On my recent trip to New Orleans, I had the great pleasure of finally meeting long-time Flickr friend, fellow graffiti photographer, and artist, skeletonkrewe. He not only showed me some of his hometown’s best graffiti spots, but also graciously invited me into his studio and agreed to answer some of my questions.
Please introduce yourself. How long have you been making art and how did it all start? Tell us about some of your various projects.
Hi, my name is Christopher Kirsch (but I mostly go by Chris).
I am New Orleans born and bred. I am a self taught painter, print-maker, photographer and papier mache artist. I am the leader and founder of the New Orleans’ Carnival Club, the Skeleton Krewe.
I have ongoing series of musicians, either New Orleans’ or Delta blues. I also paint portraits of Skeleton Krewe members and my newest series is somewhat “anatomically correct” animal skeletons, kind of inspired by textbooks and circus side shows.
What inspires you?
Life in New Orleans and the American DEEP South, mainly Louisiana and Mississippi. Life & death in New Orleans. New Orleans’ rhythm & blues and Delta blues. Food and culture found in the Southeast region of New Orleans.
You have lived in New Orleans your entire life. How has this shaped your artistic practice? What is characteristic of New Orleans folk art?
I’m born & raised here. I’m a rarity these days. Tons and tons of transplants moving in, and it ain’t necessarily a good thing…
I grew up drawing and painting, no one ever told me “how to paint”. So I do what I do and have developed my own style over the years: being self taught, I define myself as a folk artist. Anything I find around me is inspiration for my art: I’ve painted everything from musicians to food, po-boys & crawfish (a.k.a. sandwiches and crawdaddies).
What is Skeleton Krewe and why is it important to you?
The Skeleton Krewe is a small New Orleans Carnival Marching Club. I started it in 1999 by myself and have slowly grown to 40+ members (although not everyone marches each year). I know everyone personally, have taught each one to do papier mache, how to paint their suit, and about face make-up. We try and hold ourselves to some strict carnival standards. Each year we make new heads and try to keep to some level of secrecy. We lead one parade on the Friday night before Mardi Gras and we also march early on Carnival morning. Some photos can be seen here: Skeleton Krewe 2013.
To what extent do you use found or recycled objects in your work? What is their appeal?
As an artist, I pretty much live hand to mouth, so I am always on the lookout for anything I can paint on, from cabinet doors to old shipping crates and 55 gallon drum lids. I really don’t like canvas, it has no appeal to me, no character… A rusty 55 gallon drum lid tells a story and then you just add onto that story by adding your own art to it.
Why did you start painting portraits of jazz and blues greats? Do you listen to their music while you paint?
I started by doing portraits of two of the most famous (dead) New Orleans musicians: Professor Longhair and James Booker, 2 of New Orleans piano greats! Their music is just embedded into our lives, we grew up knowing the lyrics to their songs before we even realized who they were. In my teen years, I grew up with punk and through The Clash, my life came full circle: The Clash covered a New Orleans standard called Junco Partner and it made me realize how special New Orleans music is. The Clash took another New Orleans great on tour with them: Lee Dorsey. And a couple of years later, when Lee Dorsey died, some of the members were his pallbearers. Anyway, this all brought me a greater appreciation of New Orleans. Later on, I started getting into the blues and traveled throughout the Mississippi Delta, visiting some of the great historical sites of the blues. And yes, I always listen to whoever it is I’m painting at the time – I find great difficulty in painting musicians that I don’t like.
How is the graffiti & street art scene in New Orleans? Are there any particular local artists whose work stands out in your opinion?
Since Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has been a spray-cation destination. I can’t say that I approve of this, but it has brought some greats to New Orleans. Read More Books has been here a couple of times in the past 8 years and dominated. You Go Girl has been here a bunch and UFO 907 came a few years back. And of course Banksy was here and did some really great, politically motivated pieces. I enjoy all their work and then there are some natives that really stand out: Harsh has been the dominant graffiti artist for years and years. Meek has also been around.
Then there’s a batch of younger ones that I like a lot: Uzit, Achoo, AMYK and MRSA. We also have to deal with the Grey Ghost, who goes around buffing everything. He’s nuts and he’s dangerous – if you watch Vigilante Vigilante you can find out more about him.
Where can people see more of your work online? How can interested people contact you?
I do a lot of art markets and festivals in and around New Orleans, but I do have a presence online: http://www.flickr.com/photos/skeletonkrewe. I also have two groups on Facebook: New Orleans Folk Art and Bare Bones Studio. And people can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be setting up some sort of eCommerce site shortly.