Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An Artist's Legacy at Boyd Satellite








There is no better way to discover a city than to walk through its streets, looking at the architecture while learning about its history. To assimilate a city's culture requires a deeper involvement which includes getting acquainted with its artistic heritage, especially in New Orleans where Jeffrey Cook (1961-2009) was born and raised. His short career left a deep imprint on the city's art scene, and the exhibition at Boyd Satellite Gallery is the latest proof of this. A Nkisi for Jeffrey Cook is a "memorial and tribute" to the artist and gathers an extensive body of work, spanning from his debuts as a sculptor to his last pieces.

In the photograph under the title of the show, the artist appears serious and thoughtful. According to his peers, he was charismatic, humble and loyal to his family, friends and community. Starting in a clockwise fashion from the entrance, the exhibition is more or less organized in chronological order.  The overall display offers all shades of browns to blacks with occasional touches of color brought up by works like the first three wall pieces inspired by compositions from John T. Scott, Cook's teacher at Xavier University. Joseph Cornell's influence is also noticeable in the four "boxes" hung along the wall. Each tells a story. In search of his own language, the artist designed two geometric sculptures in metal, one of them with ladders, symbol of escape from reality to an imaginary world, according to Joan Miró. Jeffrey Cook's previous endeavor as a lead dancer for a Los Angeles dance company brought him to visit numerous countries from Europe to Asia. However, he never reached the shores of Africa. It is upon his return to New Orleans in the eighties, while visiting the French Quarter galleries, that he soaked in African art and embraced its soul. Most of the following pieces are made with what became his media of choice: cloth, wood, found objects, to create spiritual landscapes. Filled with artifacts gathered in the streets of New Orleans, most of the wall sculptures are of smaller sizes except three of them which could be called panels due to their dimensions while another pair is accompanied by preliminary drawings, proof of the artist's quest for aesthetic and content. All include recurrent symbols like brooms, children's blocks, chalk, ..., described in Andy Antipas's essay Jeffrey Cook: African Art and New Orleans as: "created objects that elude rational analysis, because they form a magical, ideographic vocabulary that is indecipherable without the artist's grimoire". A collection of statuettes made of black cloth secured with twine, like funerary objects, is displayed on individual shelves. Black birds are represented in many pieces. Born from ancestral African beliefs about the soul's future after death, the symbol is also found in Song of Silence. The poignant sculpture made to commemorate two of Cook's friends killed in a shooting features the barrel of two shotguns transformed into birds. Another moving piece is about the holocaust. With pieces of rags and strings, the artist built two expressive figurines full of sorrow. Two collages and an abstract painting are reminders of a less well known side of the artist who was also a painter. The eclectic material of the center piece appears to have been collected after hurricane Katrina. The sculpture, an unstable fragile assemblage of pulleys, pieces of wood and varied objects, evokes destruction and a world in turmoil.

Most of the pieces on display belong to friends and/or collectors and the busy display misses information about their titles or dates. However, informative pamphlets and essays written by peers are available at the gallery, providing a window on the artist's work and persona. The exhibition is appropriately called a memorial, not a retrospective, and includes personal possessions like a weathered bicycle and large pieces of wood from Cook's flattened studio, found after the hurricane. The artist started to collect everyday objects almost two decades before the disaster struck the city, catching its soul through the debris found in the streets and transforming them into relics through his sculptures. We are made of our past, and Cook went far back in time and also places to find his, digging into his roots from Africa to the Caribbean and fill his works with "spiritual and ritualistic qualities". Four African sculptures embedded in the show emphasize this, so does a quote from Antipas: "... African art was created as spirit guides, to venerate the ancestors, to encourage clan and tribal social order, to protect the community and individuals,... and most importantly, to protect against the supernatural... Jeffrey's pieces are themselves a kind of talisman to help negotiate the fearsome supernatural powers which surround us".
I previously saw a few works from Cook at the New Orleans Museum of Art or the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. Going through the show allows not only to get a grasp of his body of work but also of his connections to the city's art scene.
The exhibition which takes place during the Triennial Prospect.4 and also at the start of the city's Tricentennial commemorations is the occasion to measure the breadth of Jeffrey Cook's legacy.






