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By Robin Miller

The Advocate  Sunday, January 24. 2010

Strange how easily vibrancy mixes with the aftermath of tragedy.

The color, the action, the life. Denyce Celetano was drawn in by it all. But she also couldn't help noticing the contradiction.

Her story begins on Sept. 11, 2001. Make that her brother's story, for he is a member of the New York City Police Department .

He was one of the responders after terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, spending his days searching for victims in the rubble.

Rescuing them.

That's the key word, rescue. Celetano has seen similar images from so many other tragedies since that time. Hurricane Katrina was one.

Now there's Haiti.

"I've been thinking a lot about Haiti lately," she said.

Don't misunderstand; Celetano is in no way being flippant. Haiti is heavy on almost everyone's minds these days after the country experienced a Magnitude 7 earthquake.

People are donating money, volunteers are donating time and rescue teams are searching the rubble, looking for anyone who may be alive.

And rescuing them.

Same scene, different place. And each time the colors and action are just as vibrant.

"I know that's odd, but it's true," Celetano said. "There's a lot of intensity, but there's also this vibrancy. It's definitely an odd contradiction."

It's also intriguing, which is why visitors can't help looking toward the right wall upon entering the LSU School of Art's Alfred C. Glassell Jr. Exhibition Gallery.

The gallery is in the Shaw Center for the Arts, and it's hosting its annual Recent Works exhibit, featuring artwork by the LSU School of Art faculty.

Celetano is a member of the faculty, and two pieces from her series Rescue are included in this show. Yes, right there on the right side of the gallery.

The scenes seem to be the same, though one is drawn in charcoal and the other painted in oils. But look closer.

"There's a policeman in the charcoal scene, but I've replaced him with a photographer in the oils," Celetano said. "And though the rescue workers appear the same, there are different things going on around them."

Which make sense, for rescue situations are busy. Everyone is pulling a different duty, and these scenes are filled with, well, color.

Really, think about it. Celetano's right. Color fills these situations with life.

Everyone is wearing different color T-shirts or sweatshirts, law officers are dressed in their uniforms, barriers bear fluorescent oranges and yellows. And the rubble looks like a mass of confetti.

This isn't taking away from the tragedy but telling the rescue workers' stories through observation. Celetano visited her brother in New York after Sept. 11. She witnessed his work and was attracted to the vibrancy.

"I like for there to be a certain flow to the paintings when we hang them for a show," Malia Krolak said.

She's the gallery director, and she sits on a bench watching while her two assistants hang paintings for Recent Works. Celetano's paintings are busy, contrasting with Edward Pramuk's abstract blue piece on the opposite wall.

But the contrast is good. One complements the other, drawing the viewer to their differences.

"But I knew the centerpiece was definitely Ed Smith's painting," Krolak said.

She points to the far wall directly across the gallery. Dominating the space is Smith's painting "The March," which appears at first to be a pile of native Louisiana birds. But on closer look, it isn't a pile but an actual march.

"Something is happening in my bird paintings," Smith said. "It's about what's going on in the world today. It's as if the birds are coming together to form a new organism."

Smith is a Massachusetts native but moved from New York to Louisiana, where he immediately fell in love with Louisiana's bird population.

Especially the long-necked variety.

"I've been to Lake Martin, and I love looking at all the wading birds," he said. "I love the herons and the egrets, I love their long necks, and I love watching them move."

And viewers will notice most of Smith's birds are long-necked. Krolak compares his work to that of John James Audubon.

Which is OK, because Smith is inspired by Audubon's work.

"But there comes a time when an artist needs to make his work his own," Smith said. "Birds are interesting to watch, because they have their own personalities and social order. I found them to be a good replacement for people."

And in doing so, Smith was able to cross an important bridge - his paintings were no longer about places or things but about ideas.

"They're conceptual," he said. "When I first moved here, I painted swamp scenes. I had fallen into the trap of being known as a southern regional artist. I wanted to break out of that. It's been a long process to research and find my own way o f constructing things."

Birds in "The March" all have the same goal, the same purpose. They're all trying to get to the same place, and it's up to the viewer to determine where.

And like Celetano's Rescue pieces, it's captivating. There's something new at each glance.

"This show is a good one for us, because we're able to highlight work by the LSU faculty, and we have it up when classes are back in session," Krolak said. "It gives the students a chance to see their professors' work. Each of them is an artist in their own right, participating in gallery exhibitions, lectures, visiting artist programs and individual projects as well as teaching in the School of Art."

The show also gives the community a chance to view the faculty's work.

"The community can come in and see the talent we have at LSU and in Baton Rouge," Krolak said. "We're proud of that."

Showing work along with Celetano, Smith and Pramuk are Jeremiah Ariaz, Kimberly Arp, Courtney Barr, Michael Book, Michael Crespo, Paul Dean, Christopher Hentz, Chris Johns, Kelli Scott Kelley, Leslie Koptcho, John A. Malveto, Thomas Neff, Frederick Ortner, Rod Parker, Loren Schwerd, Andy Shaw, Michaelene Walsh and professors emeriti James Burke and Melody Guichet.

"Ed Pramuk is also a professor emeriti," Krolak said. "We highlight their work, too. They taught at LSU, and we're proud of that. And we'll continue to show their work."

Smith earned his bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Massachusetts and his master of fine arts degree from Brooklyn College.

In 1979, he was an original crew member of the conservation ship, The Sea Shepherd. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States.

As for Celetano, she has been a professor of art at LSU since 2000. She earned her bachelor's degree in art from Boston College and her master of fine arts degree from East Carolina University.

Her paintings have been exhibited in various venues throughout the United States, including Seattle, Washington, D.C., New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Tennessee.

"But I've never shown the Rescue series as a body of work," Celetano said. "I have eight pieces so far, and I'm continuing the series. The show will be something that will come later."

Still, the images continue to captivate her in their contradiction.

Life and tragedy, color and misery.

All tied together by the tireless work of rescue workers.

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