Thom Bennett Photograph
Relief work, of the hurricane variety, brought Layla Ardalan to New Orleans. Relief work, of the Japanese block-cut variety (her first serious foray into fine art), led to her current form of artistry – intricate, vibrantly colored mixed-media collages combining handmade paper, paintings, drawings and bits of embroidery. Together, the city and the work have been a synergistic marriage. From the Mid-City cottage she renovated, Ardalan weaves inspiration from her surroundings into beautiful images reminiscent of the light-refracted colors of a kaleidoscope.
Originally from Morristown, New Jersey, Ardalan majored in Middle Eastern Studies and Visual Arts at Columbia University, then pursued a career as a translator and fundraiser for a nonprofit devoted to Middle Eastern conflict resolution. But when she returned to New Orleans to live in 2009, it was with the intent of working as full-time artist. New Orleanians have responded with ardor. The artist, who created the 2014 Rex poster and has shown at Jazz Fest for four years (last year, she won Best In Show), regularly sells 75 percent or more of her work at such exhibits. “There’s a real loyalty to local artists here,” says Ardalan. “It’s in the blood of the people who live in New Orleans.”
With Persian ancestry and a familial love of hand-knotted Persian rugs in her own blood, Ardalan possesses a profound appreciation for pattern. Her work also is informed by the clean, minimalist aesthetic of Asian art, botanical imagery, the flora of the peaceful garden oasis outside her home studio (her current series celebrates a warm palette of ochres, reds and burgundies from her garden) and by decorative arts such as Katazome, a Japanese batik from the 1800s, which she deconstructs and uses to build new forms. “I like taking things from another time and space and creating a new narrative,” she says.
Ardalan employs two assistants to help with the laborious tasks of cutting paper and fabric for her meticulously crafted pieces and can produce a body of work in a matter of months. Yet, she likens the evolution of each piece to a calming meditation and exudes the kind of tranquility rarely seen in the smartphone era. This fall, she and her husband (whom she met when he purchased one of her works) will tour Southeast Asia in search of fresh materials and inspiration. “Traveling,” she says, “always moves the work forward in different directions.”