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Baby-Boom Daydreams: The Art of Douglas Bourgeois

November 22, 2003 ­ February 15, 2004


The fascinating work of acclaimed figurative artist Douglas Bourgeois is the subject of a major retrospective exhibition at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia through February 15, 2004. The exhibition, which includes more than 60 paintings, spans the length of Bourgeois's 25-year long career. It was organized by David S. Rubin, Curator of Visual Arts at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans, and it is accompanied by a fully-illustrated color catalogue (published by Hudson Hills Press) that features essays by Rubin, Dan Cameron, Senior Curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and independent scholar and art consultant Estill Curtis Pennington. (right: Douglas Bourgeois, Nightflame, 1988, oil on panel, 15-7/8 x 23-3/4 inches, Collection of Noel Lee Dunn, Lewisville, North Carolina)

Born in 1951 in Gonzalez, Louisiana, Douglas Bourgeois was raised in the rural farm community of St. Amant. After receiving a Bachelor of fine arts from Louisiana State University in 1974, he moved to New Orleans for a time, but eventually returned to the countryside that has inspired his artwork for so many years.

Bourgeois's fabulously rendered paintings and sculptural assemblages present icons of popular culture alongside everyday people from Louisiana's richly diverse population. His work combines religious figures, pop-culture artifacts, environmental concerns, and social issues, as well as iconic stars of Hollywood's Golden Age and the hey-day of rock 'n' roll, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Martha and the Vandellas, and cult figures like Little Eva. He fuses private fantasy with social document, while exploring everything from glamour to racial tension, from violence -- both domestic and social -- to the nature of celebrity. Bourgeois, like the subjects he depicts, seeks the spiritual in the everyday.

According to Rubin, "Douglas Bourgeois is one of Louisiana's best-kept secrets. He is an extraordinary artist who is widely known in our own area, but deserves greater recognition elsewhere. Thanks to the generous support of incredible donors and the willing participation of so many collectors who are lending work to the exhibition, we are able to share our treasure-the art of Douglas Bourgeois-with the rest of the world."(left: Douglas Bourgeois, Pop Singer, 1992, oil on panel, 24 x 18 inches, Collection of Tommy and Dathel Coleman, New Orleans)

Baby-Boom Daydreams has been made possible by generous support from The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Foundation, Tommy and Dathel Coleman, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Fredrick R. Weisman Art Foundation, New Orleans Silversmiths, Paul J. Leaman, Jr., Susan and Claude Albritton, Morris and Cathy Bart, JoEllen and Raoul Bezou, John and Lyn Fischbach, Ellen Johnson and Ronald Swartz, Dr. and Mrs. Frederick Kushner, Jane and Henry Lowentritt, Dr. Perry Pate, Arthur Roger, John Sullivan, Sidney D. Torres III, and Dr. Robert Trahan. Additional funding has been provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and through a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the State affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Following is selected text from the gallery brochure:


The Morris Museum of Art is pleased to present the first retrospective exhibition of the art of Louisiana-born Douglas Bourgeois, a figurative painter whose work reflects many influences indigenous to Louisiana. The work, however, can also be viewed within a larger context of the unfolding history and development of figurative art nationally. The exhibition was organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans.

Born in 1951 in Gonzales, Louisiana, Douglas Bourgeois was raised in the rural farm community of St. Amant. After earning a bachelor of fine arts degree from Louisiana State University in 1974, he moved to New Orleans for a time but eventually returned to the countryside that has inspired his artwork for so many years.

Bourgeois has always painted in a figurative style distinguished by meticulous detail and playful patterning. Influenced by memories of growing up in the 1960s, his early paintings are filled with vivid depictions of his favorite rock-and-roll stars, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Martha and the Vandellas, and such lesser-known figures as Little Eva and Susan Moonsie. In Bourgeois's skillful hands, these and other pop culture heroes and heroines are treated like royalty or the clergy, with symbolic references affirming their important cultural status.

Around 1980, Bourgeois began to create paintings that were more directly concerned with the social content of the music that he so much admires. His recent works reflect his compassionate concern for problems such as urban crime, domestic abuse, racial tensions, and the endangered environment.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Contemporary Arts Center copublished with Hudson Hills Press a hardcover 110-page monograph on the artist, featuring sixty-five color plates and twenty-one black-and-white illustrations. Copies are available for purchase in the Museum Store.

