After working in the graffiti world in New York teaching an undergraduate class on the subject matter and painting my way through, I moved to New Orleans four years ago to earn a Master’s to keep going. When I got here, I found a once-buffed out, yet still developing street art scene.
Guest Blog by Kady Yellow @KadyYellow
I was inspired to create a book documenting the local scene beyond the world-famous, big-names and give the limelight to locally celebrated artists. ‘New Orleans: Murals, Street Art & Graffiti Volume 1′ features 70 local and visiting artists, 30 photographers, and over one-hundred pieces along with the stories of the faces and places behind the works. Many of which could exist only in this most unique of American cities.
Street Art in New Orleans
Based on my research and the stories that surfaced, I found the most inspiring pieces by considering:
- How high did the artist climb to paint the piece?
- How long did they plan the piece to include the community?
- Who and what did the artist(s) celebrate on behalf of this city?
This list aims to share a look at why the art, the artist, and the artists’ process didn’t just result in another mural, but why it is a piece that is truly inspiring. In no particular order, here are my ‘top 10’ most inspiring pieces of street art in New Orleans.’
1. ‘Third Line Mural’ by Henry Lipkis
The Third Line Mural is a towering 45×155 ft mural (the largest one on St. Claude Ave.). Its creation required six months of research and over 100 gallons of paint. The mural was crowd-funded using the power of Henry Lipkis’ social network, with support from accomplished local artists Ceaux Young, Jessica Strahan, and Devin Reynolds. The mural depicts popular New Orleans social aid & pleasure clubs such as the CTC Steppers, Big 9, and 9 Times, as well as famous local figures such as the Caramel Curves, Hope Magraff and Cheeky Blakk. The piece is so inspiring because it is highly celebrated as a staple of the visual culture of the area and is exemplary given Lipkis’ exercise of best practices in creating murals– number 1 being community engagement.
2. ‘READ aka OYE aka OPEN YOUR EYES’.
This roller piece OPEN YOUR EYES, is one of the biggest pieces of graffiti in New Orleans. It can be found at the abandoned Naval base known as ‘The End of the World.’ READ is, without question, the most visible graffiti writer in New Orleans. The two largest graffiti tags in all of New Orleans were both painted by READ, and they’re still riding today. It is inspiring to imagine how READ took over the abandoned Naval base to paint his affirming message in over-20-foot tall letters with rollers.
3. OLD CROW
Old Crow gets up all over New Orleans and hails from the old East Bay (California) scene. He got his name at a hobo gathering in 2002. He has been riding the trains and the fringe of life for decades. His work is all over every surface. Since he was young he’s doodled his characters constantly as “a thing to do to try to stay sane”. During a time when OLD CROW was living in his car a lot, or some shitty apartment, or a friend’s house, he spent most of his free time drinking, reading and writing, and doodling these guys. They would start with some symbol from the subconscious which would become the eyes, then the Bukowski-nose, and the teeth or beard etc.
4. ‘These Are Times’ by second-generation (his father John T. Scott was also a painter), local Artist Ayo Scott
The 2,685 sq. ft. mural from Ayo Scott exists only steps from where Homer Plessy (a Creole civil rights activist) was forced off of a train and arrested for sitting in a “whites only” railway car. It was a planned act of civil disobedience that led to the Plessy v. Ferguson U.S. Supreme Court decision that resulted in the “separate but equal” doctrine that permeated the South United States throughout the Jim Crow period. From Homer Plessy’s stand to the desegregation of public schools, the mural is a visual history of the strides taken toward equal rights for people of color in New Orleans.
