Monday, April 19, 2021

Best In Show

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Eric Francis for the win

When the Shreveport Regional Art Council (SRAC) asked me to critique and judge more than 125 works for “Critical Mass” at Artspace, I simultaneously felt a sense of honor and dread. That’s a lot of imagery to absorb. However, I accepted and am so happy that I did. SRAC has a firm grasp on the importance of cultivating its community of artists. They also possess a true desire to connect the community with the larger art world. This is a rare civic blessing.

It’s impossible for me to speak about every work I viewed; however, here are some highlights from the show. I enjoyed the pop surrealist piece “Eden” by Erica Branch. I was impressed with its whimsy and the irresistible owl perched above the main character. Mark Burt’s needle-felted piece, “Local Honey,” was curious and left me wondering what world his unusual fiber creature inhabited. I was already familiar with the works of Joshua Chambers, which I greatly enjoy. His combinations of text, clean gradients and symbolic characters leave me pondering meaning and associations.

The visionary painting of Betsy Levels’ “The Expulsion” felt like a perfectly inspired piece of outsider art. It reminded me of some of the great self-taught artists I was exposed to growing up. The weight of family history surviving systemic oppression manifests itself in Debra Roberson’s “Cotton Field: The Overseer.” This important piece brought me to tears several times.

In the realm of abstract art, I paid special attention to the paintings of Ellen Soffer and Patrick Raffaelo. The tones and textures were well balanced and left me craving larger-scale works from both artists. I also appreciated seeing Diane Teeters working in a digital medium, which is as present-day as you can get. If you don’t already know about NFT’s and the impact digital art is having, buckle up folks, the future is about to get really weird.

Ultimately, after viewing all the pieces in this exhibition and speaking to a multitude of artists, I was struck by two particular talents: Jennifer Healy and Eric Francis. This decision was really difficult as to which one would get a “Best of Show.” Healy is a perfectly contemporary figurative painter, combining strains of realism and pop surrealism. Seriously, I cannot get enough of her work. Her palette, her figures and the mood are unmistakably cool. I can see Jennifer having a very successful career, and if you do not already own one of her pieces, get it together before you lose your chance.

However, my selection for best in show went to Francis for his painting “Song of Songs 1:5.” What a total joy this small piece is. The rendering of his subject emits power, pride, self-awareness and a regal aura. The balance of gold-and-black abstractions with attention to subtle touches in the portrait demonstrates a broad range of sensitivity. I personally think referring to Eric as a portrait artist is limiting. It is clear that this man is a painter. Period. And one of the best painters in Shreveport.

I look forward to seeing the body of work he creates for his solo show at Artspace. I am certain with the liberty to work on a larger scale, he will create a show everyone will be very proud of. Eric is a treasure of the community and its culture.

Shreveport is a community that truly appreciates its creativity. What a joy it was to discover the depth of passion that Shreveport has for its artists.

Gabriel Shaffer is an artist, muralist and writer who lives and works in New Orleans. He is also owner and curator of Mortal Machine Gallery, located in the French Quarter.

ON STANDS NOW!

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