Les Nouvelles Voix d’Acadiana
One of our traditions is to occasionally provide profiles as written by ULL journalism students. Their range of topics is impressive. Here are some bylines of the future.
Steven Hronek Photographs
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By Markel Guidry
On any given day, Jerome Ford can be found in his small art studio on Main Street in Opelousas, painting away by lamplight while listening to an array of tunes on the radio.
His drafty studio isn’t much: just four worn brick walls, an assortment of miscellaneous goods and a door. But the magic of Main Street isn’t found in the surroundings of the artist; the magic is in the artist – a warm dark figure, fixed facing the canvas, dampened by sweat and splattered with paint.
“I spend about three hours at a time when I’m here,” Ford says as he dips his brush in a spill of blue atop a makeshift table. He is working on a painting called Darker than Blue – The Story Keepers, a piece inspired by a group of Opelousas women who assemble together every Monday to patch quilts and talk freely amongst themselves.
“Jerome is an artist of detail who incorporates his personal experience and rich Orleans heritage into his eclectic craft,” said Lavonia Malveaux, an admirer of Ford’s work. “His artwork is really explosive; he uses a lot of color.”
Ford holds his brush like a master calligrapher, delicately placing every stroke onto the canvas, breathing life into his creation – a work in progress that is as yet nothing more than a mash of fluorescent greens, blues and yellows.
“I minored in printmaking,” Ford says, “and in printmaking, you really don’t know what the end product is going to look like until you get to it. So that’s what I do; I think in layers. The end product isn’t put on until the last layer.”
Much like his painting, Ford’s own life is a blend of intricate layers that play with and complement one another to form an artist who is as unique as his art.
Ford started his art career at Capdau Middle School in New Orleans under the instruction of Richard Thomas, the talented arts program teacher. It had been a longtime dream of Ford’s to participate in the program ever since his years in elementary school. His yearning for an education in art, coupled with his artistic lineage (Ford is a scion and sibling of painters), turned Ford into a pupil eager to learn and to listen.
Thomas was keen on professional training at the college level as well as on encouraging his students to go out and teach art, both of which Ford set out to do.
Ford graduated from LSU in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art with a concentration in drawing.
“I asked one of my classmates what he was going to do when he finished, and with the most serious face, he told me, ‘Work at Walmart,’” Ford recalls.
Devastated by the realization of what a career in art could entail, Ford says he went home and lamented his choices.
The year after graduation, Ford was working as a longshoreman in New Orleans – brutal work. Every day he had to report to the docks by 5 a.m. just for the chance to obtain employment, work a 12-hour shift and then repeat the process the next day. But Ford never relinquished his dream of becoming an artist – and for good reason.
While working as a longshoreman, a friend of Ford’s told him to apply for an art teaching position that wasn’t even open. However, Ford was hired because of the hardworking reputation of longshoremen. Soon Ford not only was teaching art but also was back in the studio.
Gradually, his work began achieving acclaim.
“To make it as an artist you have to be social,” Ford says. With the selling of pieces to vice presidents of companies such as WWL-TV and Liberty Bank, Ford was becoming a rising star in the art community.
But in August 2005, tragedy struck in the form of Hurricane Katrina, which dealt a punishing blow – not only to New Orleans, Ford’s hometown, but to Ford’s art career, as well.
“It was devastating because I was an up-and-coming artist,” Ford says. “I was meeting people and getting my name out there; it was basically like I was starting over.”
After the storm, Ford moved to Opelousas with his wife, Summer, whom he married three months after the catastrophe, and began picking up the pieces (and paintings) that he lost in the cataclysm.
After being commissioned to paint a mural in Opelousas; working on festival posters; and selling a few pieces to dealers and buyers, one of whom is Tina Knowles, the mother of singer Beyoncé, Ford is edging his way back to the pinnacle, all the while mentoring students in the St. Landry Parish talented visual arts program.
“I try to give the kids the same thing that was given to me: a shot at greatness,” Ford says as he applies a hint of crimson to his piece.
Ford doesn’t settle for merely teaching his students painting; he introduces them to a variety of media and encourages them to become sociable. As for Ford, his art career, it seems, has clear skies ahead of it, which he attributes to his faith.
“As an artist, there is no formula for success,” Ford says, “but you had better have some faith in something. Most artists I know have faith. It’d be a scary experience without faith. That’s how I look at life, too. It’s the only formula that works. God. Having faith in God.”