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Jamar Pierre’s paintings are an exuberant mix of color and imagery. A self-described native son and citizen of the world, he draws on a global array of experience to express his artistry — his works are dense with indigenous motifs as well as references to Costa Rica, Africa, Iceland and Eastern spirituality.
Pierre’s introduction to art came during his childhood in New Orleans.
“I grew up poor and surrounded by not positive things,” says Pierre, whose first medium was street graffiti influenced by popular culture and graffiti artists of the mid-1980s (such as Fab 5 Freddy, the graffiti artist turned filmmaker and rapper). “Art was a way for me to stay alive and out of jail.”
A teacher introduced Pierre to Jerome Smith, head of Tambourine and Fan, an organization dedicated to instilling cultural awareness and self-esteem in the youth of Treme. Not long after, Pierre began doing murals for the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, where he in turn would spend 15 years mentoring young people.
His accomplishments and accolades include corporate and private commissions, album covers, public murals and artist-in-residence programs as far away as Canada, Iceland and Costa Rica. Essence Music Festival, Beyoncé and HBO’s “Treme” have been among his clients. Yet he continues his strong commitment to teaching young artists and working with nonprofits.
The official artist of the New Orleans Tricentennial (he did the painting for the official print) and the Artist-in-Residence at Longue Vue House and Gardens for the year, he has become a cultural ambassador for the city and his message couldn’t be more timely. His pieces, which picture such things as brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians, local chefs and cuisine, and urban and rural environments (including Longue Vue), explore themes of diversity and equality. His own upbringing in Treme and the 7th Ward, and his Creole and Native American roots have been a constant fount for his idiom – as have jazz, Caribbean influences, the Mississippi River and nature. Pierre Town is a small section of a neighborhood in Edgard that was named for his paternal ancestors, one of whom was said to have come up the river with Bienville. His father, a musician and artist, was one of the first artists to sell his wares at Jazz Fest.
“I am a gumbo,” says the artist, who celebrates the richness of his life and heritage and teaches others to do the same. “I try to bring mindfulness and consciousness and self-awareness to kids. Through creating murals, they get a sense of ownership and learn to work together as part of the community.”
Pierre’s second Longue Vue exhibition of the year opens on Oct. 18.