George Dunbar calls himself a “local yokel.” A born and raised New Orleanian, George loves his city and the work he has done here. After spending time in the service as a young man in World War II, studying in Philadelphia, and traveling throughout Europe, George still found himself back in his home city. He said, “After I returned from Europe, I had planned to go to New York, but I ended up coming back here and realizing how much I loved the city. A group of artists at that time were working seriously in contemporary art and we formed a gallery called the Orleans Gallery in the mid-1950s. It was a co-op gallery with five of us and we had a great deal of help and encouragement. For a community the size of New Orleans to have a contemporary gallery that was operating on that basis was relatively unusual in the early 1950s and it was a very instrumental reason for me staying in New Orleans at that point in time. As I say, I love the city and I love working here.”
George’s work spans several decades and various mediums. “The kind of work I do has changed dramatically over the years,” George said. “I’ve had what artists refer to as many different periods that have included sculpture as well as paintings and other mediums. I’ve done things in Hardedge, which would be engraving gold leaf back into thirty different coats of clay, an entirely different work that had an aspect of hardedge to it. The Coin du Lestin Period is another series of works. Currently, I’m doing what’s called Marshgrass. It’s more baroque and built up surfaces, as well as a Mallarme Period. Those areas are so three-dimensional that they are almost coming off of the canvas, just the opposite of the hardedge work.”
He continued, “The inspiration to create new works very frequently stems from what you did last and then experimenting in the studio, which an artist should continue to do throughout their career. You’re not only working on a specific number of works that have some connection to one another, you’re constantly experimenting with other things so your work has great variance as you move through your career. I had a period that was referred to as the ‘envelope period’ where I painted on envelopes that were face down. My work has moved a great deal over the years and I think that’s the way it should be.”
In terms of his favorite pieces, George believes his “is the piece I’m going to do next. I think it’s a mistake for an artist to latch on to something that they have done and be satisfied with it,” he explained. “I think what keeps you working as long as I’ve worked is that you always feel as if there is something better right around the corner. There are pieces that I think are successful in a specific period that they were done. I look forward to doing more work rather than dwelling on my favorites.”
As George is being honored by the New Orleans Museum of Art this year, he’s also no stranger to the museum, having shown works back when the museum operated under the name of “The Isaac Delgado Museum of Art,” named for local business and philanthropist Isaac Delgado.
George concluded, “I’ve been lucky enough to have been honored before and I even served on the board of the Isaac Delgado Museum, NOMA’s predecessor. So I couldn’t like a place better to be honored by because it’s my hometown.”
For more information about George Dunbar, please visit his website.
Local artist Rashida Ferdinand “sees art as a form of communication.” With her ceramic sculptures, including tabletop pieces, vessel sculptures, and public art sculptures, Rashida’s art certainly facilitates this communication. She said, “I use ceramic sculpture as a way of allowing people to communicate to their environment, to other people, even to themselves in different ways. It is an opportunity to step away from the day-to-day things that we do in life and experience ourselves and explore who we are. I see art as something very personal, but even if it’s something you share with other people, you are motivated to do it by something we need to say or do. I really enjoy what happens when people are able to create art because they’re able to see abilities that they didn’t know they had and use their voices through their work.”
As an artist, Rashida’s inspiration to create changes as her life experiences change. “My inspiration has changed because of different things over the course of the years. It follows who I am as I grow in my journey in life. A lot of my earlier work was very introspective and I was inspired by the process of seeing who I was and finding myself, balance, and peace. As I grew and evolved, I started to look at forms that were beautiful and organic. I also created pieces, such as the public art sculpture Mandala at N. Claiborne Ave. and Caffin St. That was really inspired by bringing something that represented hope and power in a neighborhood that needed something beautiful to be there.”
The Mandala sculpture also happens to be Rashida’s favorite piece. “The Mandala sculpture is a physical manifestation of something,” she explained. “It was a lot of work. It was painstaking and very ambitious. I feel like it was an accomplishment to put it there, but it was also a gift. It was a gift to my community and it represents more things that could be there, the possibility of life and hope. People responded to it in a very positive way and wanted to see more of these types of sculptures in their community. I appreciated people that appreciated art and who understood it.”
