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Artist Spotlight: Artist Varion Laurent

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Our culture couldn't exist without its many talented artists. And was privileged to chat with a very gifted, homegrown artist (painter), Varion Laurent. First things first, Varion is crazy…not crazy, crazy…but that special New Orleans blend of crazy. From our first meeting, it felt like we had known each other for ages.

Artist Varion Laurent | InthekNOwla.comVarion became aware of his talents as a small child and after one event in particular. He explained, “I’m a 70’s baby, so we had these orange leather sofas in the house that I used to play behind. One day, when I was about 3 years old, my mom was cleaning up behind the sofas and found this sparrow that I had drawn on the back of the couch. Immediately, she demanded to know who had did it. So, I happily took the blame. But considering my age, my mom didn’t quite believe me. Instead, she thought that it had to have been my older brother or cousin, but I insisted that I had done it. So she says to me, ‘If you did it then do it again.’ So I did, and to be cute this time, I drew the sparrow pulling a worm out of the ground. Her first reaction was, ‘Oh my God,’ realizing my gift. Her second was ‘Now get the belt!’ Had I known what I was in for, I would have never admitted guilt!”

Varion attended Xavier University where he studied under John T. Scott (among others), who is also the father of one of IntheNOLA’s Entrepreneur Spotlights, Ayo Scott of NOYO Designs. However, only a few years after graduating, Varion’s life, like the lives of all New Orleanians, changed forever with Hurricane Katrina. Many of us lost everything during the storm, and for Varion, it was his entire collection of works; in other words, the progression of his artistic maturity over the span of his entire life.

Varion said, “I lost all my work in Katrina, over 17 years worth of art work. But it was a beautiful thing and I’ll tell you why. Initially, I was in the dumps about it. I was hurting because as an artist, when you create something, it’s a part of you. There’s a piece of you in every piece. So when you have that taken from you, there’s this certain sense of helplessness. I was left with no identity of myself as an artist. And it took me two years before I could pick up a paintbrush again.

Every time I would get in front of the canvas, I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the stuff that I had lost. It was a mental block and I would get flooded with all these ideas saying that I needed to recreate all of the stuff that I lost. I was living in Gonzales, LA at the time and I got to a point where I just missed home so much that I was able to drop the stuff that I was holding onto and get past the block. I had the feeling that I wanted to do a piece that reminded me of New Orleans. So I did a piece called Cool Night, Hot Jazz. What came out was eerily reminiscent of the likeness of Louis Armstrong. Basically, this is what came through me as I contemplated what it meant to miss New Orleans.”

As a result of Katrina, Varion learned a very valuable lesson. He learned that if you have a gift, you have to share it. “We’re all put here to be creators in some way, shape, or form,” exclaimed Varion. “If you’re not sharing your gift with the world, then you’re doing an injustice to society and the spiritual wealth and well-being of everybody around you.”

Once finished with his first piece after not having painted for two years, Varion felt a huge sense of relief. He immediately started looking for new reasons to paint to pick up where he had left off. “I remember I did a wedding portrait for my sister. After that, I started to realize that I needed to invest in myself and my gift. What was funny was that people around me had been wondering what I had been waiting on. But it wasn’t like I wasn’t painting at all; I just wasn’t painting for anybody else. I wasn’t doing it to share my gift.”

When asked about his creative process, Varion explained, “Painting for me is like time traveling. When I begin a painting, I start with the end in mind. So when I start, I’ve already painted it in my mind a thousand times. I know where every stroke is, where I’m going, and how I want to get there. I already know how I’m gonna do it and how I’m gonna lay it out. That’s part of the creative process for me. I try to keep my thoughts as pure and innocent as a child because to children, anything’s possible.”

Recently, Varion has painted the poster for Satchmo Fest and the upcoming Gentilly Fest, the latter of which he was encouraged to do by fellow artist and good friend, Terrance Osborne. In fact, it was Terrance who helped Varion re-establish himself as an artist. Varion said, “Gentilly Fest initially approached Terrance about doing their first poster. At the time, he had too much on his plate, so he told the organizers that he knew another great up and coming artist. Gentilly Fest contacted me and the rest is history. They enjoyed the poster so much that they allowed me to do another one for the following year except that unfortunately the Fest got rained out. This year I was invited to do the poster again and I accepted due to the circumstances of last year, but this is my last time because I want to give another artist the opportunity that the festival presented for me.”

Varion pulls inspiration from a variety of sources and includes many influential experiences in his works. Among those sources are some of his favorite artists like John Singer Sargent and Henry Osswana Tanner. He always looks for beauty in the mundane and quite often is successful in replicating it in his work. And when others view his pieces, they can see that beauty as well which peaks their own desire to express themselves. Varion said, “People tell me all the time as an artist, ‘Man, I love your work. I wish I knew what my gift was.’ And I always chuckle a little inside before I answer. Then I say, ‘The truth is that you have the same gift I have. I just have more of a sense of how to express it. Each person just has to find their creative outlet because we are all infinite creators and we all have a choice about how you feel about every situuation. It's all about consciousness.”

Varion has love for all the pieces he’s produced, but he does have his favorites. One of those favorites is From the Depths in which he captures the cleansing and rebirth of our great city. “If you’re from New Orleans, all you need is one look and you’ll understand exactly what it means. I wanted to something to honor all the people who persevered. I wanted to recognize the resilience and strength of my people. That piece is about the spirit of New Orleans.”

In the future, Varion hopes to be able to commit 100% of his time and energy to his craft. He sees himself married and raising his own little creative individuals.

In starting a new tradition of ending our spotlights, we asked Varion an extremely hard question to answer to which he initially told us was impossible, but we made him answer anyway.

Tell us ONE thing that you love about New Orleans:

“There’s one thing that comes to mind other than the food and the culture: The people. Now this is said a lot, but lemme tell you why. It’s the genuine nature of the people here, even the ones who have recently made our city their city. There’s nothing more amazing than watching someone fall in love with New Orleans for the first time. It’s a great feeling when you realize that the beauty they see in our city is also a part of every one of us. They say that people are the salt of the Earth, well I think people from New Orleans are the pepper of the Earth. We the ones that put the seasoning into it. We keep everything interesting.”

And we couldn’t have said it any better…

For more information about Varion Laurent and to purchase any of his works, please visit his website.

Last modified on Friday, 20 July 2012
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