5 Eclectic Artists
“One of those lovely misty mornings of late spring when every flower in New Orleans seems to melt and mix with the air.” from An Unfinished Woman by Lillian Hellman
Multi-Tasker Tattoo Artist
Jason Cline, a tattoo artist at Electric Ladyland Tattoos on Frenchmen Street, is so accustomed to his work that he’ll answer my questions with a needle in hand, as he carefully – and yet casually – inks a design to the left wrist of an Australian woman who’s commemorating the Railroad Revival Tour in April 2011.
He is a seasoned veteran tattoo artist, with many years of experience, and clearly, he’s a multi-tasker, a well-respected artist at one of New Orleans’ favorite tattoo parlors that attracts locals and visitors alike. With a sunny yellow exterior, Electric Ladyland fits right in to the bustling Frenchmen Street scene, nestled among a bike shop, gritty music clubs, upscale jazz venues, apartments and other hangouts that attract an eclectic group of people, whether they’re permanently inked or not. And it’s here where Cline feels right at home, doing what he loves best. “I love that my work is in New Orleans,” he says. “I love that I get to do art all day long. I get to meet a lot of interesting people.”
Originally from Mobile, Ala., Cline says he tattooed his peers in high school. During that time, “I was always drawing and getting in trouble for it,” he says. He jokes that his training came from “the school of hard knocks,” but moments later reveals that he has undergone extensive professional training and is keenly in tune with the technology and health precautions that go along with his trade. Cline says he worked with many “phenomenal artists.”
Cline is covered in tattoos, many of them from his peers and other artists he has worked with over the years. He has “no idea anymore” about how many he has; he describes his skin as “one very big tattoo.”
He is skilled in a variety of designs though he says he does a fair amount of traditional American and Japanese designs. Despite that, he says he can’t decide what his proudest accomplishment is. “I really don’t have a favorite that I’ve done,” he says. “Every custom tattoo is fun. … It’s flattering that someone likes my art enough to wear it forever.”
A member of four bands – Marathon, Rabbit, The Rooks, New Lands – and a solo project called Astronomical, Robert Landry lives for music. Adaptable, optimistic and open-minded, the mainly self-taught 22-year-old drummer also plays piano and melodic percussion instruments, which are the focus of Astronomical.
“I want to create music that takes people on a journey into themselves,” he says thoughtfully. “I can’t tell people what to do, but I feel that the kinds of melodies I choose have a very reflective quality that makes people open their perception to what’s existing around them at that exact moment. I hope that will allow them to develop a better understanding of their world.
“For Astromonical, all of the songs I write are made up on the spot. Once I start, I don’t stop, and if I do, the song has to be finished.”
Although Astronomical is purely recording-based (the songs can be found online at astronomical.bandcamp.com), Landry’s other groups often play at local spots such as the Dragon’s Den, Banks Street Bar, the Howlin’ Wolf and the Parish.
All of Astronomical’s recordings are made on the computer in his one-bedroom apartment, a space that was once occupied by his grandfather. “A lot of energy exists inside, considering it’s over 100 years old,” he says. Landry has always felt a calling to be involved in the creative arts and considers his father, a painter, to be his mentor. One of his father’s paintings hangs behind his drum set. “He supports me 100 percent and is always giving me advice and telling me to keep playing,” he says. “He didn’t like painting landscapes with trees and mountains or bowls of fruit.
He likes sending a personal message in his paintings that was configured through experimentation. I feel the same way about music.”
A native of Huntsville, Ala., Anne Churchill took a keen interest in cooking at a young age, and when she first visited New Orleans in the 1980s, she was hooked. “I couldn’t live in any other city in the United States,” she says.
Churchill, who used to operate a service called Karma Kitchen LLC (not to be confused with a national chain of the same name), created a vegetarian menu for Feeling’s Café (she has since then passed on the torch), and now takes much of her work on the road.
Although she maintains a home base in New Orleans, her work allows her to travel extensively, cooking and catering for high-profile names: In 2009, she went on tour with the Dave Matthews Band for almost two years, working with head chef Fiona Bohane; last month, she cooked for country stars of the Zac Brown Band; and next month she’ll be in Las Vegas cooking for members of the hit television show “Glee.”