photographs by the author

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Aha





When looking at art, "aha moments" happen to others, I thought... until I was struck by one of these a few months ago at the Musée de l'Orangerie during my last trip to Paris. I went to see the temporary exhibition Dada Africa, Non-Western Sources and Influences, and by habit, walked through the two elliptical rooms full of tourists making selfies with Monet's Water Lilies in the background.
Even though I visited the permanent collections at numerous occasions, I had the feeling of looking at Monet's murals for the first time. Surrounded by the quiet water sometimes shivering, sometimes dazzling under a ray of sun, and the water lilies floating among willow branches caressing the pond, relishing the blues, greens, pinks, yellows, it was like viewing a poem in colors. I walked along the paintings, back and forth, "in" and "out". Immersed in the monumental compositions, filled with awe, I forgot tourists and time. Contemplating nature distilled by the painter, I reached a calming, deep spiritual state.
Each experience is different and mine was nothing compared to Stendhal's ecstasy while visiting Santa Croce: " I had reached that point of emotion where the heavenly sensations of the fine arts meet passionate feelings. As I emerged from Santa Croce, I had palpitations...., the life went out of me and I walked in fear of falling."
At another level, I realized that several chapters of art history were in front of my eyes at once. I could see a figurative impressionistic scenery from afar and closer, an abstract landscape. Of course, this is not news for Monet's connoisseurs. But it was the first time I became acutely aware of this through my encounter with his work.
How could I have missed so much all these years? Jaded by too many reproductions of the Water Lilies on umbrellas, coffee mugs, calendars, ..., too many poorly displayed Nympheas in museums, I had given up on seeing them. It took that special day to discover, in Monet's words, the "illusion of an endless whole, of a wave with no horizon and no shore".






photographs by the author

"Water Lilies" (details) at the Musée de l'Orangerie








Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Prospect.4: at the New Orleans Museum of Art







At the New Orleans Museum of Art, Prospect.4 starts in The Great Hall with eleven paintings from Barkley L._Hendricks. The special exhibition spreads to the second floor in two different locations: photographs on the left side, paintings, collages and videos on the right. Raised in different cultures and countries, the seven artists featured in the show share common themes through their art.

