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Boomers in the Buff 

How real is real? Is what you see really what you get? And just how much depends on interpretation, anyway? In the art world, realism was an invention of the Renaissance, a time when realistic, optically correct perspective became the dominant painting style. Today, of course, anything goes, yet realism -- or, at least, realistic technique -- still fascinates. That much is evident in the work of three accomplished painters about town.

Of them, Robert Hausey is probably the best known. A veteran of the LSU art department for more than 30 years, Hausey has exhibited in this area for nearly that long, though none too frequently. His current show features mostly nudes, and if nudes are hardly news, the novelty here is that these are regular folks, boomers on the far side of 40 for the most part. Comfortable and well kept, with solid, sometimes exceptional bodies, there is nothing dramatic or romantic about them. Posed without props, their expressions are so matter-of-fact that they seem oddly out of context as nudes; imagine a bunch of yuppies at an Uptown watering hole suddenly without their finery, and you've got the general drift.

Margaret Hausey is a straight-up view of a solidly voluptuous middle-age woman wearing nothing but the sort of direct gaze one sees in passport photos. Her arms are folded in front of her, and rather than any quality of emotion, what stands out is the play of light on the silky surfaces of her body. This is true of the others as well. Hausey says his figures are "subjective representations ... interpretive without specific narration." That is, they tell no stories, hence they simply exist as what we see. Even so, the Renaissance artists he emulates often highlighted dress, armor or body structure over facial features for reasons of metaphysical or psychic emphasis, and Hausey quotes their methods. The contrast between their mug-shot expressions and their heroically lighted forms, between the lush brushwork and the noncommittal tone, makes for a technically admirable if curiously disorienting show.

Some parallels appear in the work of Mark Bradley-Shoup at Soren Christensen. As with Hausey, all is matter-of-fact, reduced to realistic essentials with little emotion and few details, only Shoup paints architecture rather than people. Strand Structure #2 is fairly typical, a 4-foot square painting of a spare, angular structure like a lifeguard station on an expanse of beach. Amid tan sand and a washed-out Prussian blue sky, the '60s-modern lines of the structure define the surrounding spaces. Its functionally minimal geometry speaks volumes about civilization and the buffers we place between ourselves and nature. Necessary Sculpture #8, a similarly minimal take on a water tower, conveys both connection and isolation, a contrast reminiscent of the existential paradoxes explored by Hausey, only here the light and brushwork are much more minimal. Spare, interesting stuff.

No less realistic in execution, yet far more extravagant in content, are Kate Samworth's paintings at the Academy. Paradoxical in a different way, Samworth employs a kind of dream realism. Where Hausey's and Shoup's images exude existential isolation, Samworth gives us a carnival of animals in such fantastical landscapes as 2% Chance or Rain, in which two elegant ladies in period attire pause to chat as they walk their pets, a miniature elephant and tiny rhino. Animal shaped topiaries dot the landscape, and the whole thing reflects an eerie scrambling of times, styles and sensibilities.

Reversal of Fortune lives up to its name as an imperious rooster in a sedan chair lords it over the downtrodden masses it surveys. And in 2010, desultory flamingoes stalk the desert sands amid an otherworldly nomad encampment as a solitary vulture perches atop a post. Birds appear frequently in Samworth's paintings, and a close reading of their content suggests a realm where genetic engineering has run amok, and the natural order has become hopelessly scrambled. An animal-rights and ecology advocate, Samworth uses paint to prod the imagination and illustrate what the future might hold if current tendencies prevail. A nicely painted elaboration of dream logic.

click to enlarge Robert Hausey says nudes such as this detail shot of Margaret Hausey are 'subjective representations ... interpretive without specific narration.'
  • Robert Hausey says nudes such as this detail shot of Margaret Hausey are 'subjective representations ... interpretive without specific narration.'
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