Several years ago, Jake Kimbrell suggested we have a “Scary Art Show” for Halloween. Being a big lover of all things New Orleans, I knew I wanted to do a painting of Marie LaVeau. My next challenge was research. I didn’t want to piss off someone or worse “something”. I immediately discovered that historically she predated photography and so the only image of Marie is a painting that was derived from newspaper accounts of what she looked like. I read as many stories about the good side of Marie, the kind and generous acts, as I read stories that speculated more sinister behavior. I concluded I wanted the painting to reflect both sides.
Next, I started reading volumes about her beliefs. About Vodou itself. Vodou is a fascinating religion that has been grossly maligned in the media and is very misunderstood. One thing I read about was “veves”. Veves are patterns drawn on the ground with corn meal by the Vodousants to conjure spirits. Different spirits represented by different veves. The Vodou spirits also have corresponding Catholic saints. These saints were used by African slaves as a way of practicing their religion without incurring the wrath of their Christian slave owners. Example, Saint Patrick (often pictured driving the snakes out of Ireland) represented the Snake spirit, Danbala.
I found these veves to be rather artistic and as a streetpainter I identified with drawing something impermanent, yet beautiful on the ground. I decided to make one.
Now, we must flashback further in time…
Perhaps a year or so prior, one of the gallery co-founders, Glenn Morris, had a studio in the front of the building. Glenn had a large following of female fans that were enamored with the cute and talented, dreadlocked Mr. Glenn. I call them the Glenn Morris fan club. One day, one of the fan club, asked if Glenn would watch her pet parakeet while she went on vacation. She left Glenn with a large container of birdseed. This would be the last time she ever saw her feathered friend as it croaked during her absence.
A few months later, Glenn moved his studio out of the Gallery.
Flashing back to our story…
So it’s now been several months since Glenn left (and I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of him since) and I am contemplating doing a veve. There wasn’t any corn meal in the gallery, so I started rummaging through the old store-room for a reasonable substitute. I stumbled upon the giant container of bird seed! Perfect! “I’ll do a veve in honor of the parakeet Glenn killed” (I’m sure Glenn would swear it wasn’t his fault, but none the less..)
I took the seed, some Catholic candles and some incense out in the parking lot. In those days, I had a portrait I painted of Glenn hanging on the side of the building. I decided to do the veve under Glen’s portrait. I drew the veve, and lit the candles, but somehow it failed to have the sybolism I was after. I had a brainstorm! I ran up stairs and grabbed a Lotteria deck. These are the ones I used…
In the center, I had “El Negrito” the black man, symbolizing Glenn. Below Glenn was “El Diablito” (the little devil), above Glenn I put lots of “El Pajaro” and “El Cotorro” cards, symbolizing the dead parakeet. On one side of Glenn I had “La Sirena” symbolizing the Fan Club. On the other side of Glenn I had “La Bota” symbolizing the boot that Glenn’s wife would put in his ass if he didn’t beware of the fan club… I was satisfied that it was all very clever when an acquaintance walk up and asked about it. I was recounting the symbolism when all of a sudden I heard this voice from behind me…
“Hey girlfriend! What’s goin’ on?”
I turned to look. “Holy Shit! It’s Glenn!” I thought. He had a beautiful girl with him. I said, “Hey Glenn! I was just doing a veve in….” He cut me off, “What’s a veve?” he asked. I explained and then returned to “I was just doing this veve in honor of the parakeet you killed”. Suddenly the girl started shrieking.
“That was MY parakeet!” she yelled out.
Okay folks, this had just turned exceptionally bizarre. I hadn’t even seen Glenn in months and then he shows up right when I do this veve about him and the parakeet? We all went upstairs for a cocktail. I concluded that this girl HAD to model for me. She simply HAD to be my “Marie LaVeau”. Ultimately, she agreed.
Some time later, I painted “Cage” (Cage Girl). I think that was the first time I put a tornado in my work. And shortly after finishing it a tornado hit nearby. Here is footage https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dGy55TEzB6I
A couple of years later I was working on another painting “Beehive”. I went into the storeroom to find my cat. My poor cat was napping while surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of bees! Softball size clusters of them in places! I still have many stuck in the flourescent light fixture to this day that you can still see. I managed to rescue my cat without getting stung.
This month, March 2013 “Marie” is on display at the Blood Orange Infoshop over at the Life Arts Building. You can bet I asked her if she wanted to go before I took her there. I flipped a coin on a Ouiji board that sits near the painting as decoration. It landed on “yes”. I figured that meant Marie wanted to get out for a bit.