However it came to pass, the small exhibition of New Orleans Imagists now on display at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (running concurrently with the Roger Brown retrospective) is a gem. Included are several classic, exotically patterned figurative works by Robert Gordy, as well as some of Robert Warrens' zany domestic scenes and wavy-gravy landscapes like I Cried a River Over You, a cascading eruption of waves, fishes' tails and strangely twisted violations of most of the accepted laws of physics. The show also features a pair of interesting Fred Trenchard paintings from his enfant terrible period in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as some very surreal Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois landscapes from the 1980s and early 1990s. Despite the dates of the works, many of these artists continue their imagist evolution today, as do prominent Louisiana painters such as Keith Perelli and Francis Pavy, among others. It's an evolving approach with an obvious ongoing resonance.
The transition from New Orleans Imagists to Roger Brown: Southern Exposure is fluid and nearly seamless, yet there are differences. While much of the New Orleans work has a rather tropical feel, just as many Chicago Imagists' works had notable Central European overtones, much of Brown's own output is noteworthy for its sense of Americana, perhaps owing to his small-town Alabama roots. You see it in works like Gothic Stadium, a depiction of his old Opelika high school and stadium, with a frenzied ball game bathed in the radioactive glow of klieg lights; and in Honky Tonk Man, a silkscreen print of Alabama native Hank Williams looking true to his country music roots. In both, the essentials of the composition are reduced to bold forms and a kind of quilted patterning, a technique often employed by Durieux as well. Dr. Imperial's Tree of Knowledge, a depiction of a 1950s-modern Garden of Eden with the title in glowing neon over a stylized tree, suggests a suburban Elmer Gantry approach to a Sunday school teaching aid.
Older watercolors and drawings dating to Brown's childhood reveal not only his precocious talent, but also a consistent sense of style that served as a foundation for much of his later work. In that sense, he was clearly an artist from the start, someone whose education was not so much a career track as a process of revelation " of refining who, and what, he already was.