The French Quarter in New Orleans is a veritable mecca for the arts. There are more galleries, music clubs, and free-lance artists and musicians hawking their wares in the streets per square inch than any other city in America. So if you’re looking for a place to open an art gallery, beware the competition is thick. This did not discourage Martha’s Vineyard sculptor/artist/craftsman Steve Lohman and his partner Jenifer Strachan, an artist in her own right, however when they decided to do just that. In fact, their love for this city and its rich cultural heritage drew them straight to the heart of the Quarter where they recently opened the Big Bunny Fine Art Gallery.
Lohman is energetic, self-confident, and not at all worried about the competition…When asked about the crowded field, Steve responded, ”The more the merrier!” Many of the New Orleans galleries feature original works by masters including Rembrandt, Picasso, and Chagall as well as numerous top contemporary artists and thus attract “serious” collectors, i.e., those with sufficient disposable income to invest in expensive works of art. In that sense, locating the gallery in this environment attracts more visitors and actually makes good business sense.
For many years Lohman has specialized in creating sculptures from wire. His whimsical style is minimalist yet captures the essence of his subjects – be they still life or more animate subjects. A large variety of Steve’s wire sculptures are on display at the Big Bunny. Many are free-standing pieces in various scales from thin gauge wire table top models (typically 8 in. x 10 in.) through life-size (typically 7 ft x 4 ft) steel sculptures. Others are two-dimensional representations of figures that are inconspicuously mounted directly on the wall or a brushed metal plate to provide the appearance they are hovering in space. To further emphasize their presence, all the figures respond to the lightest touch which sets them in gentle vibratory motion that continues until the energy gradually dampens and the figure returns to rest.
In most cases the finished work was in its previous life a continuous strand of steel wire which was then transformed through Steve’s creative vision, skillful hand and a pair of pliers into a “living” sculpture. Larger works may require some pipe bending tools and a bit of arc welding. The finishing touch is a smooth powder coated enamel paint job applied by high-tech electroplating/baking process. Lohman is also an exquisite custom furniture builder (e.g., chairs, tables, lamps, beds) and has successfully crafted numerous pieces that while on the one hand are utilitarian, are on the other, legitimate works of fine art.
The subjects of Steve’s wire figures are diverse but feel well at home at their new gallery on Exchange Alley, off Conti St. in the heart of the French Quarter. They capture the spirit and soul of New Orleans – curvaceous women in repose, reading, dancing, or more suggestively erotic poses; musicians wailing a jazz riff from a club on Frenchmen St, pounding an R&B or Zydeco beat at the legendary New Orleans Rock and Bowl, or singing the blues on the street corner around the block on Royal St.; even his simple still life sculptures like a table and chair with a cup of steaming coffee seem to tell a story, e.g., what was going on before you happened upon it. Who was sitting at the table and why would they abandon a perfectly good latte? The answer was revealed a moment later when I happened upon another sculpture in which a woman was irresistibly gyrating to the hypnotically mellow sounds of a jazz guitarist.
United Airlines Sculptor in Residence
Steve’s smaller works are done between larger commissioned projects – sometimes in the middle of the night watching a favorite old movie on TV, sometimes on a long international air flight. The latter has proven a rather profitable way to pass the time as fellow passengers are fascinated to observe the creative process up close and personal often purchasing the work before landing. Attention passengers, in addition to the five in-flight movies, today’s flight to Singapore features Steve Lohman, United Airlines Sculptor in residence. Hmmm… may be on to something here. While not working in his studio in the sky or living room, Steve creates his sculptures in his studio on Martha’s Vineyard or his new work space in New Orleans.
Other Featured Artists
Big Bunny Fine Art Gallery also features works by Steve’s partner Jenifer Strachan who has developed a unique artistic voice through the use of mosaics. Jen has a number of her mosaics hanging – they are made from broken pieces of antique china plates. On her website (http://www.mvmosaics.com/) Jenifer talks about her technique:
“Right from the beginning, I enjoyed working with mosaics in the pique assiette tradition, which loosely translates to “stolen from dishes.” I found that I was able to express great detail in the medium and use it in a figurative way. Veins in leaves and butterfly wings could be illustrated in the interstices between shards. Flowers could have expressiveness. Birds and snakes could look right back at you with a certain crack of a plate.”
Much time is spent collecting, selecting, cutting and fitting the ceramic pieces. Jen uses the colors and patterns on the china as if she were mixing oils on a palette to create depth, texture, and patterns. Her works explore varied subjects from simple portraits (both real and mythical characters), animals (cats, frogs, rabbits, hummingbirds), still life scenes (tea cups) landscapes (rolling waves, autumn leaves, reflecting ponds) and images that depict a story (Original Sin). While at the gallery, we had an opportunity to watch her work and fortuitously observed her fitting the final pieces to her latest commissioned work: a portrait of two Siamese cats. We later saw two large mosaic works of Geisha girls she sold to local New Orleans collectors. You can see these and more of Jenifer’s mosaics on her web site.
A handful of other artists are also on display at the Big Bunny Gallery including Greg Giegucz, who uses pen and ink to create amazingly intricate hieroglyphic-style shaded drawings.
His subjects range from portraits of musical icons including Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Johnny Cash to detailed and imaginative cityscapes. Greg is a fixture in Jackson Square – we met him there last year and purchased two of his lithographs. So it was a pleasant surprise to find a number of his original pen and ink drawings for sale as well as some of his newer work that use water color and other interesting techniques at the Big Bunny. It turns out that Greg apprenticed to Steve Lohman many years ago and when we ran into Greg in Jackson Sq. last week he told us Steve taught him everything he knows. While clearly an exaggeration, it demonstrated Greg’s appreciation for Steve’s broad talent. You can see more of Greg’s amazing works at his web site: www.giegucz.com
So when in New Orleans, stop by the Big Bunny to see Steve and Jenifer and their excellent new gallery. Warning: Be sure to wear sandals or prepare to have your socks blown off. For a preview, check out Steve’s web site at www.lineartgallery.com
Slide show photos of the Big Bunny Fine Art Gallery and a few random shots of our recent visit to The Big Easy taken by yours truly plus an assortment of photos from Steve and Jenifer’s websites (used with permission)