Benjamin Booker, Baijun Chen, Gunner Dongieux, Helen Hawkins, Kane Huynh, Rosalie Smith
Jan 7, 2024
To New Yorkers I often describe New Orleans as the Island of the Lotus Eaters; a place where past and present slip together, where appeased by ambrosia we float buoyed in the temporal tide. This Big Easy condition is the reason many leave, to enter the jetstream of the big city rat race, to build a name in the city that never sleeps. Strangely, it’s the same condition that lures them back in. The city holds a power of self-preservation (what Ronnie Lamarque calls resilience) that lets what’s left linger, in a way that seems like you’ve never left.
Easy Apple lures in fresh eyes to the New Orleans arts scene, bridging the gap between New York and Nola. Each artist embodies an association with the city, as told through the lens of a homecoming curator.
In high school I’d ride from Franklin to NOCCA in my black Jeep, blaring Benjamin Booker’s debut album. Close to 10 years later, Booker is back from an extended hiatus living in Perth, Australia, drawing out familiar themes in paint on paper, in his first-ever art exhibition.
In high school, Kane Huynh was an iconic upperclassman painter a grade above me at Franklin and NOCCA. Now, she’s killing it in New York, with a massive upcoming group show at James Fuentes gallery, with paintings unfolding untold histories of trans women in colonial Vietnam.
Helen Hawkins and Rosalie Smith are new friends who’ve tread familiar yet inverted paths.
Hawkins went to NYU before stationing her figurative painting practice back home; literally, as we stand in her home studio; the only thing between us and a hidden passageway into her bedroom closet being her transcendental child’s pose painting. Smith spent nearly a decade making work in New Orleans before heading to Hunter in NYC for her MFA. Now, as Helen has invited me into her space as a curator, Rosalie has invited me into her practice as a collaborator, her unabashedly eccentric pedestals hoisting up my three Mardi Gras float heads. I, Gunner Dongieux, included three familiar faces, following the Mardi Gras World float production process, to tell a homespun tale of ambition and legacy. The triad of man, myth, and legend concludes with the tomb of Nicolas Cage in St. Louis Cemetery, inscribed with the latin maxim, Omnia Ab Uno, or Everything From One.
Baijun Chen, in service of this story, perhaps contributes towards an idea of home away from home. On a recent road trip with my dad to Laconia Bike Week we hit a last minute stop in Rhode Island. Baijun Chen, Dylan Matsuno, and Joshua Boulos opened their home doors to us, keeping Apartment 13 gallery open well beyond gallery open-hours (Baijun even offered me a mug of red wine). The forms in her paintings, described as a menagerie floating in space, tethered by some sort of gravity, mirror her works’ ability to web together the multiple figurative motifs across the exhibition, echoing thematic ironies and contradictions, complex schemas of humor, and the frail foundation of austerity.