Early Work

Early in his career, Bourgeois frequently found inspiration in his collection of pop culture artifacts, which in the early 1970s included vintage post cards, toys, children's books, celebrity biographies, and high school yearbooks. A fascination with the latter gave impetus to making Twilight High Yearbook (1978), a painting that portrays a page from the yearbook of a fictitious high school. An avid people watcher, Bourgeois has always been interested in faces and, as the son of a barber, he has held a longtime fascination with hairstyle, a feature that he considers a form of self-expression. In inventing the student body for the painting, he chose hairstyles of the 1950s and '60s and paid careful attention to distinguishing one student from the next. Parodying the stereotypical hoodlum teenagers from movies like Rebel without a Cause or West Side Story, he gave them satirical names such as Bambi Stiletto, Philadelphia Johnson, and Chinchilla Melancon, and, in keeping with this tone, depicted the men as tough and unshaven. More importantly, however, he provided a socially relevant subtext by making a racially mixed student body that could not have existed in the segregated South of the pre­Civil Rights era.


Pop Icons

Many of Bourgeois's early paintings pay tribute to the rock-and-roll stars who influenced him in his youth. Inspired by a black-and-white photograph of Elvis Presley in a biography of the singer, Bourgeois painted Blue Christmas (1981). Its title drawn from a song included on Presley's 1957 Elvis' Christmas Album, the small painting is a romanticized fantasy about loneliness and longing during the holiday season. Other than the pose itself, Bourgeois invented everything in the painting and positioned the sleeping subject like a seductive odalisque on a lush bed of rippling, deep­blue drapery folds. This pointed reference calls attention to the singer's status as a sex symbol, as well as to the sensuous nature of his music and performance style. The generous use of the color blue is an obvious link to the song "Blue Christmas," while the juxtaposition of guitars and Nembutal tablets in the curtain patterns alludes to the disparities between Presley's public image and his ultimately fatal dependence on drugs.



From 1986 to 1988, Bourgeois experimented with a number of assemblage formats. Ball of Confusion (1986) is one of the artist's first shadow-box constructions, inspired in part by the box assemblages of artist Joseph Cornell. In contrast to the surrealist poetry suggested by Cornell's boxes, however, it is a social commentary based on contemporary events, specifically the protracted Iran-Iraq War. Although the construction's title comes from a popular 1970 Temptations song about urban unrest and the Vietnam War, its central image is of a fallen Iranian soldier of the mid-1980s, copied from a magazine photograph the artist had seen.

The assemblage was constructed like a miniature theater set. The symbolic narrative in the main window is composed of painted cutouts of a dead soldier, a diapered infant (representing the sanctity of life), and a large globe with a sad face, an allusion to the grim reality of war. Fragile and bleak, a wilted tree branch in the center of the scene stands in stark contrast to the hopeful, spiritual implications of the starry, moonlit sky that serves as a backdrop. Beneath the scene are several real objects that reinforce the metaphorical strength of the artist's created images-a stopwatch, symbolizing mortality; a miniature boom box, referring to the present day; and several globe-shaped pencil sharpeners turned in different directions to suggest the political instability of our world.


Social Commentary

Since the mid-1990s, Bourgeois's sympathies for those victimized in contemporary society have been obvious in his art. Domestic abuse, for example, is the subject of Out of Here (1995). A woman in a disorderly bedroom is hurriedly getting dressed while her three children wait. The dark sky visible through the window indicates that it is the middle of the night, and her black eye and the luggage on the floor suggest that she is preparing to escape from a prison of abuse. On the wall is a poster showing a spirited unicorn sprinting in the moonlight, a hopeful sign that the woman and her children will find refuge: a taxicab in the distance will provide them transport.

Many of Bourgeois's recent paintings express his concern for increasing urbanization of farmlands. In The Development (1993), he contrasts the lush vegetation of natural landscape on the left with the manufactured and manicured look of a typical housing development on the right. It is interesting to note that the sole figure in the painting has chosen to live on the undeveloped side. In another painting, Chlorophyll Pulse (2000), a gallery of concerned toy animals, dolls, and cartoon characters express looks of panic in the wings, as a young woman sits in a soot-colored garden populated with threatening electronic devices. This ominous painting is one of several recent works in which Bourgeois explores the horrific potential of industrialization or war.

This essay is drawn in part from the monograph Baby-Boom Daydreams: The Art of Douglas Bourgeois and the ArtNotes publication of the same title, both published by the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans.

rev. 12/30/03

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