Former Atlantan Judy Rushin moved to Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana last summer. She now lives close to a National Guard headquarters buzzing with the activity of Hurricane Katrina relief, and that proximity to disaster has obviously ignited something new in the artist's work.
Rushin has often based her paintings on material drawn from her own life, and this latest body of work, Parish at Romo Gallery, is just as content-saturated and formally rich as previous magical/spooky work inspired by her young children.
Playing on the potential dual evocations of the word "parish/perish," the show is an arresting, fruitful illustration of how Rushin's turn to abstraction has enlivened her work. Rushin's oil-slick colors and gunky landscapes capture the unquantifiable enormity and futility wrought by Katrina. There are twisted bodies of cars, heaps of trash, military helicopters and a sense of a ruined, besieged place in work that evokes both New Orleans' physical wreckage and, by association, its human wreckage.
"Parish: Seam" is the show's emotional showstopper for amplifying Rushin's canny use of abstraction's restraint to intensify the anxiety the form's lack of crystal clarity can produce.
In this diptych painting, two sides of the oil-on-panel work meet in one wedge of the gallery, essentially forcing our own perspective into a corner and a sense of destruction that feels, oddly enough, limitless. The two paintings depict a hulking hash of twisted debris, a motif repeated again and again in Rushin's work. These almost animated, amorphous junk piles are like ravenous ogres marring a landscape already leached of lively color. In "Parish: Backyard" a meager white wall seems incapable of halting the progress of one of those brown thickets of rolling trash.
The only disappointment in a superior show may be the break from Rushin's funereal color scheme and building doom with a stylistically incongruous installation piece. In "Parish: Spill" a shiny stainless spigot belches out a silk-screened panel dotted with illustrations of bits of waste. The piece is meant to evoke New Orleans' perpetual flow of garbage, but its literalism ends up working against the more abstract horrors conjured up in the rest of this memorable show.
Parish. Through July 14. Tues.-Sat., noon.-6 p.m. Romo Gallery, 309 Peters St. 404-222-9955. www.romogallery.com.