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Postcards From Plaquemines: Paintings and Drawings by Simon Gunning 

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James Barsness is an amazing painter, but his artistic vision is so quirky it's almost cryptic. In his show at Arthur Roger Gallery, the world's myths and religions are intricately woven into convoluted mashups that suggest a psychedelic cartoon version of the Gnostic Gospels or the Bhagavad Gita in works like Hanuman's Rescue, (pictured), where the Hindu monkey god occupies a compositional mosh pit with elephants and metaphysically suspect characters. If Barsness' bravura with paint draws you in, his perverse nihilism may creep you out, and while it's hard to fathom what he's doing, he does it very well. The only comparison for sheer weirdness is provided by Marcel Flisiuk's paintings at Barrister's. They also may creep you out, but at least he doesn't mess with religion — focusing instead on New Orleans as it appears to his peculiar Polish expat sensibilities. Imagine a Franz Kafka version of the French Quarter populated by golems and gremlins and you've got the general idea. For instance, Jammed, his vision of Vieux Carre streets clogged with blocky vehicles and zombie drivers, suggests a futuristic nightmare by a Creole Stanislaw Lem. And then there's his hallucinatory City of Eden painting of a dystopian New Orleans cityscape, a strangely complex work by an artist whose novel vision is more idiosyncratic than most.

  Back at Arthur Roger, Simon Gunning's paintings and drawings may look picturesque, but they also can withstand deeper scrutiny because he has mastered the rendering of how light interacts with local waters — and the life forms they engender. Throw in the massive, sometimes moldering industries along the river and it's an exotic mix that pushes beyond the limits of literal realism. It is hard to think of any artists today who display a more lucid vision of the dynamics of sea and sun as they appear in this swampy coastal region. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Postcards From Plaquemines: Paintings and Drawings by Simon Gunning

New Paintings by James Barsness

Through June 25

Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., 522-1999;

New Paintings by Marcel Flisiuk

Through June 11

Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 710-4506;


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