Hendricks's portraits inspired by European Masters like Velasquez, are in tune with a modern world and the museum's neo-classical white columns provide the perfect frame for the compositions. His subjects contrast with or melt in monochrome backgrounds and project an aura of sophistication through their pose, expression and/or attributes. Hendrick's portraits are the story. On the second floor, Dawit Petros's portraits contribute to the narrative as part of the landscape. At times, a mere observer, the photographer does not get involved in the drama captured through the lens, like the beaching of a boat. Other times, he stages uncanny scenes involving strangers surrounded by their natural pristine environment, partly hidden behind framed images preserving their anonymity and disrupting the quiet landscape. By whatever means of expression, including the construction of abstract compositions with fragments of photographs, the artist brings the viewer along his journeys, from Sicily, Mauritania, Morocco, ..., sharing his travels through places and time. The ten works on display in the adjoining gallery are the result of the collaboration between a photographer Gauri Gill and a Warli painter Rajesh Vangad. The photographs, mainly landscapes, depict the present and through the addition of aboriginal drawings connect to the past and gain a spiritual dimension.
In the contemporary art gallery, Alexis Esquivel's four "narrative paintings" deal with nationalism, colonialism, racism, through allegories. La Muerte de Gulliver, 2015, illustrates the artist's "civic" engagement. Gulliver (Spain) is depicted as a dead toreador, chest pierced by banderillas representing the Basque National Flag and the flag flown by supporters of Catalan Independence among others. Cuba and Puerto Rico's flags are also featured, reflecting the shared yearning for nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic. The painting could not be more prescient as the fight for Catalonia's independence goes on. The site specific piece from Xaviera Simmons is a great introduction to her work. A mural made of a succession of words taken from political speeches and texts, written in white on a black background lines up an entire wall. Like a graffiti, it is an expression of protest. Political art defines Simmons's practice. Two videos and a series of photographs in which she performs confirm this. Her message is focusing on "the vast financial, social and hierarchical disparities between people from the African and European Diasporas" and is aimed to the United States and New Orleans in particular. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, a 2017 MacArthur Fellow, is represented by four of her paintings-photographs-collages. Starting with images found on the internet and photographs from her family, she rebuilds a composite world born from her roots and manages to harmonize three different cultures: rural and urban Nigeria where she is born, and New York City. The life size of her figurative collages engages the viewer who becomes part of the scenes.
Of the seven artists, five were born in the seventies and deliver a message through their practice, call it "civic" engagement for Esquivel or political for  Simmons. Not only do they favor figurative, from Crosby, the youngest (born in 1983) to Hendricks, the oldest (born in 1945), they also keep being inspired by European Masters. Hendricks who revived the tradition of portraiture is now followed by younger artists like Kehinde Wiley. It is not a surprise to find Barkley Hendricks displayed prominently at the NOMA. Trevor Schoonmaker, Artistic Director and Curator of this year's Triennial, organized the first retrospective of his work Birth of the Cool at the Nasher Museum of Art in 2008 and was in the process of selecting the portraits to be displayed at NOMA when the artist passed away last April.
The list of selected artists includes a culturally varied group. Their common theme can be resumed in three words found on one of the exhibition's wall text: "identity, displacement and cultural hybridity".





photographs by the author:

Barkley L. Hendricks "The Way You Look Tonight/ Diagonal Graciousness (Self-Portrait)", 1981

Alexis Esquivel "La Muerte de Gulliver", 2015

Friday, December 8, 2017

Prospect.4: at the Jazz Museum





Prospect.4, the New Orleans art triennial, includes almost twenty venues spread throughout the city, intermingling with its sites, museums and traditions for the next few months. The Jazz Museum located in the Old U.S. Mint building on Esplanade Avenue appears to be a good choice to start the visit. The works, some created for the occasion, others dug from archives, are displayed on the second floor. Assembling a medley of international and local artists, the exhibition includes paintings, collages, installations, videos and sculptures.

