Self-taught folk artist Devin DeWulf first came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as a volunteer photographer, documenting the efforts of non-profits and other groups involved in getting the city back up on its feet. He moved to the Marigny in July 2007, and one day while walking around his new neighborhood, he stumbled upon a painted car.
“My mind was blown,” DeWulf recalls about seeing that car for the first time. It happened to be for sale and had a phone number attached to it. DeWulf dialed the number on a whim, and, in true New Orleans fashion, the car’s owner Susan Ireland was more than willing to talk to him about her painted car, and even showed him how to paint his own. And then, he just kept on painting.
Prior to this fateful meeting, DeWulf had only painted a couple times—in an art class he took while traveling abroad, for example. “New Orleans unlocked the realization that I enjoyed making art,” he explains, and what he describes as his “intrinsic style” emerged almost right away. Now, when he’s not caring for his young daughter, DeWulf paints primarily found objects—pieces of wood or cabinet doors left on the side of the street, for example—as well as on canvas and occasionally large outdoor murals. Lately he’s taken to hand-sewing beads and sequins onto his canvas paintings, a process that can take up to a year to complete, to add texture and depth.
Speaking of texture, DeWulf is also the founder of the Red Beans Parade, the Lundi Gras second line that marches annually through the Marigny and Treme sporting hand-made, bean-beaded costumes. One of DeWulf’s first photo projects in New Orleans involved documenting a group of Mardi Gras Indians. In observing their costume preparations, he was greatly inspired by the idea of meticulously working on a suit all year long only to wear it for one season. DeWulf considers the Red Bean Parade, which loosely employs this meticulous costuming process, to be as much an art form as his paintings are. In fact, it’s this kind of creative ritual that caused him to fall in love with New Orleans in the first place.
DeWulf explains that one of his favorite things about this city is that “regular people make culture here.” Whether it’s costuming, parading, making music, or participating in second lines, New Orleans seems to have the highest per capita rate of everyday culture-makers. And DeWulf, with his self-taught style that marries pleasure and enjoyment with meticulous care, fits in perfectly here.
Check out some of DeWulf’s paintings, including “Louisiana: People Stronger Than Water.” Produced by DeWulf and Where Y’Art, 100% of the proceeds from the piece—both prints and the painting itself—goes to the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (APEL) as they work to replenish school supplies in Louisiana classrooms affected by recent flooding.
20 QUESTIONS WITH DEVIN DEWULF
1. Who is your favorite New Orleanian, dead or alive, real or imagined?
Easily Louis Armstrong. I find his joy for life and life-affirming ways inspiring. I love thinking about him when I am in the CBD (his childhood neighborhood).
2. What first brought you to New Orleans?
I actually came as an idealistic volunteer photographer post-Katrina. By my second day I saw John Boutte sing, ate a shrimp po-boy, and fell in love with this place.
3. In your opinion — what’s the best neighborhood in New Orleans?
I like my neighborhood a lot (Bywater), but honestly, I think most neighborhoods have some very special places. Especially the ones that preserve the culture of the city.
4. If it’s a beautiful day, where are you going to spend it?
Bayou St. John or in City Park, walking among the beautiful oak trees.
5. Describe the best meal you’ve eaten in New Orleans.
Two Sisters in the East – back when they were in Treme. Amazing soul food.
6. Where’s your favorite brunch spot?
My house! Biscuits and boudin on a lazy weekend day with good friends over. My daughter can run around, and we don’t have to pay anything if she breaks stuff!
7. What’s your favorite type of po-boy? Where do you get it?
Roast beef po-boy from Frady’s hits the spot for me. I like it messy!
8. You’ve got friends visiting, and it’s their first time in New Orleans — where are you taking them?
They have to see a brass band. And honestly, a second line is the essential New Orleans experience for someone to have. So I usually insist that they do not fly out of town until Sunday night or Monday.
9. What’s your favorite neighborhood bar?
Seal’s Class Act Lounge. That is the home of our Red Beans Parade beaning sessions and Mrs. Seal is super nice!
10. What is your favorite New Orleans cocktail, and where do you go to get it?
Sazerac, for sure. I usually use that to judge bars, too; it’s a good barometer of how for-real they are.
11. What’s your favorite dessert or sweet treat in the city?
I really miss the Hubig’s Pies. Like. Really. Bad.
12. Best spot to see live music?
Can I say a festival? Nowadays, with a small child in tow, that’s the place to be! Otherwise, I love the Ooh Poo Pah Doo bar.
13. Favorite New Orleans musician or band?
So hard! I may actually have 20 favorites…James Andrews? Maggie Koerner, John Boutte, Tank and the Bangas….
14. Favorite New Orleans festival?
French Quarter Festival for sure!
15. What’s your ideal New Orleans date night?
Slyvain with my wife.
16. What are your favorite local shops?
17. What is your favorite New Orleans museum?
Odgen Museum of Southern Art. I love it there—especially when they have good live music.
18. Where do you go to watch The Saints play?
Hope to be in the Dome!
19. Describe New Orleans in one word.
20. When was the last time you fell in love with New Orleans, and why?
Most recently—literally an hour ago when we had a wonderful conversation with a parking lot attendant with three gold teeth and a beautiful smile. We talked about how babies are real cute but then they become teenagers with lots of attitude. The man was charming and had an amazing presence. I love New Orleans people.
*Editor’s Note: This edition of 20 Questions was brought to you by Where Y’Art is a curated community of over 100 New Orleans artists, where you can meet the people creating art, learn their stories, and even find them on the ground in the City. Discover, follow, and shop the art of our community online at Whereyart.net and in New Orleans at 1901 Royal St.