Spanish moss grew into series…“Studio View” by Kenn Kotara is part of his “petite cheniere” exhibit opening Thursday at the Abercrombie Gallery.
Review by Warren Arceneaux, American Press
Growing up in Lake Charles, Kenn Kotara would see visitors from other parts of the country take moss back with them after visiting Louisiana. A few years ago, Kotara began having images of that moss and his home state’s landscape, leading him to create a series of works that will be shown at McNeese State University in the artist’s homecoming exhibit.
The exhibit, titled “petite cheniere,” will be on display Sept. 27-Oct. 18 in McNeese’s Abercrombie Gallery. An opening reception will be 6-8 p.m. Thursday in the gallery.
The “petite cheniere” exhibit is an installation of 11 suspended screen structures and 23 works on canvas and paper. The body of work is part of an ongoing series titled “Barbe
espagnole” (Spanish moss), which explores the metaphorical potential of Spanish moss and
reflects Kotara’s Louisiana roots.
“I had been away from Louisiana for 15 years, then something about the landscape started calling me back, and I started the Spanish moss series,” said Kotara, a Lake Charles native and graduate of Barbe High School.
“Moss has always been interesting to me, the mystery of it. People would come down to visit
from Ohio or Arizona, and they would want to take it back. But it would not grow there, it would die. But with these works, I can take the moss with me. In the larger picture, it is part of the unique Louisiana culture. Every city in America is similar; every one has a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. But the moss will only grow along the coast in the South.
“The “Barbe espagnole” series includes more than 50 works and is still growing.
“I lack the ability to name things, so I give works in the series numbers, and there are 50 now, plus some other that look similar but are not titled that way. I am not close to exhaustion in terms of the ideas I have to add to the series. The screens in the exhibit are not named as part of the series, but are close to the series in theme.”
Louisiana themes have been part of Kotara’s art from the beginning.
“When I was growing up there, I was always drawing landscapes, waterfowl and other wildlife,”he said. “Now living in a mountainous region of North Carolina, I miss the flatness of
Kotara did not take up art formally until he was 28.
“That was when I took my first drawing course,” he said. “I was originally studying architecture, but decided that wasn’t for me. Then I decided to do graphic design. I did that as an undergrad,but studied studio art as a grad student. I began painting at night and on weekends while I was working in graphic design. I started doing realistic and representational works, then movedtoward abstract works. I love those because there is something intangible in them; they are coming from somewhere, based on my experiences. Part of each work has some of my history in it, and has a history of its own as a piece. And I like that I can determine when a piece is finished. Each one is like a journey, where I can determine the outcome.”
The screen structures are layered, hung arrangements of fiberglass screens depicting an abstract image. Each semi-transparent panel consists of opaque linear drawings using acrylic paint, and/or cut outs. The configuration changes as the viewer moves around the sculpture.
The structures range in size from 6-10 feet high and from 1-4 feet wide and deep. The canvases embody the moodiness and mystery of Spanish moss and its environment and range in size from 4-6 feet to a grid of 15 2-by-2-foot canvases.
Kotara did show his work here once before. He was the official artist for Contraband Days
Festival in 1996. He designed the poster and exhibited his work in the lobby of the Calcasieu
Marine National Bank Tower, now Capital One.
He attended McNeese and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Louisiana Tech
University. He lives in Asheville, N.C., with his wife and son.
His work is in public and corporate collections including the Asheville Art Museum, Louisiana
State Museum, Masur Museum, Bellagio Resort Las Vegas, Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, Neiman
Marcus, Sumisho Hotel Tokyo, the U.S. Embassy, Jamaica, and Wachovia Bank Charlotte.
Find out more at www.kotarastudio.com. The Abercrombie Gallery in the Shearman Fine Arts Center is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays. For more information, call McNeese Art at 475-5060.