Top 10 Most Notable New Orleans Artists
The distinctive culture of New Orleans is a major subject for artists with connections to it – in the Big Easy, artistic inspiration is easy to find. If you want to learn more about the NOLA look, start by getting to know these Top 10 New Orleans artists.
John James Audubon – born Haiti 1785 – died 1851
John James Audubon was a woodsman who painted and described the birds of North America. Though Audubon claimed to be a native of Louisiana and made more pictures in Louisiana than any other single place, he had actually been born in Haiti. His masterwork, The Birds of America, was printed in eighty-seven parts between 1827 and 1838. The series of 435 life-size prints is well known – especially to members of the national waterbird population protection society, which is named after him. In New Orleans, Audubon’s name graces a park, the Zoo, and an aquarium.
E.J. Bellocq – born Louisiana 1873 – died 1949
E.J. Bellocq lived and worked in Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, and photographed local “ladies of the night”. Little is known of Bellocq’s life; his photographs were discovered and became well known after his death. As the story goes, the photographer Lee Friedlander found 89 cracked and dirty glass-print negatives from 1912 on the desk Bellocq had left behind. Friedlander is credited with salvaging and cleaning the negatives, and for bringing prints of Bellocq’s images to the marketplace. Bellocq’s limited output and the mysterious circumstances surrounding the discovery of his work continue to draw attention to the 89 images.
Jim Blanchard – born 1955 Louisiana
Jim Blanchard is an active architectural restorationist, an enthusiastic researcher, and an architectural archival artist who creates elaborate portraits of actual New Orleans 18th and 19th-century buildings. The city is home to the largest collection of historic buildings in the United States, which allows Blanchard to surround himself in architectural inspiration. He makes the pen-and-ink drawings with watercolor and gouache, rendering architectural details with exacting precision to match the historical record.
Debbie Fleming Caffery – born 1948 Louisiana
A native of Louisiana who also spends time in Mexico and Portugal, Debbie Fleming Caffery is best known for her series of Hurricane “After the Storms” images, particularly the series detailing the destruction wrought on the entire population of New Orleans when it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Every year, Caffery travels to capture the hard work of the Louisiana sugar cane harvest. Her pictures are described as a visual record of the empathetic relationship between photographer and subject, and she says she hopes to portray points of brightness even in her darkest images. She has received the Governor of Louisiana’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Rolland Harve Golden – born 1931 Louisiana
Rolland Harve Golden is a painter of watercolor landscapes, southern scenes, and New Orleans street scenes. His artistic career has spanned six decades in Louisiana: after studying at John McCrady’s art school, Golden opened his artist studio in the French Quarter in 1957. Golden modulates between realistic compositions and a highly stylized look that he has termed “borderline surrealism”. He says his painting practice is inspired by a metaphysical connection he feels with the rural beauty of the Southern landscape. In 1976, a selection of his paintings visited the Soviet Union in a traveling exhibition organized by the Institute of Soviet-American Relations in Moscow, an unusual career moment for an American artist of that era. In 2004, an exhibition of Golden’s work titled An Alternate Vision was held at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.
Ida Kohlmeyer – born Louisiana 1912 – died 1997
Ida Kohlmeyer took up painting in the 1930s after studying at Newcomb College (see Newcomb Pottery, below). At the beginning of her career she was influenced by Abstract Expressionist artists; later she studied under John McCrady and developed her own distinctive vocabulary of shapes and signs organized in a loose grid. Kohlmeyer was an important female presence in the 1950s American scene: her first museum exhibition was held at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 1957. Her work is in the collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
John McCrady – born 1911 Mississippi – died 1968
John McCrady was a regionalist painter and printmaker. He studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Thomas Hart Benton, who informed the sinewy anatomical style of McCrady’s figures. In the 1930s he completed murals for the Works Progress Administration and the Federal Art Project, and in 1939 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to “paint the life and faith of the Southern Negro.” He would later found the McCrady Art School on Bourbon Street, where his students included Ida Kohlmeyer and Rolland Golden (see above).
James Michalopoulos – born Pennsylvania 1951
James Michalopoulos is an iconic New Orleans personality, entrepreneur, and self-taught artist who says he is “in love with paint and New Orleans and music.” He makes playful and rhythmic paintings of city buildings in the nighttime and also owns and operates a rum distillery. Michalopoulos has been commissioned to create the New Orleans Jazz Fest poster six times: the posters have featured Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino, and other famous jazz figures.
Sister Gertrude Morgan – born Alabama 1900 – died 1980
Sister Gertrude Morgan was a traveling preacher who rapidly developed as an artist after she began to illustrate Bible passages and her sermons. She said a voice from God called her to the practice of painting. Self-taught as an artist, her images often incorporated New Orleans-style houses, gardens, and multicolored angels. She eventually stopped traveling and founded her Everlasting Gospel Mission in New Orleans. After hearing another voice from God in 1974, Sister Gertrude Morgan stopped painting entirely and refocused efforts on her ministry. Her 2004 posthumous exhibition Tools of Her Ministry: The Art of Sister Gertrude Morgan was held at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and the New Orleans Museum of Art.
George Rodrigue – born Louisiana 1944 – died 2013
After studying in California, George Rodrigue returned to Louisiana and began to paint cajun subjects. He became famous around the world for his portraits of dogs, which began in 1984 with a commission of “loup-garou”, a legendary Cajun ghost-dog. The artistic achievement of that blue dog with yellow eyes has been honored in major ad campaigns for Xerox and Absolut Vodka, making it instantly recognizable around the world. Rodrigue’s inspiration to paint the image came from a photograph of his own dog, Tiffany. The New Orleans Museum of Art staged a retrospective of his work in 2008.
Special Mention: Newcomb Pottery
Newcomb Pottery was a brand of Arts & Crafts pottery produced from 1895 to 1940 at Newcomb College, the women’s college founded to instruct women in the liberal arts, now associated with Tulane University. Men were employed to make the pots and work the kiln, and female students of the college designed and applied decorations. Newcomb Pottery often depicted local flora in blue, yellow, and green high glazes. The women also sold the items they decorated – pieces came with registration documentation and series numbers.
Featured Image: Detail of George Rodrigue, Does Mars Have Oak Trees?, 1993, Source: Wendy Rodrigue