The Gift of Art

November 02, 2015
If you were raised in small town America, and were lucky to have a vibrant downtown area, the holidays were always a special time of the year when you could go to “Main Street” and stroll among the festive holiday decorations and peruse the small shops sprinkled along the street. In many ways, the French Quarter is much like “Small Town America” to the 4,000 or so residents who especially enjoy the neighborhood when the holiday decorations go up and the window displays begin to reflect the spirit of the season.

And nothing is more evocative of the season than the many art galleries that dot the French Quarter with windows brimming with a collection of artwork that truly offers something for everyone. The holidays are the perfect time to window-shop through the French Quarter for that perfect piece of art that will be a real standout when it’s unwrapped back home. The selection is almost as endless as your imagination. You can find everything from a miniature watercolor perfect for a coffee table to a commissioned oil painting that will command any room, literally take one’s breath away, and be treasured for many lifetimes.

For many visitors to the French Quarter, the Martin Lawrence Gallery is certainly one of the most respected galleries along Royal Street. For 40 years, Martin Lawrence has represented some of the world’s most prestigious artists, from masters like Picasso and Chagall, as well as many of the best emerging artists. Once you walk into the gallery, you’re immediately struck by the unprecedented collection of exceptional artwork that encompasses the space. So when an opportunity to meet one of the galleries’ featured artists presents itself, locals and visitors alike are quite excited.

Such is the case on November 14th, when the renowned artist and composer, Mark Kostabi, will be in attendance for the opening night of his exhibit from 6 to 8pm. Artist and composer Mark Kostabi was born in Los Angeles in 1960 to Estonian immigrants. He was raised in Whittier, California and studied drawing and painting at California State University, Fullerton. In 1982, he moved to New York and by 1984 he became a leading figure of the East Village art scene. During that time he also developed a provocative media persona by publishing self-interviews, which commented on the commodification of contemporary art. In 1988, inspiring extensive international press coverage, he founded Kostabi World, his large New York studio known for openly employing numerous painting assistants and idea people. In the 1990’s, his works were widely exhibited in New York galleries and prominently throughout the United States, Japan, Germany and Australia. For the past ten years, he has been dividing his time between New York and Rome and consequently his work's already strong presence in the Italian art scene has been greatly enhanced.

Kostabi is often described as a true renaissance man, who came to the forefront of the art world back in the 1980’s in New York when his featureless “everyman” figure quickly became a cultural icon of the era. His wide range of work includes album covers for the bands Guns ‘N’ Roses and The Ramones and designs for companies including Swatch and Giro d’Italia.

As an additional special Martin Lawrence holiday treat, the gallery will also be featuring an exhibit in December of one of the world’s greatest 20th century artists, Erté, often called “The Father of Art Deco.” As most people familiar with artists know, Erté was a diversely talented artist and designer who flourished in an array of fields, including fashion, jewelry, graphic arts, costume and set designs for film, theatre, opera and wearable art. Erté is perhaps most famous for his elegant fashion designs which capture the art deco period in which he worked. By far, his best-known image is Symphony in Black, depicting a tall, slender woman draped in black holding a thin black dog on a leash. The influential image has been reproduced and copied countless times.

On December 12th, Martin Lawrence will be holding a combination Erté Opening Exhibit and a Holiday Party that will be an event not to be missed. It’s a rare opportunity to not only see Erté’s artwork and sculptures in person but to add to your collection too. Please rsvp if you’d like to attend the Erté Holiday Exhibit and Party. Martin Lawrence Gallery, 433 Royal Street, (504) 299-9055.

Further down Royal Street, you’ll find a local French Quarter artist, David Harouni, who has been a fixture in the New Orleans art scene for some time now. His works line the wall of his intimate but impressively decorated gallery with an unmistakable style that is immediately recognizable in private homes and corporate collections throughout America and worldwide. Harouni is known for his texture, his depth, and his migration from flat visible surfaces to architecturally created layers of genius. Harouni Gallery has been a fixture in the New Orleans art scene, especially the Royal Street scene, for some time now.

Harouni’s trademark images are usually of a face, some of women in crowns, or some in his latest incarnation of men in suits, some with faces clearly described while others are hidden behind layers of paint or a thin blur that adds a sense of mystery. Harouni’s work is based upon his incredible life that he experienced before making New Orleans his permanent home. His dramatic painting style represents his very personal journeys as he draws, paints and often “erases” images on his canvas time and time again. As he paints and erases, some of these original images and memories still remain as he paints over them and builds upon them. The result of his artwork is both startling and evocative with diverse layers of former images still apparent underneath the completed paintings.

Properly used, layers of texture create multiple stories and images in one creation. Forcing the viewer to use their imagination, and working to remove the layers allows the true message to emerge; a message that is created and translated by an artist is sometimes made up of as many layers and life stories as his paintings.

While some may see similarities, each one lives on its own, with its own personality, having its own mood, and its own story. The limited compositions serve to allow the texture, the layers, and the colors to bring forth the most basic forms from the artist’s hands. Some of the images on the gallery walls possess less texture than most, yet these paintings still manage to hold the same attention as the more layered and larger pieces. With a slightly blurred image, the softened edges create an imaginary layer of fog. We are drawn in to investigate and to wait for the fog to clear so that we might see the illusive image. The image appears to be hiding, waiting for us to approach, tempting us to peel back the layers to appreciate the true and full beauty of the red accent in the mouth and the angled brow leading us into the center of a nondescript yet interesting face. As the texture is added, the stories become deeper, more vivid, and more meaningful.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about good art is that we feel a connection to the artist who creates it. Just by looking at the work, we can get an idea of what the artist might have experienced in life; we might be able to tell their mood, their fantasies, or their convictions. It’s easy to see not only the journey of David Harouni’s hands across the canvas, but also the journey of his mind and his experiences across the canvas. The free movement of the brush strokes and the loose placement of the paint describe an artist who is not married to the manner by which he creates, only to creating. Harouni does not appear to plan the way a piece will look as much as he resolves the way the piece will look after working and negotiating with the medium in the piece. He creates a journey with paint that ends in dynamic, multilayered, visual journeys. What’s on the surface makes you want to jump into the journey that takes you to a complete and beautiful creation that speaks volumes about the artist as well as his talents. Looking deeper into what is not so apparent can often reveal more beauty than one could even imagine. Harouni Gallery, 933 Royal Street, 11am-5pm., (504) 299-4393.

In the French Quarter, your choices, styles, sizes and mediums are as varied and diverse as the people that make up the neighborhood. Whether it’s a modern master, an oil-on-canvas or a more affordable reproduction of an artist’s work that you can tuck away in a stocking, you’re bound to find exactly what you’re looking for in the art galleries and shops. You really can “wrap up your holidays” with an inspired work of art that will be treasured for years to come when displayed in your own home or in the countless small hometowns and big cities sprinkled across America.