The Magnolia Project
'The Magnolia Project' Artist's Statement
A Native Son’s Response to Hurricane Katrina
The people of New Orleans view hurricanes as a relatively routine way of life, and had survived many prior to 'Katrina'. What separated 'Katrina' from the others was the breaching of the levy. As a child. I watched the levy board display their elaborate floats at carnival (Mardi Gras) each year. I thought they were one of the many social clubs. I later realized that the money spent on these floats could have gone to manage and maintain the levy.
In contrast, the poor people of the lower ninth ward were left protected by flimsy sheets of steel, scantily buried into marsh land, while the affluent areas were secured by the stronger, more proven earthen levies. The failure of the levies against the rush of the Gulf of Mexico flooding into Lake Ponchatrain and the Industrial Canal, caused the horrific 2005 flooding of my beloved New Orleans.
This painting series was created over a period of one and one half years, as I received and processed information about all that had occurred in New Orleans, LA, beginning on August 29, 2005.
“No Lagniappe for New Orleans”
The first in the series, the artist immediately felt the piece had to be large in dimension to magnify the devastation in the viewer’s mind. When he was 8 years old, his mother took him to the Musee Contie Historical wax museum of New Orleans. There, in a darkened corridor, he met the Cyclops of Louisianna folklore. The tale of the Cyclops was often told to the children in his family. As the tale went, the Cyclops was restrained from eating the babies and old folk in a village by the offering of “lagniappe” (Creole French word meaning something extra). During times of duress in the artist’s life, the vision of this beast of destruction revisits. Post-Katrina was one of those times. He used the image of the Cyclops to represent the neglect of very entities that are designed to protect it’s citizenry, i.e. federal, state and local government. Upon the cyclops back, rides the skeletal face of Hurricane Katrina, the natural part of the disaster. In Visual arts, skeletal images are often used to represent death. Viewers will notice the illusion of a living, breathing eye that follows from one side to another. The painting is divided into vertical thirds. The first third’s (left to right) cool tones represent the destruction. The warm tones on the remaining two panels represents man-made indifference.
“Fiddling while Rome Burns”- a phrase meaning “to occupy one’s self with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis” inspired the artist to depict the political leaders as modern day “Neros” the emperor of Rome who was responsible of the empire and the well being of its citizenry.
Images of fire links images of the three “leaders” during the Katrina Disaster to the story of the disengaged Nero who turned his back on his people. Mayor Ray Nagin rode the storm out with his family in a luxury high rise hotel. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco buckled down comfortably and securely in Baton Rouge. And President Bush strummed his guitar during a V-day celebration. Bush’s disinterested fly over on the way home from the party caused an international spark of outrage. Nagin received more criticism for proclaiming New Orleans “Chocolate City” than he did for failing to care for the residents of the city as though they were his own. CNN images of death and desperation bombarded the world.
Black and white images of the politicians illustrate a lack of compassion. The work asks the same questions that history will ask of Nagin, why were school buses standing in six feet of water, instead of picking up residents from poor neighborhoods? Of Blanco, How much time was wasted while your team argued with the feds over who would pick up the tab? How much does the suffering, indignity and neglect of the citizens of Louisiana cost? Where was your outrage that should have spurned immediate and decisive action? And of President Bush – Did you visit the superdome where hundreds suffered for days in sweltering heat and no water before you congratulated 'Brownie' (FEMA Director at the time of the flood, who later resigned amidst criticism in disgrace) for a job well done?
"Sixth & Ferret - Paradise Lost"
Faulkner proclaimed New Orleans the city “who gave the world much of its music, much of it’s literature, a cracked mirror glimpse of America exotica, and a fair piece of its soul."
Many look at New Orleans that way- as a jewel, a piece of paradise. Thus they felt a profound sense of loss. The address 'Sixth & Ferret' is my intersection of the ideal and reality. Vague, abstract, ghostly shapes of anguished ancestors appear to the viewer upon closer examination.