In addition to her artwork, Rashida also runs a non-profit organization that is focused on the development of New Orleans. “I’m from New Orleans and I love New Orleans. I choose to be here for my adult life because I’m committed to being a stakeholder and a person that contributes to making it a better place. I run a non-profit organization right now that is focused on developing the neighborhood and community through different resources that help it to be a sustainable place that can continue to grow, persevere, survive, and develop. It’s important to work with young people in the city to teach them those important skills because they will be the leaders of the city.”
She continued, “I have an emotional connection to New Orleans. I’m connected to my family that lives here. I love the grit and grime, the music, the flow of it, the culture. I love everything about how we speak, how we are. There are things that I don’t like, of course, but that’s a part of life. There is a distinct richness here that I love. People here want to be here. I understand it now and I love that.”
She concluded, “It’s a great honor to be recognized and honored by NOMA. I’m still pinching myself! I think that it’s important for us to recognize each other with the work that we’re doing. We do what we do because it’s important and it’s a part of our life and I’m grateful for it.”
As owner and operator of Studio Inferno and founder of the New Orleans School of Glassworks, local artist Mitchell Gaudet has always had a desire to work with his hands. “My father is a carpenter and my mom painted in Jackson Square,” he said. “I enjoy carpentry work as much as making my art.” As an artist who primarily works in glass, that desire to create, to make something important, to say something is always there.
He added, “In art school, you’re trained to critique each other’s work and to respond to criticism both good and bad, but in the real world, people buy your work because of what it means to them, not necessarily what you are trying to convey. I think if your message is strong enough, then it is going to somehow be that in the piece.”
In addition to his glasswork, Mitchell also designs a line of ‘fleur-de-lis water meters’ and other moderately priced glass objects. “My motivation in that is that it pays the bills, but at the same time, it’s also making attractive glass objects that people enjoy.”
He continued, “It’s hard to look back and say what influences me because it changes. Most of my inspiration comes from New Orleans history, working with found objects, watching TV, and trying to make commentary on relationships. Currently, I’m preparing for a show and I’m working with found objects because they inspire me, but I also have an idea to work with cast glass, armor, and shields. The idea of making something out of glass that is meant to protect yourself but is also fragile is interesting.”
As a child of New Orleans, sometimes the things that we consider to be normal is all the inspiration needed. “My grandparents took me to the graveyards all the time and these graveyards still influence my work tremendously in much more abstract ways. The above ground burials, history, iconography, decay, texture, etc. is just unbelievably important in my work. It’s a tremendous source of inspiration architecturally, shape wise, everything. For me, I have to find a technique that enhances those ideas and really works with me instead of fighting and struggling. Glass helps me. It’s like a crutch for me.”
When it comes to his favorite pieces, Mitchell finds that for any artist, choosing is much more difficult than one would think. “I think it’s a hard thing for artists or anyone in a creative industry to choose a favorite piece because there is no satisfaction with what you do,” Mitchell explained. “You’re working on what you’re working on now, but you’re dissatisfied throughout the entire process and then when it’s finished, there are perhaps some accolades and satisfaction and you may feel really good about it, but it’s really short lived. It took me a while to understand my dissatisfaction even when I did something good, but I think that it is also my motivation.”
He added, “Of course, there have been benchmark pieces. One of the earliest bronze and glass pieces I did when I was at LSU is one that I really regret selling. Then, there is a Buddha piece that I completed three years ago, which will be in the NOMA slideshow with the uranium glass. For that piece, everything just worked. That happens, but not often. Then, we just did a large architectural commission for the Bayou Innovations Center. It was fun to compete with other people and I was fortunate enough to win the competition.”
When it comes to New Orleans, Mitchell is certain that we are spoiled! “We really are spoiled with the food, music, and cultural history of this city,” he said. “I absolutely love New Orleans! It’s incredibly accessible, fulfilling, and rich for its size. No matter where I’ve traveled to, you’re not American when you’re from New Orleans; you’re like an international type thing. Once you come to realize how special that is, it takes on a bigger meaning.”
