Artist Profile: Layla Messkoub

A vivid dream remembered all day, a fish leaping up and smacking down on the waters of Bayou St. John, a radiant heart, an iconic cowboy boot with star-shaped spurs, a brown pelican spied above the live oak canopy: All might end up as subjects in New Orleans artist Layla Messkoub’s woodblock prints.

“There are things that stay with me, and I feel the need to represent them,” says Messkoub. “If it’s a story, it’s a story of my everyday life in this city, riding my bike along the bayou, coming downtown and the things you see that stick with you.”

No matter how fleeting or ephemeral the inspiration may begin, in the end she renders them in hard wood. Working in a sweltering, deteriorating third-floor studio overlooking the rooftops of the French Quarter, she drives her hand chisels through the bare planks, inks the raised surfaces that result and then hand-presses the relief pattern on to imported paper. It’s an ancient technique that traces its origins back to China and the invention of paper. Messkoub uses it to express an artistic vision that often shows a modern, urban edginess. Some of her prints proclaim boldly with the qualities of political broadside posters, their stark simplicity and iconic images arresting the eye from across the room.

Most of all, though, she draws inspiration from recurring organic patterns, which she sees equally in cypress forests and in masses of crawfish poured across a table for a springtime New Orleans feast. Through the very printmaking process, she feels a part of the renewal and reproduction of these organic patterns. 

Raised in New Jersey, Messkoub studied art at Columbia University in New York, initially focusing on oil painting. She credits an inspirational teacher for introducing her to woodblock printmaking, which quickly became her niche and creative outlet. She came to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina on an impulse but soon settled in to begin making her home here –– and her art.

“The people I met here have been incredible, and there’s something here that pulls you in,” she says. “I knew what I wanted to do, and I just felt like I couldn’t do it in Brooklyn the way I do it here.”

Her work will be featured later this month on the walls at The Bean Gallery coffee shop at 637 N. Carrollton Ave. in Mid-City. For updates and to see examples of her art, go online to www.laylamesskoub.com.

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