We all know that New Orleans is an absurd place to live. Naturally, we ask ourselves, “Why am I living here?” Almost in the same breath we find ourselves exclaiming, “I can’t imagine living anywhere else!” The imagery in this body of work embodies this conundrum.
The situation of our geography is at the heart of our absurd situation. In the show’s title piece, we find two hapless European colonizers hanging out at the very edge of the Delta…this is where it all begins…the very first of our kind coming to grips with the situation. “This land must be claimed?!” They bear the look of those who have come to the conclusion, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!”
Salvage Operation blurs the continuity of time. An old-timey deep-sea diver attempts to pick up the pieces at the very bottom of the Mississippi as a modern New Orleans looms in the background. There doesn’t appear to be much worth salvaging. The imagery for this piece was inspired by several sources…one is John M. Barry’s book Rising Tide. His depiction of engineer James Eads’ early attempts to understand and control the river inspired the deep-sea diver. Another source of inspiration is the story of the Battle of New Orleans. The battleground is just down the road from my house. One little tidbit about the history of the site kept sticking in my mind…at some point there was a movement to properly bury the dead British, but it became apparent that the river had totally carved away the land that contained their mass grave…the land and the bodies were gone. Of course, Katrina’s flood water is also an obvious reference in this piece, even though the river was not the source of the flooding. Ultimately, a goofy pelican triumphs above it all.
“The Call of the Alluvial Empire” was a pamphlet created by the Southern Alluvial Land Association in 1919. Its goal was to attract labor to the Mississippi delta. Its role as a piece of propaganda serving the interests of Mississippi plantation owners is described in Rising Tide. There’s been an influx of “fresh blood” to New Orleans since Katrina…my husband being one of the newcomers. His/our experience in traversing our new life together in the post-Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward landscape is another theme embedded in this new body of work…our particular spot here at the crook of the Mississippi River and the Industrial Canal keeps showing up in my imagery. Ultimately, The Call of the Alluvial Empire features a rich narrative that blurs the boundaries of time and interweaves personal history and local history.
GINA PHILLIPS is a mixed media, narrative artist who grew up in Kentucky and has lived in New Orleans since 1995. The imagery, stories and characters of both regions influence her work. She started her career as a painter, but over the years, has increasingly incorporated fabric and thread into her work. She begins a piece with a simple under-painting in acrylic paint on canvas or muslin…then finishes the piece by appliquéing fabric and thread on top. Phillips uses a communal gathering process to source her fabrics, as neighbors, friends, family often donate to her artistic process. Her sewn work hover between two and three dimensionality and often the backs of her pieces are as interesting as the front sides. The most common narrative characteristic that runs through her work is tragicomedy. The people and/or animals that tell the story often embody a magical realism.
Gina Phillips has a BFA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from Tulane University’s Newcomb College. Her work has been exhibited in galleries and museums across the country including Pepperdine University, Ballroom Marfa, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and most recently the 21c Museum in Louisville, KY. In addition, her work has been presented at numerous art fairs including PULSE LA, PULSE Miami, Texas Contemporary and VOLTA Basel. Phillips’ work has been featured in Art in America, The Times-Picayune and ARTNews, among others. She was selected as one of twenty-seven international artists featured in the Prospect.2 Biennial of Contemporary Art curated by Dan Cameron and her collection of fabric portraits “Friends and Neighbors” was exhibited at VOLTA8 as part of Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland. In 2014, Phillips' work was featured in a mid-career retrospective at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art entitled, “I Was Trying Hard to Think About Sweet Things.” Additionally, her work was shown in two solo exhibitions at Jonathan Ferrara Gallery and the 21c Museum in Louisville, KY. She is scheduled for a solo exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art in late-2015.
Her work is in numerous collections including University of Kentucky, Lexington; NASA; New Orleans Museum of Art; Ogden Museum of Southern Art; 21c Museum, KY; the Drake Hotel, Toronto; The Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation; Tulane University and House of Blues (various locations across US.); Josh Rechnitz, Thomas Coleman, Ellen and Cooper Manning, and the collection of Marilyn Oshman.