Dig Baton Rouge

Diverse, dark and funny


Walking through the Surreal Salon exhibition at Baton Rouge Gallery, it’s apparent that there’s a grittier edge to this year’s show. With 80 works spread across the gallery, the darker tones stand out – not to say there aren’t more light-hearted pieces like the a set of match books with portraits from the Wizard of Oz drawn on by Mike Bell, or a set of Amanda James’ “Partysquatches.” But a trend seems to come out with pieces like Keith Perelli’s “Constrictor” or a blade-adorned wooden shoe by Billy Pacak.

“It can’t be dark enough or funny enough for me,” Greg Escalante said with a chuckle.

Escalante is the juror for the sixth annual Surreal Salon, the Baton Rouge Gallery’s month long pop-surrealist and lowbrow art exhibition. As a co-founder of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine and Los Angeles’ Copro Nason Gallery, few people have been more involved with the rise of lowbrow, underground and pop-surrealist art.

“I’ve done this twice before and it is a little bit of work. You have to take it seriously and it’s a lot to look at,” Escalante said of being a juror for a show like Surreal Salon. “And then I always want to put more in than makes it in, but they only have room for so much. But once you make it through, it usually looks like a pretty good show.”

According to Jason Andreasen, Baton Rouge Gallery executive director, Escalante sent back “enough for three Baton Rouge Galleries.”

The two went back and forth until they whittled down the selection to 80 pieces by 58 artists representing 20 states. Last year the gallery hung 54 pieces.

“This is the most diverse show we’ve ever had,” Andreasen said. “It’s got video art, sculpture, woodworking, painting, photography, drawings on matchbooks, collage. There’s a painted turntable. There’s so much to look at, so much there that you can gravitate to and digest.”

On Jan. 25, the gallery will host The Surreal Salon Soiree, the blowout fête celebrating the exhibition and all its oddities. The party will feature a Candy Land-inspired installation by Elevator Projects and music by Cameron Kelly with headliner Debauche, the Russian Mafia Band, on the back lawn. And, as always, plenty of bizarre and extravagant costumes to fit in with the surrounding artwork.

Following a successful Soiree in 2013, Andreasen expressed anxiety over topping the fifth anniversary celebration; he said that year’s act, New Orleans Bingo! Show, was the perfect fit for the Soiree’s aesthetic.

But when faculty with LSU’s School of Art offered to put him in contact with Escalante, it “elicited the quickest response out of my mouth that I’ve ever experienced. Yeah!” Andreasen said. “I don’t know if there’s a better fit, I don’t know what we’ll do next year.”

This year’s exhibition also found the highest number of artist entrants at 180. Usually the gallery sees about 115 artists competing, Andreasen said.

“I feel like every year, for the most part, has been a step,” he said. “This is the first year we’ve actually hung it salon style, where you have pieces on top of pieces. I think in the past we may have done that in a corner, but not throughout the show. It’s diverse in its medium; I’m really proud of that. And you can see the reach the show is achieving.”

Among the pieces hanging in this year’s exhibition are two large light boxes created by Montgomery, Texas, artist Tracy Viser and his daughter Cassidy. The pieces build on band posters the two created for their company Groovy Killers on Acid, with “Black Light Box #1” centering on a ‘70s style sci-fi movie poster under black light – purples, blues and greens popping. The second piece “Action Packed” has a more action-comic feel with vibrant reds from an explosion.

“I’ve really studied that genre, the lowbrow art scene for years, and I love it,” Tracy Viser said. “Love it for a couple of reasons. A lot of the academic art that you see that’s in museums and high end galleries is very ‘intelligentsia.’ It’s something people have to sit there and look at and figure out if the guy who made it had any real talent or not. With the lowbrow art scene you get a little bit of both. There’s a cognitive level to the work, and there’s also a noticeable skill set. You can immediately see that the people have some skill.”

Viser, who operates the Woodlands Academy of Art with his wife, said he believes the openness of pop-surrealism will lend it longevity.

Escalante shared a similar sentiment by saying that pop surrealism can “have an edge to it, it can really mean a lot, but it can still look super beautiful.”

“Pop surrealism hasn’t taken over the art world or taken the art world by storm, but what it has gotten is a foothold and has gotten some respect,” Escalante said. “In the old days it was either one art movement or you weren’t there. Now there’s this pop surrealism thing that’s kind of separate and may last a long time.”

Surreal Salon Soiree

Baton Rouge Gallery

Jan. 25 • 7-11 p.m.

With music by Debauche and Cameron Kelly

Art installation by Elevator Projects

Advance tickets:

$17 in costume; $22 if not

Door tickets:

$20 in costume; $25 if not



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