Describing herself as a “mercenary chef,” Churchill is adventurous, down-to-earth and open-minded. “When I travel, I find my way into a kitchen, any kitchen, and set about learning what knowledge they have to offer me,” she says. “Sometimes it’s something simple, like a fast, easy way to peel a green plantain. Other times it’s hanging out with some good ol’ boys and learning the finer points of cooking a wild boar in a Cajun microwave.”
Her travels allow her to evolve as a cook; frequently she’ll pick up ingredients in another locale and bring them back home. “One of my goals is to honor ingredients and different cultures’ food ways while imparting my passion and love into the finished dish,” she says. She describes her style as “Southeast Asia meets Southeast America – I don’t really know! But I love interesting ingredients and bold flavor profiles. … I’m happy to talk about food all day.”
When James Michalopoulos reflects upon his earlier days as a budding artist, it’s clear that a sense of curiosity and appreciation for artistic freedom – the traits that landed him where he is today – are still very much a part of his personality. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., Michalopoulos first came to New Orleans on vacation. With a degree in political science and economics from Bowdoin (in Maine), he had been working as an artist in Washington, D.C. “I was a plein air painter – only worked in front of a subject, and winters were tough,” he recalls. New Orleans, with its mild winter weathers, called – as did his sense of adventure. He was “hooked” on New Orleans and stayed here for four months. Then, “I came down a second time and decided to stay,” he says.
Now one of the highest-profile names in the city’s art scene, nationally and internationally recognized Michalopoulos, who paints and creates sculptures, says that when he first moved here, he spent much of his time bike-riding through City Park with an art kit. He would find a spot, sit down, and paint it. “I spent endless hours experimenting with colors and paint,” he says.
Michalopoulos is mostly self-taught, though he did attend both the University of New Orleans and the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts. He says he also learned a tremendous amount from watching painters in Jackson Square. But it’s the city itself that has served as his greatest inspiration and teacher: “New Orleans is a space where people can be pretty much whatever they want,” he says. “It’s a city that’s open, accepting, experimental – and it’s a culture of celebration. It’s unrestricted. I feel liberty here; I get to practice my appreciation and thankfulness because it’s a natural part of the culture.”
The city’s pulse is reflected in Michalopoulos’ works – he describes his painting style as graphic, energetic, semi-abstract and colorful. At times, humor reveals itself in his works, and it’s always distinctly expressive.
For filmmaker and puppeteer Miss Pussycat, a fixture on the avant-garde St. Claude arts scene and beyond, her creations aren’t just for show – they take on lives of their own. Puppet-making is a skill she developed as a child in the Christian Puppet Youth Ministry at the South Baptist Church in Antlers, Okla., and she believes that she and her handmade creatures work together in a symbiotic relationship. She guides each piece, with its own history, into its future.
“When I was growing up, I would look at the patches of fabric on my grandmother’s quilts and try to imagine where they came from – what the shirt or dress looked like, or whose it was,” she says. “So I think about that when I make puppets. The materials they’re made of give them different powers and personalities. It’s sympathetic magic.
The materials that they’re made of have their own inherent power.”
Miss Pussycat and her partner, Quintron, conduct puppet shows at local, national and international venues. While Miss Pussycat has done solo projects, she and Quintron frequently create multimedia shows that include his signature “swamp-tech” music as the soundtrack.
When she’s not performing, she’s surrounded in her workspace by yarn, glue, a technology center, two Tascam cassette four-tracks, sewing machines and “lots of cameras.” Faux landscapes made of papier-mâché line one wall, along with smaller plants that she uses for backgrounds in her films. It is here where she often creates voices for each puppet. “My favorite things about puppetry is that it involves so many things: sculpture, writing, recording sound effects and funny voices, sewing, painting, making molds, filmmaking, manual labor and show business,” she says.
And though she’s the one physically creating new life through her art, she says: “The puppets tell me how the story goes. It isn’t just about making a puppet – it’s the parallel universe aspect of it that’s most important. Puppets are portals to another dimension.” And where else but the Crescent City could these creatures come to fruition? “New Orleans,” she says, “is just a magical kingdom.”