"I paint and draw light," says Simon Gunning, and if that sounds almost biblical, his new Avery Island landscapes conjure a place so primeval as to evoke the birth of the world. There Gunning became fascinated by the saline swamp, a place he calls "lyrical and dangerous" for its "lurid arrangement" between the alligators and the thousands of egrets nesting in trees just above the water. He saw egrets dote on their chicks and was struck by the sense of tragedy that ensues when they sometimes fell from their nests to be instantly devoured by the gators lurking below. But the egrets know what they're doing: The alligators protect them from the rats and snakes that pose the gravest threats to their young in a classic case of "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Ecology works its wonders in mysterious ways.
Gunning sometimes harks to the 19th century landscape painters in his near-sacramental sense of light and dedication to the protean veracity of oil pigments. Such transcendentalist aspirations appear, if subtly, in works like Leap No. 2 (pictured), where opalescent whites arise from the viridian depths in a visual epiphany of grace. If this seems a stretch, it's not. Far from merely recreational retreats, swamps are essential for our survival. If Louisiana ever issues its own currency, each note could be inscribed with the motto "In Wetlands We Trust."
Mitch Gaudet's haunting Trinket expo of rusted steel and cast-glass sculptures looks very different, but also explores the ways in which context shapes value. Antiques and religious relics, like trinkets, may have few practical uses yet still seem charged with meaning. Angel features an armless, wingless angel rescued from a trash pile in front of a church after Hurricane Katrina. Dangling below it, a cascade of cast-glass wings evokes the poignancy of loss in its myriad manifestations in a meditation on how life is ever changing and nothing ever stays the same.
Avery Island: New Paintings by Simon Gunning
Trinket: Recent Sculpture by Mitchell Gaudet
Through Sept. 19
Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com