Hank Willis Thomas is one of the fourteen artists featured in the show. His bronze sculpture History of Conquest is located on a grassy area in front of the museum. Inspired by a delicate bibelot from Jeremias Ritter, a seventeenth century German artist, it weighs one ton and consists of a giant snail mounted by a small figure described in the original piece as a Nubian or a Moore, carrying bow and arrows. Appropriation and re-conceptualization rejuvenate the symbolic meaning of the work. Fiend, 2017, a massive piece from Rashid Johnson fills the hall of the second floor. The simple cube, topped with lush tropical greenery, is a multi-directional microphone waiting to be activated by the visitor. In addition, the installation involves a display of culturally significant objects (books, vinyl, Shea butter, ...) lined up on shelves, transforming the work into a repository. Guided by Pete Fountain's music, the visitor walks through two rooms filled with mementos and historical instruments like Fat Domino's or Dr. John's pianos followed by twenty-eight empty boxes of reel-to-reel tape recordings decorated by Louis Armstrong. The collages made with newspaper clippings, photographs of musicians or movie stars, reflect Armstrong's humor, joviality and his disposition as a visual artist. On a different subject, the four paintings from Michael Armitage represent exotic scenes à la Gauguin, telling stories about exclusion, violence and death. The most graphic piece Necklacing, 2016, represents a man burned alive, defying death with a sardonic smile. The rugged texture of the canvas made of  lubugo bark cloth allows the painter's brush to meander around random holes in the fabric, enlivening the landscapes. The artist confided in an interview that he was "most interested in stories that have an ambiguous moral position." Between dream and reality, his paintings reflect this. Dario Robleto brings us back to the realm of music with his installations.  American Seabed, straight out of a taxidermy collection, includes butterflies pinned on fossilized inner ear bones from whales. The insects' antennas are made of stretched audio tape of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row". The collaboration between Robleto and Lance Ledbetter of Dust-to-Digital, results in a "multimedia installation of visual representation of the history of recorded sound".  Vinyl displayed behind glass with printed texts of songs and visual material are paired with headphones diffusing Washington Phillips's music, gospels from 1902 to 1960 with Goodbye, Babylon (Remix), 2015, sermons and lost blues. Last, also featuring religious songs, Sunday's Best, 2016, a 16 min video from Larry Achiampong illustrates the impact of the worshiping practices of the Roman Catholic Church on the artist's Ashanti community. The video was shot in London where Achiampong lives and works.
Across the hall, photographs and other items from the Jazz Museum's permanent collection make an odd introduction to Peter Williams's paintings. His cartoonish gaudy compositions push the boundaries of good taste to the limit and his caustic humor about race generates feelings of awkwardness. Maybe this is the idea. In the adjoining room, two sculptures from Satch Hoyt's fail to energize the space allocated to the artist. Both made with tambourines, Redemption represents a cross on the wall while Ascension (The Chain), 2017, is suspended from the ceiling. The video from  Brazilian artist Rivane NeuenschwanderQuarta-feira de cinzas/Epilogue, 2006, fits the theme of Prospect.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. The post-carnival activities of a colony of ants hauling discarded confetti like treasures could have taken place in New Orleans on Ash Wednesday. Maider López Under the walls, 2017, is a work in progress and involves the artist's intervention to cover corporate advertisements on construction sites with walls of primary colors.
A large space is dedicated to New Orleans artists closely associated with the city's traditions, starring Big Chief Darryl Montana with six of his sculptural costumes and a collection of artifacts surrounded by photographs from Keith Calhoun and Chandra McCormick catching live scenes of Mardi Gras Indians celebrations. Two huge panels represent Ron Bechet who states: "the rich visual traditions, icons and symbols of New Orleans are the basis of my work". The display includes colorful sculptures from John T. Scott.

The scope of the exhibition makes it attractive to New Orleans residents as well as visitors from out of town. With music and visual art in mind, it also introduces international artists like Achiampong whose work is included in the Venice Biennale this year or Michael Armitage who just had a major exhibition at Turner Contemporary. One can regret a few technical blunders like the noisy air conditioning covering the sound of Achiampong's video or the missing piece from Satch Hoyt  Splash, Ride, Crash described on the wall text. And if the Mardi Gras Indian costumes are stunning, they need to be worn. Absent are the bands, the music which propels them through the streets in New Orleans.

Prospect.4 in sync with the city.




photographs by the author:

Hank Willis Thomas "History of Conquest"
collage from Louis Armstrong
Michael Armitage "Baikoko at the mouth of the Mwachema River", 2016

Friday, November 17, 2017

The New World of Ceramics






Lacking a formal knowledge of ceramics, it is with candid eyes that I visited the latest exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of ArtNew Forms, New Voices: Japanese Ceramics from the Gitter-Yelen Collection and Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection  just opened and will run through the Summer of 2018. Respectively located in the Japanese galleries and the Besthoff Gallery, the combined displays feature more than one hundred and fifty works from seventy-three craftsmen.

Japanese ceramics have earned a world-wide reputation due to their centuries of tradition and the visit on the fourth floor starts with a short review of the craft's history through the display of three jars characteristic of  Haji , Echizen and Chigaraki ware, spanning from the fourth until the sixteenth century. This short introduction leads to the exhibition divided in five sections and featuring exclusively contemporary Japanese artists. Elegantly displayed, protected by glass, the works are accompanied by enlightening wall texts. Inspired by nature or avant-garde compositions, milky blue or heavily decorated, they represent a second and third postwar generations of Japanese artists. Following this impressive presentation, the selected pieces from the John Bullard's collection are set in a more random manner, featuring artists who built the history of ceramics in the United States from 1945 until 1990. The eclectic works range from functional vases to a teapot filled with an antiwar message or pure art through sculptures. The display appears overcrowded at first, but each artist shines with his/her different style and expression through the media and one can appreciate the works from "major figures in handmade American studio pottery". The two exhibitions complement each other and the order of the visit has no bearing on their overall appreciation.

