Archive for March 19th, 2012

“Known in New Orleans art circles as a sort of ‘Goya of the ghetto,’ Ferdinand has described his work as rap in pictures, while some critics have placed his utterly honest depictions of inner city decay within the social realist tradition of Courbet.” —Times-Picayune


I was on a site that had a few images of some self-taught and outsider artists and saw one of the pieces from Roy Ferdinand.  In a lot of the work from outsiders artists there is often a child-like quality in the work, a feeling of naivete expressed in the rendering and brushwork.  Looking at Ferdinand’s work, there was a definite sophistication and stylization that really differentiated from the typical outsider.  It made me want to know more about this guy and, in my search, I came across the quote above calling him the Goya of the ghetto,  pretty high praise, I was really intrigued. 

Ferdinand was born in 1959 and hedied from a long battle with cancer in 2004 in New Orleans.  Though his work showed more sophistication, he did share much in common with other outsider artists.  Coming from a world of poverty, for example.  He depicted the hard world of the urban streets of New Orleans.  Often, there was implied violence and explicit sexuality in his work, with gangsters, drug dealers and junkies, pimps and whores often populating his images.  The pictures were gritty and tough snapshots of his time and place.

And while much of his work dealt with the harsher elements of his life, Ferdinand also painted the everyday gentler side of his world, providing a full view of his New Orleans.  I particularly love this piece, showing an older woman holding a piece of corrugated metal with a rough outsider-ish image painted on it.  I suspect it is her own painting she is holding from the gentle smile of pride on her strong face, which is rendered with tenderness, and the other piece of corrugated metal in the bottom corner with a simlilar painting on it.  Moreover, it’s just a lovely image and moment, far removed from the world he often painted. 

To my eye, his work has real eye appeal.  The colors work well together and there is a real harmony in the images as a whole.  The drama of many of his scenes only serves to make these images more compelling and probably will make them grow in stature through the years.  It would have been interesting to see what Roy Ferdinand would have painted in the aftermath of Katrina.  It would have been epic work for an artist so tied to the streets of New Orleans.  It’s a shame such a distinct and powerful voice wasn’t around to document it.

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