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Review: Conspiracies and Surrounding Circumstances

Families can be wonderful, but they also are mysterious. Complex truths often unfold slowly, especially where children are concerned. New Orleans plastic surgeon and artist Ruth Owens was born in Augsburg, Germany in 1959 to a young German woman and a black American GI, and her new paintings in the show Conspiracies at Barrister's Gallery were inspired by childhood memories and old photos.


Rendered in loose, expressionistic brushstrokes, most convey the warmth of her supportive home life, yet ironic contrasts abound. Eva and Skip, Augsburg, 1958, portrays her parents on a date. It is touching yet crackles with the 20th-century psychic intensity of German movies by maestros like Josef von Sternberg and, especially, Rainer Fassbinder.


In Eva, Ruth and Bubi, Augsburg, 1964, a confident blondish woman is walking a black dog with her cute, bronze-tone daughters - an ordinary scene rife with complex, resonant nuances. In Sarah, Fasching, 1980, a tawny little girl wearing a crown and a long white gown appears with two German-looking kids in a Bavarian carnival pageant, a scene as dreamlike as a fairy tale. Eva reappears as a ghostly sculpture with a pale, spindly hound in White Specter, Owens’ most direct reference to race as a haunting, pervasive presence, a deeply human paradox that even the most accomplished among us must navigate.


Landscapes can seem like inert expanses, but our impressions of them are deeply personal, shaped by our unique life experiences. In Max Seckel’s Surrounding Circumstances show, also at Barrister's Gallery, his paintings are buoyantly dystopian, like cross sections of New Orleans’ collective unconscious crammed with lost carnival beads, flood and hurricane chaos, litter left after mournfully joyous jazz funerals, religious processions and frenzied street dancing rendered in colorfully cluttered compositions that reflect the scatterbrained joys and sorrows of human history so obliquely you have to look twice. Seckel’s images, like Dana DeNoux’s and Karie Cooper’s colorfully dreamy canvases at the nearby UNO St. Claude Gallery, explore the secret life of landscapes to reveal the subjectively personal nature of our relationship with our environment.


Written by D. Eric Bookhardt