With these two major shows, the New Orleans Museum of Art offers a review of modern and contemporary ceramics and casts some light on a neglected side of the art world. In doing so, it also revives the ongoing controversy about it: craft versus art. Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, wrote: "For it (an object) to serve its purpose perfectly, it must fulfill its function in a practical way." Today, the use of ceramic to create functional items belongs to an industrial world. Meanwhile, highly skilled artists working in their studios have discovered new means of expression through the media. Their creations should encourage hard core opponents to the inclusion of ceramics in the realm of art to reevaluate their standpoint. Mythologies foster the belief that man was first made of clay, giving a symbolic meaning to the craft.
On a personal level, what did these two exhibitions accomplish? Without expertise, I was able to  appreciate the aesthetic aspect and significance (somewhat the technicalities) of the works and get a grasp of the modern and contemporary world of ceramics, from the East to the West.






photographs by the author:

Satoshi Kino "Fall Wind 150202", 2014 
Daniel Rhodes "Untitled Head No.1", c.1980, "Untitled Head No.18", c. 1980, and "Untitled Head No.223", c.1985
Richard Notkin "Heart Teapot: Afghanistan", 1986

Friday, November 10, 2017

Then and Now, AA Abstract Art






              The long anticipated exhibition Solidary and Solitary at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art allows visitors to catch a glimpse of the Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of African American abstract art with its display of approximately sixty paintings and sculptures representing fourteen artists, through January 2018. Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art is the title of the catalog published in conjunction with the show scheduled to travel to seven additional venues following its New Orleans debuts.

                 A Private Stranger Thinking about His Needs, 2016, a soaring sculpture from Mark Bradford suspended from the Stephen Goldring Hall's third floor, provides a spectacular introduction to the exhibition. While still looking up, the visitor catches a sight of the yellow neon work from Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here, 2012, and on the way to the library walks by Drape Work, 1970, a major piece from Sam Gilliam. The Mississippi native's work occupies a prominent spot at the exhibition's entrance located on the museum's fourth floor. A sensuous folded canvas from his color field period in the seventies, along a short biography, is followed by nine works spanning  more than forty years of the artist's career, illustrating his search for shapes, colors, media, to build his compositions. The next featured artist, Norman Lewis was the only African American artist to join the first generation of Abstract Expressionists. Each selected work provides a clue about the artist's maturation, starting with Conversation (Two Abstract Heads), 1945, which exemplifies the juncture in the artist's career. During that decade, Lewis moved on from figurative and social realist themes to abstract in his quest of purely aesthetic goals. The juxtaposition of two bright yellow paintings, projecting the same aura of warmth and lightness, Easter Rehearsal, 1959, and Afternoon, 1969, provides a great example of the abstraction's process. A total of eight pieces sums up the artist's legacy. Following these "solo" shows, the exhibition takes a faster pace, featuring two artists in each gallery like a "duet" as described in the complementary pamphlet, with Melvin Edwards and Leonardo Drew sharing a space. The former is represented by five wall sculptures from his famous series Lynch Fragments started in 1965 in response to racial violence and two rocking sculptures for A Conversation with Norman Lewis, 1979. The latter's wall compositions contribute to the conversation about African American history and broadens it, reflecting on our society. Edwards's message is quite blunt while Drew's leaves us ponder and dream. Kevin Beasley and Shinique Smith have been selected for the next duet. Both use found fabrics as a media. Here ends the similarity. Beasley builds colorful sculptures, Smith, cosmic landscapes. Charles Gaines's works are spread on the four walls of a small gallery taken over by Numbers and Trees, Central Park Series I, Tree #9, 2016. The colorful tree on a black and white photographic background is drawn through the juxtaposition of  red, yellow, green, blue squares on a grid, giant pixels arranged with a compulsive precision to reach perfection. The minimalist pieces from Jennie C. Jones made with piano keys or painted on acoustic absorber panels are mixed with two neon wall sculptures from Glenn Ligon and Stranger #68, 2012, made with oil stick and coal dust on canvas. The last room is filled with the larger than life portraits from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, charged with a symbolic overtone. The show spills in the hallway with Untitled (America America), 2015, a black neon work from Ligon. Facing down, belly and wires exposed, it looks like a broken object with its flickering lights. Three sculptures from Serge Alain Nitegeka, made with crate material (about refugees), and painted in red (blood) and black (skin color) are randomly scattered, falling short of their intended message. A side gallery offers a unique experience with the display of works from Marc Bradford and Jack Whitten energizing the space.