Mitchell is incredibly flattered to be honored by NOMA. He said, “I’m in a good crowd; it’s flattering. Anything like this, you’d like to say it doesn’t mean anything, but it does. It’s recognition, it’s NOMA. I look forward to going to the event.”
Miranda Lake can’t imagine life without creating art. “I’d probably go a bit mad if I didn’t create,” she mused. “I am so constantly assaulted with visual stimuli. I can’t help but look around me and take in this visual information. I live through my eyes and my art is my way of processing that.”
Miranda’s art is rooted in photography and encaustic painting, known as ‘hot wax painting.’” She explained, “I work with photography and do digital prints and collages. I paint over that with encaustic. The Egyptians used it to paint faces on mummies, the Greeks would use the beeswax to seal the holes of their ships while also making decorative aspects on them, as well as statuaries being painted with it, so encaustic painting has been around for a really long time.”
She continued, “It’s a very archival medium, so it doesn’t flake or chip because the pigment is suspended in the wax and protected in that way. I’m really drawn to it for those reasons, it’s durability, the sensuality of the wax which smells amazing, and the colors, which are just so luminous that you get a really nice bounce of light through the paint and that really brings the piece to life. I’m working with paper and this just adds some extra depth to it. You really have a much different experience with the work face to face.”
Like many artists, Miranda’s inspiration to create art continues to change. “My inspiration has sort of evolved over the years. First and foremost, it’s a way to visually document the library of images rattling around in my head. It’s a way to get that information out and on to something concrete. I definitely draw from the natural world around us, like the texture of the skin on an elephant’s face to pancreatic cancer cells under a microscope; I’m looking everywhere. I like to look at the overlooked details and draw my inspiration from those. I’m really into macro photography and I have a long-standing love of biology and astrology, so my inspiration primarily comes from those sources.”
As Miranda is committed to her work, she is also committed to New Orleans (as well as a few others). “I am in a committed long term relationship with New Orleans, but it is an open relationship, so I’m seeing other cities,” she said. “It’s nothing serious, but I have a real love for London and Cape Town. However, New Orleans is home. I think after Katrina, everyone had to make a decision about why they were still here and although I debated for a little bit, ultimately the decision was made for me because there is no where else. This is home.”
Miranda finds being honored by NOMA to be a huge honor. “It’s great, thrilling, and very validating. It’s a huge milestone."
For more information about Miranda Lake, please visit her website and Facebook.
Local artist George Schmidt is more attracted to the past rather than the future. “In the very beginning of Leon Battista Alberti’s (Italian artist and architect) book, On Painting, it says, ‘Painting exists in order that the dead can live again,’ he explained. “What he’s talking about is that we create historical events. Here I realized that I was more interested in history than the future. I tell people I am a romantic reactionary because I’m backwards instead of forwards.”
He continued, “French novelist Marcel Proust said, ‘Men of imagination either live in the past or the future and find their inspiration in either anticipation or regret,’ and that stuck in my head! And I said if I don’t paint subjects of historical reference, then I won’t do anything else.”
And there’s no lack of inspiration for George. “My inspiration comes from my experience; it’s in my conscience. I think inspiration is that thing you have in you already. In reading certain material, images start to flood in my head, so why should I waste it. The Greeks have a word for it called ekfrasis. When I tell you a story or give you directions, you form an image in your head and that’s how you recognize it because the image is already there. It’s an anticipatory kind of feel. So, I do research, form images in my head, and paint them. For example, I did four pictures that illustrated French artist Edgar Degas’ visit to New Orleans.” Another example is George’s Satire, Scandal, and Spectacle: The Art of George Schmidt, a book featuring an assortment of Louisiana and Roman history.
In addition to his love of history and art, George’s love for New Orleans is undeniable. From the first words out of his mouth, he is a New Orleanian through and through. “I’m from here, I stayed here, and I’m still here,” he proclaimed. “New Orleans is just one of those cities, you either leave it or you don’t. When I walk outside, I always feel like I’m part of a story.”
In terms of being honored at NOMA’s ‘Love in the Garden,’ George said, “I’ve always gone out to the museum, so I think it’s delightful! Me and the museum are intertwined and that’s how I think it should be.”
For more information about George Schmidt, please visit his website.