The Mighty Mississippi has been a powerful presence in artist Sean Friloux’s life. Growing up in Destrehan, he was introduced to its strength, beauty and industry by his grandfather. Today, the river is also a powerful presence in Friloux’s art, which depicts a variety of local subjects, including French Quarter scenes, industrial sites along the river and portraits.
At 14, Friloux and his family moved to Pittsburgh, home to three different rivers and to both the Art Institute of Pittsburg and Community College of Allegheny County, where he studied graphic arts. After more than a decade as a graphic artist, he tired of the profession’s reliance on digital media and turned to painting. In 2005, he headed back South, first to Baton Rouge, then New Orleans, and in the last six years, has garnered an enthusiastic following.
“There is a movement happening especially in places like San Francisco and New York of traditional painting and I wanted to be a part of that,” says Friloux. “It’s coming out of the underground, but it’s becoming more mainstream.”
Friloux, who says he is mostly self-taught, began working in watercolor, but moved to photorealist work in oil. Inspired by favorite painters John Singer Sargent, J. M. W. Turner and James Abbott McNeill Whistler, he is adept at capturing nocturnal light. A student of cinematography in films by directors such as David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick, he also is skilled at creating movement in his work, especially his paintings of the flowing river. Like Rembrandt, he uses a limited palette of four to six colors that he blends into other hues. He finds beauty in things that are overlooked or considered ugly.
“I grew up near oil refineries, that whole industry thing, ships, lights,” he says. “People think it’s ugly, but I think it’s like a little city.”
Common threads through his work are his distinctive use of light and shadow (“there’s always a light focal point and then it blurs out”) and his emphasis on showing something other than the cliché.
“I think New Orleans can be portrayed in a different way,” he says. “The beauty is in the fog and in the night.”
Friloux also does watercolors and charcoal portraits and has painted rivers and skylines in cities such as Chicago and New York by commission. When asked what he prefers to paint, his reply is “river scenes” and he says there are many more to come.
“As far as my career goes, I think I’m just starting,” he says.
Sean Friloux’s work can be seen at seanfriloux.com.