Posts Tagged ‘New Orleans’

Singleton Glad You Dead You Rascal YouSome of the first things I ever did artistically as a somewhat mature person were bas-relief  carvings.  In a way, it formed the technique that I adopted as a painter.  I suppose that’s why I am so drawn to carvings when I come across them.  There’s something very appealing to me in the idea of a flat surface that has this raised, tactile surface. Like a painting that is also available in braille.  I can imagine the artist running his hands over the piece as he works, the ridges and valleys sliding gently underneath in a most comforting way.

Smithsonian American Art Museum - Donald W. Reynolds CenterI recently stumbled  across the work of Herbert Singleton ,  a New Orleans folk artist who made wonderful and colorful carvings such as the piece at the top, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, which depicts a New Orleans funeral procession.  Singleton’s life story is similar in may ways with other folk artists– a life filled with missteps and violence, run ins with the law and addictions.  He spent the better part of 14 years in prison and died in 2007 from lung cancer at the age of 62.  But in his short time here, Singleton created a powerful body of  carved work that documented his world and goes well beyond the label of folk art or self-taught art.  It is not benign work .  It often rails against social injustice and hypocrisy with great gusto.

I was first attracted to some of his Voodoo Protection Stumps, such as the one shown just below, which are carved from  half of a log with  multiple colorful faces emerging from one side and the bark remaining on the backside.  There is an immediacy and vibrancy to the images and color that make them really ring out. Singleton’s work is such a great example of   an artist who will not be held captive to their circumstance,   will not succumb to the hardships and obstacles that that they face.  They use their life and whatever means they can muster to express their place in this world.

SingletonVoodooProtectionStump 2

The piece at the top of this post, Glad You Dead You Rascal You, was based on the song You Rascal You made popular by the great  Louis Armstrong in the early 1030’s.  Here ‘s a Betty Boop cartoon from 1932 that features the song in  an interesting mix of cartoon and live action with Armstrong and his band.  Hard to believe this is from before my dad was born on this day back in 1933.  Happy birthday to my old man.

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“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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Seems Like a New SunThis piece, Seems Like a New Sun, is part of the show currently hanging at the Haen Gallery in Asheville, NC.  It’s a cityscape, a genre I enjoy mainly because of the abstract quality of shape and color that is formed by building up the structures.

At the opening for the show, someone asked if this painting was of a necropolis, a city of the dead or cemetery.  They cited the lack of windows and doors and said that it reminded them of those in Paris and New Orleans, where many of the graves are housed above-ground in beautiful small mausoleums.  This kind of took me  back a little because the idea had never entered my mind at any point in the creation of this piece but when I looked again it made perfect sense, in more than the obvious way.

I have always been attracted to cemeteries of all sorts and when we travel (a rarity these days) Cheri and I generally find a cemetery and walk around it, admiring the stones and mausoleums.  I read the names and epitaphs, trying to discern what sort of life they indicate.  Some find this morbid but I find it fascinating and very peaceful and in some ways, invigorating and reinforcing of life.  There is a lot to be said in the way a culture treats its dead.

We have a beautiful cemetery in our home area, Woodlawn Cemetery, that was created in the heyday of “burial parks” in the mid-19th century.  It has a rolling landscape with beautiful old growth trees and meandering roads. Very nice.  It’s home now to Mark Twain, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis and others.  Adjoining it is a national cemetery where there are the remains of a number of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War who perished in the notorious prisoner of war camp at Elmira.  There is history everywhere if we only look.

This is Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Evita Peron is its most famous resident.  Quite a striking sight amid the sprawl of the living city.  Maybe there is some validity in the viewer’s question…Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

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