Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Fruits of My Residency at Newman School

As some of you already know, I was selected to be the artist-in-residence at Isodore Newman School, the cream of the crop of New Orleans private schools, here in New Orleans.  The artist reception was held on April 29th, and it was fairly well-attended, despite being between the Jazz FEst weekends.  Here are the fruits of my labor with kids, along with some information about each of the two murals I completed there.  Caveat:  completed means as an artist, I retain the right to rework a couple things before they are finally installed in the exterior locations!

 How Do We Fit the Pieces Back Together?


In collaboration with Newman School’s high school art students, I was tasked with portraying a problem we currently face in Southern Louisiana, the “Diminishing Wetlands”.  This is a slow-motion disaster triggered by human activity as we altered the landscape by building levees and creating a network of canals.  The latter was first started to harvest cypress trees for construction, then later for oil and gas drilling.  No one could foresee the consequences of our actions. We all now grapple to understand the true scope of the disaster.  And even fewer of us know what we can personally do to repair the damage we have done.  This mural seeks to inspire all of us to face the imminence of the problem, and begin to work together to slow, if not reverse it. 

How do you portray a slow-motion disaster in a single image?  We developed our concept by brainstorming and sketching out various ideas.  It seemed there were many parts of the puzzle to fit together, and we knew we couldn’t fit them all in. One was that all of Louisiana itself was a puzzle that was falling to pieces.  One idea was to depict the past in color and the present in black and white, or vice versa.  We weren’t able to act on every idea, but many of the students thoughts were synthesized into the final image.        The things we did include were: a) a symbolic image of one man representing our collective selves enjoying the bounty of the wetlands before it was altered; b) the dredging that may be the actions most responsible for the disaster; c) the image of the land as it slowly dies away; and finally d) the hopeful act of planting trees that Newman students undertake annually under the direction of science instructor, Jennifer Williams.   

                                 Moving to Higher Ground


In collaboration with Newman School’s 8th grade art students, we chose to portray the wetland creatures as they move to higher ground due to saltwater intrusion.  Of course, there are too many animals to portray in a single image.  One such animal is the coyote, not shown here, but recently making an appearance due to habit loss.  Some we rarely see because they scurry the minute they hear us approaching.    

Two of Newman’s high school students conceptualized the animals using backpacks to pack up their belongings, and we decided to act on this idea because it would help younger students to connect with them.  It was also recently pointed out to me by more than one person (one was a Kindergartener!) that I failed to put any fish in the mural.  How could I forget!  I will fix that soon.