The show about four generations of African American abstract artists starts on a high note featuring works from two major artists. As it progresses, it looses its thread due to weak links between artists' practices for its duets and the inclusion of Yiadom-Boakye's figurative portraits. The setting which is not by chronological order would benefit from more didactic wall texts about the artists and their works, directed at a lay audience. The key to an exhibition is usually found in its title. The association of the words Solidary and Solitary epitomizes the quandary African American artists were faced with when embracing abstract, as exemplified by Norman Lewis. Other artists of the collection should have been included or mentioned. We miss Alma Thomas, Edward ClarkRichard Mayhew, Julie Mehretu, William T. Williams, ..., even just one work from each!
The exhibition helps us understand the contribution of African American artists to American art as they paved the way to new generations and hopefully will promote the inclusion of their works in the museums.




photographs by the author:
Leonardo Drew "Number 185", 2016
Charles Gaines "Numbers and Trees, Central Park Series I, Tree #9", 2016
Mark Bradford "No Time to Expand the Sea", 2014


Thursday, September 21, 2017

On Being an Artist









At the occasion of his latest exhibition at  Arthur Roger Gallery, "R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr./Artwork by Dapper Bruce Lafitte", the artist Dapper Bruce Lafitte gave an interview and offered his thoughts about his art, art in general and how he became an artist.



Could you describe your childhood? How did you find out that you had talent as a visual artist?

My mother was 12 and my father was 20 years old when I was born. My father spent time in jail and I was raised by my step-grandfather who considered me his own. As I grew up, I started to doodle, from 5 to 10 years old, I would do stick-men, from 10 to 13, I drew full figures, pool halls whatever I found and imitated Ernie Barnes I saw on PBS. We were living in the Lafitte Projects and crack cocaine came to our neighborhood. Anything that gave me comfort, I stayed with. Art gave me comfort. If a pal of mine got killed, I would do art that night. If the wake was on Thursday, I would do art that Thursday, to release things. When people discovered I had talent, they went "he is a genius". People who were not into art tried to keep me away from it. I went to college to play football, I did not go to college to do art. But I was not happy and when I did art I felt better. People love you more also they get inspired by what you do, that's a good thing.

Any other artists in the family?

My aunt would draw on pieces of paper. I thought that everybody had talent, my thing was doing art, like Clementine Hunter.

Did you learn about art history? Did you visit art museums?

I would visit museums with my school, NOMA, CAC, the Ogden. I did attend the Summer program for kids living in the Projects at Xavier. I would go by John T. Scott mornings and evenings. One time I cut class and he said: "I will keep you out of trouble, sit down and look at me". He was making a sculpture. I was looking at him and I was thinking "there is a black man" and I looked up to him. He gave me the whole history of art. He would say "artists have a hard time, if you are an artist to make money, you are in the wrong game. You may become famous and then you might make some money"

Do you consider John T. Scott one of your mentors? Did you have a role model when you grew up?

