Baton Rouge Gallery puts urban, contemporary artists on display

One of the coolest stories behind the scenes of Baton Rouge Gallery’s Surreal Salon Six outlines how New Jersey artist Michael LaVallee learned his piece had been chosen for the show.

Juror Greg Escalante, co-founder of Juxtapoz magazine, which highlights urban alternative and underground contemporary artwork, was touring the Scope art exhibition in Miami in early December when he spotted LaVallee’s piece, “Lady #2.”

“Greg Escalante recognized it right away,” says Jason Andreasen, Baton Rouge Gallery’s executive director. “It was one of the Surreal Salon entries.”

There were 180 entries to this year’s show, which is the sixth annual juried national exhibit of pop-surreal and lowbrow artwork. Escalante chose 80 pieces by 58 artists representing 20 states.

“And when he saw ‘Lady #2,’ he knew he had to talk to the artist,” Andreasen says.

LaVallee just had one question for Escalante.

“He wanted to know if his piece had made the show,” Andreasen says. “Greg told me about this later, and I asked him if he had told the artist that his piece was in the show. He looked down like a little kid who had been caught doing something wrong and said, ‘Yes.’ He said he was sorry he had told the artist before we had.”

“I told him not to be sorry,” Andreasen says. “I mean, what could be cooler than learning your piece had made the show than being told by Greg Escalante?”

Escalante is a big name in this art genre where anything goes. He will lecture at Baton Rouge Gallery at 4 p.m. Jan. 26 the day after the gallery’s annual Surreal Salon Soiree, set for 7-10 p.m. Jan. 25. The show will end on Jan. 30.

This is a world where the characters from the films “The Big Lebowski” and “The Wizard of Oz” exist in shadow boxes in New Jersey artist Mike Bell’s matchbook art.

“He draws the characters on matchbooks and uses the matches for their fingers,” Andreasen says.

“Surreal Salon” also is a world where blacklight art from Texas artists Mike Cassion and Tracy Viser lights the landscape for Michigan artist Craig Billings’ interactive, folk art-like sculptures.

Visers’ sleek “Groovy Killers on Acid” resembles a three-dimensional movie advertisement lit from the inside.

Billings’ sculptures, meanwhile, use old furniture for its foundation. It’s then covered by found objects and pop culture-related pieces.

“Even the drawers have things in them,” Andreasen says.

Billings has carefully placed each object on the sculpture to convey the message of its title. Those exhibited in the front gallery are called, “Separation of Church and State,” which features a red velvet statue of Christ, and “Public Futility Commission,” filled with representations of body parts.

Not all of the artists are from out of town. Baton Rouge artist Kenneth Hover’s handmade chairs are showing here, one titled “Dali’s Chair,” with a wooden melted clock face as its back.

“He said he’d made these chairs and was using them around the house,” Andreasen says. “He decided to enter them.”

Baton Rouge Gallery member John Harlan Norris’ oil painting “Driver” also is included in the show.

“We also have two video pieces in the show, which are looped to continuously run,” Andreasen says. “So, we’ve pretty much covered the gamut.”