5. ‘Rainbow of Faces’ wall featuring Mambo Marie by visiting artist, graffiti legend, Will ‘Kasso’
This wall features a rainbow of faces. Each artist was asked to paint someone important, someone inspiring. I bring your attention to the 6th portrait on the wall, a portrait of Mambo Marie Carmel, an elder in Haitian Vodou who lives in Treme, the oldest black neighborhood in America. Both the artist behind the piece and his effort to relate the subject to the place are inspiring. Will Kasso is a legend from New Jersey and now teaches a college course on graffiti history and street art politics at Middlebury College in Vermont. Kasso’s painting practice aims to ‘keep the work organic and meaningful by ensuring the art in the public eye includes people that aren’t mainstream and will be recognized in the local neighborhood.’
6. ‘Give Me Flowers While I Can Smell Them’ by New Orleans born & raised, Jay Mckay
New Orleans’ own, Jay Mckay’s ‘Give Me Flowers While I Can Smell Them’ mural on the side of the old Frankie & Johnnie’s Furniture Store building really stands out, both aesthetically and for its powerful backstory. It is meant to be a social commentary on gun violence in black communities. “It is meant to remind you of the feeling of visiting the site of the death of a loved one” says Jay. “We lose these young men too soon, and this piece is a commentary on that reality. Guns and the violence take these people and everyone is afraid to comment on the hard work being done by those around them. We don’t realize it is okay to say ‘killer work,’ or, ‘good job, keep it up!’ We only think to do it when it is too late.”
7. ‘Water Meters’ by LeLuna
The beloved water meter covers are a thing in New Orleans street art. The original “Ford Wabash” water meter covers, are copyrighted works of art adorned in an art-deco style from the early 1900s. So beautiful, they are often stolen, sold online, and the pattern has been made into every possible craft item one could imagine. Well, this street art project brings the boring, new replacement covers back to life, almost paying homage to the original, artful covers. Done by a local artist with the alias LeLuna. He shares, “I wanted my art out there…[I] couldn’t get any love from a gallery or anything.” LeLuna found himself racking up [the new, blank, water meter covers]. He was going out every night, the process was the same: go out to rack up utility covers, go back to the studio and then again, out to return the now decoupaged, painted, or bedazzled covers. The returning is what he calls ‘utility drops.’
8. ‘Mask Off’ by Hugo Gyrl
“Their work can be seen on murals and gallery walls in most major cities. While Hugo Gyrl is often cloaked in costume, and their identity remains mostly a mystery. They have generated a cult following due to the comical innuendos and femme-friendly symbolism echoed in their art. Affirmative statements like “You Go Girl” can be seen on walls from the French Quarter to the Bywater. When not creating thought-provoking LGBTQIA-focused graphics, Hugo Gyrl is curating local exhibitions with performances like the celebrated drag wrestling match “ChokeHole” and the horror comedy play “The Subletter’s Omen” —Samantha Katz, The Creative Independent, November 2018
9. ‘Change Mural’ by Nomad Community Muralist, Danaé Brissonnet
For the mural, Danaé Brissonnet was tasked with depicting how Fair Grind Coffee financially supports A.C.O.R.N International’s non-profit mission. This while also telling the story of how a coffee shop in New Orleans fairly sources its beans. It represents the oppression and injustice wrought by corporate greed, while also acknowledging the good work being done by all the people in the community who are fighting back. Inspiring for both her use of detail and her daring existence as a Community Mural Teacher who has been voluntarily nomadic since taking off seven years ago from Quebec to Vermont via bicycle.
10. ‘There For You’ by Louisiana Born, Chalmette Raised, Craig Cundiff
Louisiana born, Craig Cundiff, now works as a professional muralist in the Pacific Northwest. His debut mural in New Orleans, ‘I’m Here For You’ is a celebration of those who are there to support you. Depicted in the mural are two New Orleanians who he considers to be family and the best of best friends. The body language between the two women, Nikki (left) and Bee (right) are captivating. The imagery of them comforting one another is simple, yet compelling. The mural is a love letter to New Orleans hospitality—one that welcomes you with open arms.
To read more inspiring stories of New Orleans street art, collect a copy of New Orleans: Murals, Street Art & Graffiti Volume 1, which is only available in print. This was a guest post for Inspiring City by author Kady Yellow