keeffe, a series of colorful painted scenes from the lives of two of the art world's thornier icons. And if his images of Georgia O'Keeffe are sometimes insightful, much of this revolves around Picasso nonetheless. Little Pablito demands center stage even now.

Rendered in Barbier's oddly caricaturish style, an approach almost like high-craft outsider art, images like Picasso, Child Prodigy manage to be fantastical yet emblematic. Here we see the young Pablo surrounded by some wildly exaggerated examples of his early work and, though far from factual, this does reflect Picasso's own notorious flair for embellishing the past.

Barbier captures Picasso's `demonically dynamic' machismo.

The well-scrubbed lad in the picture is a far cry from the scene portrayed in Picasso and the Female. Here the aging, bald -- yet demonically dynamic -- maestro stands before a large painting of a contorted female figure. A semi-nude woman behind him reminds us that Picasso's relations with the innumerable ladies in his life were often as convoluted as his images.

Barbier's take on Georgia O'Keeffe is similar in tone if more limited in scope. Bohemian Vogue, a surreal vision of the young O'Keeffe at home in Manhattan, conveys something of her dreamy essence. The same might be said for Middle-Aged Wisdom, in which her own rugged profile seems to almost merge with a New Mexico mountain range. But Barbier's earthy edge appears better suited to Picasso, an artist whose more visceral efforts like Guernica -- a shrieking, ground-zero view of the Spanish Civil War -- convey an incendiary sort of intensity. An intensity to which Barbier, a decorated Vietnam veteran, can no doubt relate.

Meanwhile, at Shooting Star on Baronne Street, Adele Badeaux takes a distinctly different approach. Over the years, Badeaux has developed her collage style into a seamless visionary medium in its own right, a surreal sort of social critique. And while her collaged images turn the symbols of technocracy inside out, this may only be a realistic reflection of consumer culture's shadow side. For instance, Redefining Normality is a hard-edged view of a high fashion babe in black whose elegant attire and high-tech accessories mainly serve to set off her flawless pallor. Behind her is a squalid scene of urban decay where a sign says "Please Don't Give to Beggars. They Cause Traffic Problems."

Wanda Boudreaux takes a more ethereal approach in abstract paintings where light, space, calligraphy and even botany somehow coalesce. The best reflect an elementalism seen in The Receptive, a visionary space where white light assumes shapes like graphic Sanskrit characters, a secret sign for Leda's swan, or maybe Zen drawings from unknown galaxies. Luminous orbs of pale white light are a recurring theme, and while it is unclear if they are solar, lunar or other, they do shed light on some interesting forms. It is a sinuous sort of radiance that is as reminiscent of the lyric mysticism of William Blake as is the more obviously abstract compositions of Kandinsky, among others in this vein.

Although such efforts are often deemed "formal," Boudreaux's view is actually closer to alchemical or mystical doctrines that regard light as an aspect of information, or consciousness. This is also seen in some watercolors by the late New Orleans artist-journalist Rebecca Bruns at the World Trade Center.

The images were mostly created in this city, although Bruns spent the last decade of her life in San Francisco. Most are abstract human figures, iconic and filled with light. In one, a luminous being holds a woman by the hands, pulling her upward from her spiraling stairway to heaven. An image done long before Bruns' own premature departure, this touches on the mysteries of art and consciousness as they arise from the void, the luminous infinity of the universe.

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