Yes, he is one of my mentors, also Jeffrey Cook, Clementine Hunter, Bruce Price, Harry Jones, the co-owner of Stella Jones Gallery, Dan Cameron, David Cortez, Willie Birch. They are all have been big help in my career.

And now, do you visit museums and look at art?

No, I don't look at art. I might copy it if I like it or I just turn my back on it if I can't get it. I was looking at a Basquiat, David Cortez explained it to me and what he felt. Then I look at the art (Basquiat's), at his creativity and it gives me something.

About your creativity? Is it spontaneous?

Yes, it comes out. I made the marching bands, then I started to gravitate to other things and other things and then I go back doing the marching bands. It does not feel the same when I go back to it.

What are the "other things" you are doing?

The penitentiaries, the correctional system, because my people go through that. I talk about the school system because I got education from there. I talk about the Projects, my elders. I made maps of the city for my latest exhibition. I talk about the good side of the story and the bad side.

Your work is included in collections in Japan, Europe, you are represented by galleries in NYC, how do you relate to the New Orleans art scene?

It is a crab barrel! I will get up and the crab barrel tries to pull me down. But I remember when I first got into the business, I would go to galleries. On St Claude, the lady told me she liked my work and was interested in showing it. I said "Me?" She said "Yes". Then I learned the curator business, I learned the business aspect of art. That's how I started.

How do you get collectors abroad interested in your art which is mainly about New Orleans?

If they don't know New Orleans, I'll give it to them. The collector may be a rich white guy from Germany, he can't come to my hood, but I'll give it to him. He will feel the love. I always wanted to have people look at the art and see where it's coming from so we can relate to one another. Sometimes people can't relate, they don't have a soul. If you have a soul it shows in the work.

After hurricane Katrina, you started drawing school bands. How did you get interested in that subject?

The band directors lost their jobs after Katrina, they would invite me to their homes for dinner, and I started to draw the school bands. They were very appreciative that I brought their bands to the world. Also I watch football on TV and if the band sounds good, I go ahead. I drew LSU, Tulane, USC, University of Tennessee,...

You are visiting schools, making donations to the schools. Do you see yourself as a role model for the children in New Orleans? 

I donated pictures of the marching bands to twenty five high schools in New Orleans, fifteen outside New Orleans. I have to give back to them. I love to talk to the children, they know me, like I was their big brother. I tell them my story, I listen to their stories.

Why the title of your latest exhibition at the Arthur Roger Gallery "R.I.P. Bruce A. Davenport, Jr."?

I was born Bruce D. Washington, my mother's maid name. Then my father came into my life when I was fourteen and gave me his last name, I became Davenport. I hated it. I became angered, depressed, ugly and mean. So I changed my name to Lafitte, the name of the housing project I grew up in.

Does it bother you to be called outsider or self-taught artist?

I don't care, but I rather not be categorized. I am an artist.

Do you throw away some of your work?

No, I just put it away, somebody might like it later.

Do you listen to music?

Yes, I like Beethoven, James Brown, Ray Charles, BB King, Public Enemy, I like when it makes you feel good. You go back and you listen and it becomes part of you. Sometimes I need quiet when I work because I am thinking, I am focused. Sometimes I need loud music, it gives me the groove.


What about the future?

In 2012, I almost quit doing art, but I was encouraged to continue and I am on for at least another ten years! I am working on it every day. I am trying to have six to seven shows outside New Orleans every year and three shows outside the country.
I am Bruce D. Lafitte, I am enjoying art, the creativity that is coming to me. I am enjoying the galleries and museums I am dealing with, I am enjoying my career. I am enjoying that people want my art and take it at different levels. I want to preserve the culture, bridge the gap from the old to the new, and be the in-between.

And the artist concluded with his famous "I see you lookin" scribbled throughout his works to remind the viewer that he is always present, watching.







photographs:

Dapper Bruce Lafitte
"R.I.P. Jeffrey Cook", 2017 (detail)