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Martyrs and Vamps 

And now, for something different. Local art buffs may not know their names, but each is well known in his or her chosen field or region. Louis St. Lewis has over the years attained a degree of notoriety in the Carolinas, where he was born either in Charleston to a clan of dry-docked yacht-owning gentry, or else in North Carolina's rural hill country, depending on which bio one chooses to believe. Sean Yseult is also a North Carolinian, and in recent years a Big Easy resident. Perhaps best known for her musical exploits as the bassist with the band White Zombie, she was a co-founder of the local group Rock City Morgue.

Both went to art school together in North Carolina before embarking on their divergent paths, so this show, which features a number of collaborative works as well as individual pieces by each artist, is a reunion of sorts. Yseult's photography appears as backlit images in lightboxes framed with red velvet curtains, so there's a sense of theater, or old-time cinema, appropriate to her subjects: voluptuous odalisques posed like Sarah Bernhardt on tiger-skin rugs, or Ophelia-like maidens awash in seaweed.

St. Lewis excels in a series of smallish collages, a mix of pop and classical images cut up and sandwiched between sheets of Plexiglas. Touched up with paint and displayed in ornate frames, they have, thanks to their plexi layers, more gloss and depth than most collages. He's been at it for years; Andy Warhol once described him as "Hieronymous Bosch meets MTV." Maybe Max Ernst meets MTV might be a better description of his current work, which melds surrealist mystery with the pop pulsations of alternative rock. In his collaborations with Yseult, the same holds true, only more so.

Their Old Money (Who Bought Christy Kane?) features the head of a dapper dude like a youthful Arthur Rimbaud wearing a Civil War-era State of Louisiana $100 bank note with eye holes like a mask. He has painted red lips like vintage Mick Jagger and a flashy babe on his mind -- well, actually, on his forehead -- for there reclines a sultry blonde in a sun dress, framed by butterfly wings. Under Groucho Marx eyebrows, snow leopard blue eyes beam like lasers from his Confederate money mask, and it all conveys an uncanny mix of glamour, sex and antiquity appropriate to someone (St. Lewis) who once said he wanted to be an artist because of the freedom it bestowed. "A freedom known only to rock stars and Baptist preachers," he opined.

Windmills of Desire is similar, a trendy female head with classical Egyptian ornamental embellishment that turns out to be little blue pills rather than lapis. A fantastical flying machine is superimposed on her face, a mask of multilayered mythologies. Tears of the Magdalene is a kind of pop portrait of the "other" Mary, a sultry babe with Christ on her mind, actually a Byzantine Jesus on her forehead. There are also larger pieces by both artists, and it's all refreshingly unpretentious, great fun and very well done. Hopefully they'll do it again sometime.

Meanwhile, Arthur Roger hosts some paintings, drawings and prints by Paul Cadmus, a leading American artist of the 1930s whose life spanned most of 20th century. A master draftsman, he rendered men and women with equal facility, but his passion lay more with the former, as the drawings, rather sentimental and idealized male nudes, attest. His talent is evident in etchings such as Stewart's, 1934, a Greenwich Village cafeteria scene with garrulous patrons caught up in impassioned chatter and intrigue like an Elizabethan tavern scene in a Henry Fielding novel. His figures exude innuendo; even his women have a slightly lewd aura about them.

In these etchings -- as well as paintings such as The Lid, a 1990 allegory of temptation and damnation like a 1930s John McCrady concoction -- his tendency to the lurid is balanced with wry theatrics. Many of the drawings are more cloyingly effusive, however, a tad too gushingly epicene in tone (a tone only underscored by Greg Gorman's nearby black-and-white photos, male pin-ups that presume, unsuccessfully, to be something more). Even so, Cadmus deserves credit for being a true American original, and that compensates for a host of inconsistencies.

click to enlarge Louis St. Lewis' Tears of the Magdalene provides - a pop portrait of the "other Mary," a sultry babe with - Christ almost literally on her mind.
  • Louis St. Lewis' Tears of the Magdalene provides a pop portrait of the "other Mary," a sultry babe with Christ almost literally on her mind.
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Speaking of Through February, Strangers In Paradox: Works By Louis St. Lewis And Sean Yseult


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