Public art is to a city what a soul is to a body. You could survive without it, but the richness and spirit it provides would vanish. In New Orleans, street art in particular is part and parcel of the city’s very nature. It is available to everyone because of its most important characteristic: it is free. Our only job? Know where to look (and keep our eyes peeled). Read on for where to find work NOLA street art by six selected artists below.
Banksy, the world-renowned British graffiti artist, visited New Orleans in 2008 and created 14 pieces of street art. While most are now destroyed or covered up, a few remain. The most well-known is a stencil of a girl with an umbrella raining on her on the corner of Kerlerec and North Rampart streets. An artist well-versed in social and political commentary, this work seems to be a metaphorical critique of the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina.
Candy Chang is the experimental urban artist whose Before I Die participatory mural project spread from New Orleans’ Marigny neighborhood to vertical public spaces across the globe. In her mural She Dreamed of a Place Called Fat City, Chang celebrates the evolution of the Fat City neighborhood (the mural is at 3220 Edenborn Ave. in Metairie) by intertwining a collage of images with passages from New Orleans-based writer James A. Reeves. The black-and-white, surrealistic mural is constructed of vertical lines and dots that create a thought-provoking rendering.
Cubs the Poet
Cubs the Poet produces a different kind of public art. A “modern-day wordsmith,” as he calls himself, Cubs works on creative ways to make poetry an interaction between people and, in a way, he says, to bridge the gap between visual art and music. Depending on the weather or season, Cubs will situate himself and his typewriter in different public spaces of the city and write small poetry books for interested passersby. He recently started on a new project using recycled wooden pallets like lines on a page to express his poems. Currently, he has a pallet, spray-painted with a contemplative poetic message, stationed on the St. Claude Avenue and St. Roch Avenue neutral ground in the Marigny.
Jeremy Novy is a street artist who uses stencils to realize his work. His recognizable schools of koi fish can be found “swimming” on Frenchmen Street. The rainbow painted sidewalk on Elysian Fields at North Rampart Street is illustrative of his work in the gay street art scene. His work can also be seen on the Marigny Street exterior of the Hi-Ho Lounge, where green spray-painted parakeets in flight, made using stencils, represent those who are not from New Orleans but now call it home.
Brandan “Bmike” Odums
Brandan “Bmike” Odums is the local artist who creates large-scale, socially relevant murals. His most recent project, Ephemeral.Eternal at Studio BE (2941 Royal St.) requires an admission fee, but his mural on the Studio BE warehouse exterior is visible for all to see. Similar to much of Odums’ work inside the studio, painted with a twist on religious imagery (think halos on modern-day, young African Americans), this one features a young girl in a pose which is almost evocative of a religious figure. The striking image is accompanied by a short poem by local poet and artist Cleo Wade.
Odum’s “The Wall of Peace” mural covering the vacant Grand Theater in New Orleans East, which debuted in 2015, is a call for unity. Channeling Michelangelo’s famous “Creation of Adam” on the Sistine Chapel ceiling, “The Wall of Peace” features people from the community in lieu of biblical figures. The mural was created using Odum’s traditional spray painting method.
Laurel True is a mosaic artist who creates public art in communities around the globe. Her work in New Orleans, through the Global Mosaic Project, is easy to recognize. Find the characteristic “Urban Eyes” and brightly colored glass fragments in her community-assisted mosaics, such as “You Are Here” in Clouet Gardens; on a wall along Clouet Street near the corner of Dauphine Street; the Lotus Bench at St. Claude Avenue and Spain Street; and at other locations.
Through Nov. 6, the Ogden offers a unique opportunity to learn about graffiti in a curated museum setting.
Top Mob is a local graffiti collective that has been in existence for more than three decades. Known for its tagging, some of their current work can be spotted in the Bywater on Press Street at Burgundy Street as well as the side facade of the Ogden Museum. In an unexpected twist, Top Mob has partnered with the Ogden Museum for the exhibit, “Top Mob: A History of New Orleans Graffiti,” through Nov. 6. For those who want to spend some time off the streets, the Ogden offers a unique opportunity to learn about graffiti in a curated museum setting.
In an act of guerrilla art akin to graffiti, a Pikachu sculpture recently appeared in the small park sliver on Terpsichore Street near Prytania Street in the Lower Garden District. The five-foot-tall Pikachu is painted bronze and situated in an old fountain in the middle of the park. Like the Pokemon in Pokemon Go, it could vanish at any time.
Update: The statue has been removed and will be available for auction with proceeds benefitting a Lower Garden District initiative to beautify its existing parks and sculptures.