Since Hurricane Katrina, the street art scene in New Orleans has positively exploded, with murals, images, and tags of all levels of expertise blooming across the city’s outdoor surfaces. The most famous public art project in recent New Orleans history is arguably ExhibitBE, curated by Brandon “Bmike” Odums in 2014, in which more than 30 artists transformed an abandoned apartment complex into “the largest single-site street art exhibit in the American South.”
But the color has not stopped there, and starting on Oct. 14, several of our city’s most prominent street artists—including two members of famed New Orleans graffiti crew Top Mob and three ExhibitBE artists—will be bringing their talent indoors.
The “1900 Block” show at the Where Y’Art Gallery is titled as a nod to TAKI 183, one of the most influential figures in street art history and whose tag referenced his address on 183rd Street in Washington Heights. The show, which will take place at 1901 Royal Street in the Marigny, will feature exciting pieces by leaders in the street arts community meant for interior display. These artists are on the cutting edge of the graffiti/street art movement in New Orleans; through the power of the art they create, they are some of our city’s most influential change agents. Check out their insights below, and then come out to the Where Y’Art Gallery’s 1900 Block opening reception on Oct. 14 to see their work for yourself.
Street art is as effective as a fast food sign or a billboard when it comes to expressing a message, a kind of thought-provoking advertising that touches the psyche.
1900 Block Artists
Gabriel Alexander Flores
A member of Top Mob and a New Orleanian since 1982, Gabriel Alexander Flores has been prominent within the local art scene since 1996. This past summer, he co-curated the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s exhibit “Top Mob: A History of New Orleans Graffiti.” His work reflects his background in graffiti and fine art, and he continues to contribute to his community through both public art works and gallery curation. Alexander Flores says that public art, in particular, has the power to deliver strong messages. It impacts both civic pride and tourism with its transformative properties, brightening up “otherwise drab, blighted areas with color and positive imagery,” while simultaneously pulling in elements of the surrounding cityscape for inspiration.
Native Floridian Joel Scilley, after studying in a wide variety of arts and academic disciplines across the country, has worked as a designer and woodworker since 1997. In 2008 he began building handmade audio equipment, which he makes under the name Audiowood. “I think of most of my works as small acts of architecture: things that stand on their own, and that suggest an entire way of living.” Since 2008, he’s worked with clients such as Anthropologie, Bushmills, Paramount Pictures, and various A-List celebrities, and his Audiowood pieces have been featured in dozens of major international publications, including The New York Times, Wired, California Home and Design, and Velvet. The 1900 Block show will feature a collaborative piece, the second of its kind, by Scilley and Alexander Flores. They have co-created a piece meant to combine both decoration and function, integrating original artwork by Alexander Flores and a working pair of speakers.
Artist Jessica Strahan, known in the art world as “JHand,” is a born-and-raised New Orleanian. Continuously inspired by the city she calls home, she channels its “rich culture, distinct landmarks, and colorful (and tragic) history” in her paintings. Strahan considers street art to be as effective as a fast food sign or a billboard when it comes to expressing a message, a kind of thought-provoking advertising that touches the psyche. Public art pieces are “outdoor expressions of love—love of art, love of people, love of the environment.” Public art lends hope to residents; it adds beauty to a community otherwise filled with scars by “reminding people that they are alive.” A few of Strahan’s vivid paintings will be on display at the 1900 Block show: a traditional New Orleans neighborhood scene accompanied by three African-inspired pieces.
Native New Orleanian Jeremy Paten, a graduate of Memphis College of Art, has loved drawing from a very young age. As a child who grew up with a stutter, Paten felt his drawings allowed him to communicate his emotions with others, and feel understood. This early relationship to his art continues to this day. “Art is meant to move, to invigorate some type of emotion or action from a person,” Paten says. “As the artist, I would like to take the viewer to a place that is real, yet fictional. Immerse them in a world that isn’t all that it seems.” Paten maintains that street art is inherently anti-establishment and for the people. “The beauty of street art is that it’s unbiased, it’s brash, it’s in your face. Ideally it’s motivated and fueled by those whose voices are unheard,” he says. “Great raw art changes the world. It works by putting a mirror in front of society, by highlighting its ills. Public art can create dialogue. It brings the community together.” On the piece he’ll be presenting at the 1900 Block show, Paten simply quotes Tupac Shakur’s “Smile”: “There’s gonna be some stuff you’re gonna see that’s gonna make it hard to smile in the future. But through whatever you see, through all the rain and pain, you gotta keep your sense of humor.”
