Saturday, July 10, 2010

An artist remembered

Back in New Jersey a funeral is treated as a period to someone's life. In New Orleans, funerals and services are treated like exclamation points. I was invited to a party by Miss Mardi Gras to celebrate the life of renowned float builder Raul Bertuccelli. The party was held in Blaine Kern's float den in Algiers. The hundred or so attendees enjoyed the open bar, gumbo and fire works surrounded by some of the most magnificent floats one could imagine.

Not yet having experienced a carnival season since I moved to New Orleans, this was a great chance for me to examine the art up close. The warehouse or "den" was a gallery of huge pieces of art that many don't get to view up close. As a painter, sculptor, cartoonist and sign maker, the floats held my attention all night. I was walking around like a kid with A.D.D. in a casino. Not many pieces of art can be towed down the street with dozens of people standing on top of it flinging beads. We tried it once at one of my art opening and things got ugly.

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the carnival since moving here. The rest of the world view the Mardi Gras as drunken decedent parades involving costumes and breasts. Mardi Gras is more than that, it's a mindset, an attitude that keeps this city breathing. The ugly racial tensions of NOLA are kept at bay with carnival. Residents return storm after storm to be healed by it.

A former float sculptor after seeing my artwork suggested I might pursue employment in the industry. Larger than life cartoonish figures, scathing political and social satire punctuated by voluptuous cleavage and sensuality. Art galleries seem so tiny, dull and boring in comparison now.

Parades and festivals in other cities are created for local merchants to make a buck. In New Orleans many individuals spend thousands of dollars to be a part of Krewes and partake in the season. It's not and industry or marketing ploy, Mardi Gras is a mass spiritual experience for the city and it's people. Raul Bertuccelli was like a church architect designing impressive structures to create awe and spectacle in the eyes of the parishioners.

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