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NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden (5:00 PM)
The NOLA Project presents this festive comedy that pits two of Shakespeare's most beloved characters in a war of words and wits
City Park’s Botanical Garden (5:00 PM)
New Orleanian songwriter performs at the weekly outdoor concert series
The Ogden Museum (6:00 PM)
Singer/ songwriter who has recently performed at Austin City Limits Music Festival and provided tour support for Raul Malo and the Wood Brothers
The Foundation Gallery (6:00 PM)
A screening of Maya's award-winning animation "Pareidolia" followed by a Q &A with the artist
Snug Harbor (8:00 & 10:00 PM)
The third evening of a chamber music festival that has something for classical aficionados and dilettantes alike
Hi Ho Lounge (9:00 PM)
Hip hop artist raps on St. Claude with his album Trap Hop
Circle Bar (10:00 PM)
Performing tracks from the new album 'What a World'
Mark Messersmith's Untamed Canvasses Capture the Vivacity and Violence of the North Florida Wilds
For Mark Messersmith, the North Florida swamps are a place of magic and mystery, a phosphorescent landscape just beyond the increasing sprawl of small towns in Wakulla and Leon counties.
Messersmith, a painter and Florida State University art professor, grew up in Missouri, but it wasn’t until he moved south in the 1980s that he found inspiration for the fiery paintings currently on view at the Ogden Museum. The exhibition, Maximalist and Naturalist, captures the tension between the creatures of the wild and the encroaching asphalt and industry, which Messersmith presents with all the chaos of a post-apocalyptic battle for survival.
“I grew up in St. Louis, up in the Midwest,” says Messersmith, “and growing up there, there was nothing very interesting with the landscape that I even considered as a subject matter.”
“It wasn’t until I moved to Florida—the Southeast, Gulf Coast area—that I got real interested in those little pockets of animals and landscape that were still out there. In the Southeast you still get this feeling where you get the urban-ish world and those little remnants of natural landscapes sort of interacting and competing, or standing off against one another.”
North Florida is the original cracker country, a rough patch of real estate that folks have been trying to tame since the first settlers arrived in the late 18th century. Messersmith shows that these working class towns are still fighting back the wilds of the swamplands.
In his painting “Edge of Town,” there’s a late model sedan with flames shooting out from under the hood. Tied to the roof are carcasses of an alligator, a deer, and a brightly plumed bird, the bodies piled high. A log truck rumbles in the background, a fleet of black helicopters shine spotlights from above, and a pair of mad dogs race alongside the car.
The oversized canvas, like many of Messersmith’s works, is framed with painted wood, featuring more devil dogs carved across the top and a row of shadow boxes along the bottom containing small stuffed birds and other odds and ends. The framing reveals the multitude of Messersmith’s influences, from self-taught folk artists to medieval iconography.
“I always really, really liked three-dimensional folk art and the craziness of that, so some of that is certainly in the carvings,” says Messersmith. He appreciates the “unsophisticatedness” of gluing rhinestone and broken pieces of mirrors to his work to create an environment that extends beyond the painting.
“The art historians use the word ‘predella’ for the box across the bottom,” Messersmith says. “That’s referencing most of all the church altar pieces. You know, there’d be a big painting of some significant religious event on the wall, and then beneath that large painting might be a series of smaller paintings to more or less tell the tale.”
While the details of the paintings present plenty to ponder, the most striking aspect of Messersmith’s aesthetic is the contrast of colors. The glow from his paintings—whether emanating from the sun, the moon, a pair of headlights, or a raging fire—warms up the dim gallery like a 1970s black light poster on a dank basement wall.
Messersmith studies the light, and the dying of the light, in a series of smaller plein air paintings, thirty of which are lined up together on a single wall at the Ogden exhibition. For those paintings, Messersmith travels with a friend or three to St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Tallahassee.
“It’s a process I enjoy doing, just sitting and looking and recording the landscape,” he says. “And as the day and the sun change, it’s all kind of part of that.”
While Messersmith says he “doesn’t put much weight” in the plein air paintings, he acknowledges that the time in the swamps often provides subject matter for the larger works.
“One time I was down there and overhead, fairly low, was an osprey flying with a fish in its talons. It was flying like it was on a mission, it was making a bee-line, just whoosh, and a couple seconds later there was a bald eagle that was chasing after him,” he says.
That scene inspired "Southernaire 2," which features a violent mid-air clash, as an osprey and eagle fight over a lizard clutching a dragonfly between his teeth. The collision is backlit by a setting sun, casting orange rays through a bullet-riddled road sign on a bridge below.
In all of Messersmith’s work, the priority is place. His plein air landscapes and bird portraits render the wilderness and wildlife with a psychedelic clarity, while his larger canvases lean more toward psychosis. Even then, his scenes of predators and prey, of untamed towns and overgrown swamps, all capture the rough and rowdy spirit of North Florida.
“I guess every place is regional, but most places don’t really appreciate their own regionalism very much,” he says. “They’re always looking outside or so far afield they don’t really appreciate what’s in their own backyard.”
Maximalist and Naturalist is on view at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art through July 23.
Dead Huey Long, Emma Boyce, Ian Hoch, Sarah Esenwein, Ryan Sparks, Will Dilella, Chris Rinaldi, Lianna Patch, Phil Yiannopoulos, Cate Czarnecki, Jonas Griffin, Jennifer Abbot, Mary Kilpatrick, Elaina Patton, Mike Horst, Devin Bambrick, Katherine McGuire, Norris Ortolano, Joe Shriner
Ryan Sparks, Kerem Ozkan
Michael Weber, B.A.
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