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Among the Living 

Predictably unpredictable, No Dead Artists gives a peek into the city's emerging arts bohemia.

"Every year it's different, and every year it's the same," says Jonathan Ferrara of the annual No Dead Artists exhibit at his Jonathan Ferrara Gallery. Now in its seventh year, the original intent was to expose emerging artists to a wider public so they wouldn't have to wait until they were dead to gain recognition. Today, the intent remains the same even as the art and artists oscillate wildly from year to year. Predictably unpredictable, it reflects a cross-section of the emerging arts bohemia that operates just below the radar of the community at large.

Emerging artists are those whose names do not yet ring a bell with most art buffs much less the general public, and who as yet have no regular gallery affiliation. Which may sound marginal, but it's not; emerging artists are actually central to this city's identity as a place where creativity is "in the air," and where a home-grown aesthetic flourishes like cat's claw vines on ornate old homes. If established artists can find themselves in a comfortable rut, emerging artists make up their lives on a daily basis, and it is that spontaneous La Boheme lifestyle that gives this city its tantalizing aura of freedom so celebrated by visitors and residents alike.

That much said, a glance of the roster of artists inevitably prompts the question: Who are these people, anyway? It's hard to say, but a cursory glance at the few familiar names is enough to give some idea of the show's varied scope. For instance, Heather Weathers, while not yet a household commodity, is at least beginning to be known for ... well, let's just say she's beginning to be known. Painter, sculptor and performance artist, Weathers in many ways embodies the laissez-faire spontaneity of the local arts bohemia. Especially in performance pieces such as Sweet Meat, in which she created her own (minimal) wardrobe out of cuts of raw beef, modeled them like the latest Paris fashions, then cooked and served them to the audience. If that sounds kinky, it is, according to Weathers, all about gender issues.

"My work deals with the objectification of women," she says, drawing an analogy between feminine allure and the meat market. "You know, eating is very sensual, and for women it's especially important since so much of a woman's life revolves around that orifice." Indeed, one of her performance pieces dealt with bulimia, and another, How Do I Measure Up, featured photographs of her body bound in a measuring tape. She's also taken to making wallpaper from the imprint of her derriere in paint, which she recently enacted in a performance at the Waiting Room Gallery. But this, too, is rooted in social values. "I was reacting to the claustrophobia of living in New York -- in a packed subway, somebody's butt or crotch is always in your face," she says, explaining that her Ass Print Wallpaper was her way of transforming a mundane experience into something more aesthetic. A 30ish Metairie native who graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York, and divides her time between this city and the Big Apple, Weathers epitomizes the edgy spontaneity of this city's innovative emerging arts milieu.

More traditional, if no less colorful, is the art of Terrance Osborne. A New Orleans native pushing 30, Osborne is inspired by the city's back streets, the colorfully ramshackle homes and no less colorful inhabitants of the 'hood that he knows so well. Where cops and social scientists see crime and dysfunction, Osborne sees the whimsical rusticity that makes this city's low-income areas so much more charming than their equivalents elsewhere. A graduate of Xavier University who has been featured on MTV's The Real World series, Osborne employs a neo-fauve palette of luminously clashing colors to bathe his streetscapes in rich, tropical hues that seem to emanate from perpetually sun-drenched surfaces. Similarly, his subjects reflect the dreams and foibles of their innately whimsical humanity, which can be a tad sweet and even cartoonish, yet Osborne has near-perfect pitch when it comes to extracting the lyrical essence of this city's homeliest environments and their residents.

As dissimilar as they are, Osborne and Weathers are just two of the 28 artists in this diverse show, a group that was in turn culled from some 150 applicants. Ferrara is clearly pleased with the role No Dead Artists has played in the art community over the years. "It's been a breeding ground for important artists," he says, citing the example of Sandy Chism, whose shows have since been reviewed by Art in America, and of Michelle Elmore, who was given a major presentation in last year's Louisiana Open expo at the Contemporary Arts Center. "It's all about giving the artist a voice," says Ferrara, expressing evident satisfaction that it need no longer be a voice from beyond the grave.

click to enlarge Heather Weathers' performance-art piece, How Do I Measure Up, continues her look at the objectification of women.
  • Heather Weathers' performance-art piece, How Do I Measure Up, continues her look at the objectification of women.
click to enlarge Harriett Davis Cortez, Compensation; tile, nylon rope, velvet
  • Harriett Davis Cortez, Compensation; tile, nylon rope, velvet
click to enlarge Terrance Osborne, Grandma's AC; acrylic on canvas
  • Terrance Osborne, Grandma's AC; acrylic on canvas
click to enlarge Kelley Devine, Sexy Pig Lady; charcoal on paper
  • Kelley Devine, Sexy Pig Lady; charcoal on paper
click to enlarge Beth Krebs, And in My Heart, A Little Stone (detail); bronze, wire
  • Beth Krebs, And in My Heart, A Little Stone (detail); bronze, wire
click to enlarge Bob Compton, Faux Femme; silver gelatin print
  • Bob Compton, Faux Femme; silver gelatin print
click to enlarge Anji Jones, Rebirth
  • Anji Jones, Rebirth
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Speaking of 6 P.m. Saturday, April 6 (reception); Exhibit Through April 23, No Dead Artists

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