Keith Eccles, a graduate of Delgado Community College and Memphis College of Art, has been in the Art Industry for decades. His art studio in Gretna, Keith Eccles Illustration & Design Studio, LLC, serves as his personal studio, as well as a space for teaching adult painting classes and leading summer camp programming for children. Eccles has made it a point to give back to the community through teaching, community events, and extensive fundraising efforts over the years. His artwork, often defined by his use of bright colors and bold outlining, has been exhibited across the country in cities like Los Angeles, Memphis, Washington, D.C., and others. For the 1900 Block show, Eccles will be featuring a large graffiti piece filled with bold images reminiscent of New Orleans, as well as three works from his “skateboard” series, in which Eccles has repurposed his son’s discarded skateboards to create easily-mountable pieces each with its own unique theme. Eccles believes that street art is crucial in today’s society, and that the urban landscape is an ideal setting for creative and colorful installments of self-expression. His personal approach to public art typically takes the form of murals on school walls and gymnasiums. His motto has always been, “Imagine yourself in a city with great art, then imagine yourself in art.”
Jeremy Novy, a graduate of Pecks School of the Arts in Milwaukee, has explored social and political issues for the past 16 years through the vehicle of his stenciled street art. One of Novy’s primary goals is to bring works of art to every resident, regardless of income or background—which is one of the unique benefits street art can boast, according to Novy: accessibility to all viewers, not just those who visit museums or who can afford to collect. He enlivens abandoned objects, such as old telephone booths and blighted buildings, by layering his stenciled posters onto their surfaces. One of his other artistic intentions is to bring gay imagery in specific into the “homophobic subculture of street artists,” by covering over hateful graffiti and making space for artists of all sexual orientations to participate. He states that, “street art itself is a dominantly male heterosexual community; being out of the closet is not accepted. Gay street artists have been assaulted, their art supplies stolen or damaged, and their works covered up.” Novy’s images, such as his iconic koi fish seen peppered throughout the city, have been featured in a wide array of publications, and have also benefited non-profits, advocacy organizations, and other community service programs. His traveling exhibit, “A History of Queer Street Art,” has been featured in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and on the campus of Yale University, and is now on its way to New York, London, and Melbourne. Three of his pieces—images (including his famous koi fish) stenciled onto found objects—will be featured in the 1900 Block show.
Also presenting work at the show is mixed-media artist and ExhibitBE contributor Kate Hanrahan, as well as Top Mob member Lionel Milton. On the pieces he will be presenting, Milton says that they represent his visual and aesthetic skills, achieved without a college education or, as he describes it, “never having had a real job.” They are representations, simply, of his confidence in its own creative gifts as a native New Orleans artist. “In the words of Dr. Dre, ‘You are about to witness the strength of street knowledge.’”
Lastly, a mural from Healthy Start New Orleans’ photovoice project, Breastfeeding: Strengthening the Heart of the Community, Reclaiming an African American Tradition will also be on display at the Where Y’Art gallery on Oct. 14. The project is a collaboration between the New Orleans Health Department/Healthy Start/WIC and the Ashé Cultural Arts Center and intends to deepen the conversation on the importance of breastfeeding for healthier communities and healthier babies. Participating artists include Katrina Andry, Jamar Duvol Pierre, J Hand Paints, Ayo Scott, Myesha Francis, D Lammie Cokic, Asia-Vinae Preach Palmer, and Karel Sloane-Boekbinder.
Come out and witness “the strength of street knowledge” yourself — and perhaps find a piece to take home with you!
1900 Block: A Street Art Party
- October 14, 2016
- Where Y’Art Gallery, 1901 Royal Street