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Birds of a Feather 

Being an art critic probably sounds like a fairly genteel gig, and it mostly is, but sometimes there is just too much to do and too little time. Such is the case at the moment, with so many shows about to come down, especially on Magazine Street. Not all are earthshaking by any means, but some have thought-provoking points that ideally should be mentioned before they vanish from public view entirely. Take Lea Barton's collage paintings at Cole Pratt. These provoke at least mild spasms of cognitive cogitation mainly because they are so different from what this previously predictable Jackson, Miss., artist has done in the past. Yes, she's still into Southern womanhood, but the results are more exotic, multi-layered and maybe even multicultural, with echoes of black artists like Radcliffe Bailey, Alison Saar and Renee Stout. As I Recall is a pastiche of floral wallpaper in layers darkening like the varnish of the ages with pale blossoms and a hotcha mama in a mask reminiscent of Bellocq's photos of Storyville belles. Bars of sheet music overlay her face and torso hinting at the unseen presence of a piano man like Jellyroll Morton playing ragtime somewhere in the background, and there is a sense of ghosts " an effect evocatively conveyed in Queen of Twelfth Night. Similar images alternate with the dusky faces of Creole women peering from the portals of the past like pressed flowers turning up between the pages of antique books. Pale, Trova-like circles suggest twirling paper parasols, a delicate touch of the orient. More oriental Creole musings appear in Imposter, a series of lilac circles featuring Victorian women in roulette wheel patterns, or maybe more overlapping paper parasols, all unexpectedly framed by vintage L'il Abner cartoon strips around the edges. Somehow this works "—it's delicate, subtle and gives us more to look at, or into, than might be expected " a welcome surprise.

An easy stroll down the street to the gallery at Julie Neill Designs turns up more mystery women in Kat Thompson's paintings. So near, yet so far away in tone, the vibe here is edgy and expressionistic with thick paint like heavy makeup on the faces of Weimar-era flappers in Berlin. Fun stuff; you can almost see Kurt Weill's Three Penny Opera when you look at them. Next, there's the Carol Robinson Gallery where well-known Oxford, Miss., painter Jere Allen demonstrates his virtuoso flair for throwing paint around. With Allen, you always know to expect certain things. First, many of his paintings will be red. Second, women are a recurring theme. Third, certain of their parts will be clearly identifiable no matter how abstract the painting. Toy is a sleek, semi-abstract female nude on a glossy crimson field. She seems to be fondling a horse's head that, while heroically proportioned, is not connected to its body (though she seems too blissed out for it to have been left there by Don Corleone's guys). Her features are deftly painted in Peter Max rainbow colors, and it all seems somewhat fresh while recalling the vintage sexiness of the '60s somehow.

Further down Magazine, Auseklis Ozol's show at the Academy is noteworthy in a number of ways. Pretty and impressively painted overall, there is something uncanny about the shiny metallic objects that appear in some of his paintings. If you stand back a bit, they are so precise they could be in a Dutch baroque still life. But get right up close and they dissolve into colorful oozing blobs that, closely cropped, could pass for abstract expressionism. And then there's that pelican in his Apotheosis at Louisiana painting (see Art Recommended). I like pelicans because they usually look like pterodactyls, but when I saw this one I nearly saluted. Somehow Ozols has turned our loveably ungainly state bird into a profoundly patriotic icon of a Louisiana renaissance.

click to enlarge This close-up detail of Lea Barton's collage painting Queen of Twelfth Night reveals her elaborately textured and unusually multi-layered approach.
  • This close-up detail of Lea Barton's collage painting Queen of Twelfth Night reveals her elaborately textured and unusually multi-layered approach.


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Speaking of Through October, SOUTH: New Works By Lea Barton

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