Warhol’s influence apparent in current Kress Gallery exhibit

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCKAndrew Robertson hangs his work, 'Deep Field Horizon,' for the exhibit, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, at the Kress Gallery in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCKAndrew Robertson hangs his work, 'Deep Field Horizon,' for the exhibit, Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, at the Kress Gallery in Baton Rouge.

Christopher Turner thought about Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol, how both had their own set of struggles in the art world.

Look at their work now. It’s exhibited in museums and major art venues throughout the world.

And though the Kress Gallery isn’t one of those venues, it can be a place to showcase these artists’ legacy.

That’s not to say Jacob Zumo was directly influenced by Warhol, but Warhol definitely kicked down the door that would have barred Zumo’s pop art from serious exhibition spaces.

As for Andrew Robertson, he immediately credits Pollock’s free style as influencing his own abstract expressionist work.

Work by both artists are featured in the Kress’ show, titled Abstract Expressionism & Pop Art. The show runs through Monday, Aug. 12, and its title is simple yet effective.

Pop art and abstract expressionism have a way of playing off one another, moving its viewers onto another plane, making them see art in a different way.

Pollock did it. Warhol did it. And now Zumo and Robertson are carrying the torch.

“I was thinking about Pollock and Warhol when I put this show together,” Turner said.

He’s the Kress’ curator and artist-in-residence. He also has a series of abstract paintings on exhibit here, as well as fellow artist Taufeeq Muhammad, who offers viewers a look at his different painting styles.

But both Turner and Muhammad are quick to point out that Zumo and Robertson are the featured artists in this exhibition. And though the foursome’s styles are different, there’s a thread that connects them.

“We’re all live artists,” Turner said.

Meaning, all have created paintings on stage to the accompaniment to live music.

But the work in this gallery is different. It was created in studios, and the only music playing would have been that chosen by the artist. Whatever may have inspired him.

For Zumo, though, inspiration also was found in the 1999 film The Hurricane. Denzel Washington starred as former middleweight boxing champion Rubin Carter, who was convicted for a triple homicide in a bar in Paterson, N.J. The charges were set aside after 20 years. Such celebrities as Bob Dylan and Muhammad Ali called for his release, and their images are included in Zumo’s piece titled, “The Hurricane.” This painting dominates Zumo’s exhibit, which also includes depictions of Lindsay Lohan and David Bowie. It’s “The Hurricane” that immediately captivates the viewer as it documents Carter’s story through Zumo’s pop style.

Zumo has been developing this style in the past few years through his live painting experience. He earned his marketing degree in 2012 from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond but decided to forgo a career in that field to pursue art full time.

So far, so good. He’s created paintings for music stars in all genres and continues to paint in live venues.

“I was offered a job as an elementary school art teacher and a basketball coach,” Zumo said. “I played basketball in college. But I turned it down to work on my art full time.”

Robertson also pursued a full time career after graduating college. He was a philosophy major at LSU when he tried his hand at abstract expressionism. He struck up a friendship with Baton Rouge therapist Nick Abraham, who introduced Robertson to different artistic styles and cultures.

“I was conservative, and here was all of these different ideas,” Robertson said.

And he liked the artwork he was seeing. He opened his mind to it, and not only started painting but building a business on it.

Pollock was the artist who most inspired Robertson.

“I watched the documentary and movie about Pollock, and I was struck by the freedom in his style,” Robertson said. “He let the paint fall where it did.”

Pollock’s painting process was liberating, and Robertson started creating his own pieces. Then clients started expressing interest in his work, asking him to create paintings big enough to fill their walls.

“Waking up and painting watercolors on the front porch — this is what people think I do every day,” he writes in his artist’s statement. “In reality, my days are usually filled with lots of sweat and mental marathons that continually plague one’s mind and don’t allow for much rest.”

The pieces created for this show are a little different from those Robertson paints for clients. Robertson sized the canvases for this show in groups. Each grouping constitutes a piece, and each piece takes on a universe-related title.

And it flows perfectly into the smaller exhibits by Muhammad and Turner at the back of the gallery.

Muhammad was a featured exhibitor in the gallery’s winter exhibit, History and Innovation. That show featured his paintings of jazz musicians, which, in their own way, are animated. One example of that series can be found in this smaller exhibit in Muhammad’s painting of Pete Fountain wearing a Mardi Gras Indian headdress as he prepares to lead his Half Fast Walking Club down St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras Day.

Then there’s his painting of the seven Southern students who defied segregation laws by sitting at Kress Department Store’s lunch counter in 1960. The counter was located in the room now occupied by the gallery, and the gallery commemorated this event in March.

Muhammad’s painting was unveiled during the event and will hang in the gallery throughout this exhibit.

He chose to create the painting in a cubist style, which changes with each cube in the piece, signifying the change prompted by these students.

Turner also is experimenting with different painting styles. He exhibited a monochromatic scene of the Brooklyn Bridge in the last show with the bridge highlighted in red. Now the monochromatic theme has evolved into a series of abstract expressionist paintings, with red popping out at different moments.

They’re paired with a larger painting featuring a polo player, also monochromatic with red highlights.

“The polo player is part of a series I’m working on about the kinds of activities the wealthy like to do,” Turner said. “I’m working on these three styles at one time, yet they all go together.”

As does the pop art and abstract expressionism in this show.

Warhol and Pollock helped pave the way, and the Kress Gallery is celebrating it.