Frenchy, New Orleans Icon


On a humid Wednesday afternoon, I stroll into the courtyard to The Maple Leaf, where I am told Frenchy, the uniquely talented artist and all around classic, endearing, New Orleans character is to be found. I enter the pleasant outdoor enclosure behind the bar which, I learned later while conversing with Frenchy was yet another of his works of (landscaping) art. Frenchy is seated on the patio at the back door of his gallery at 8341 Oak St where the artist is very focused on a three dimensional, very colorful, even happening to include all of my favorite shades of all my favorite colors and glitters in the sunlight above his work station. All of Frenchy’s work is intensely colorful, often hard to take one’s eyes off of it’s elaborate, intricate detail.

Frenchy Article in New Orleans

When Frenchy arrives at a stopping point in his work, the interview begins.

M: So how are you doing today French?

F: I’m hangin in there man… it’s been a rough week…the passing of the Rev you know. He was one of my first spiritual advisers in New Orleans.

M: You got to know him, that’s a privilege you will not lose.

F: Yeah definitely.

M: When do you recall first being drawn to art as a calling?

F: When I was a small boy. I had a brother who passed he was three and a half years old I was 8 months, so once my brother passed my mother had to take care of me as an infant you know so I think that helped her stay somewhat sane. My other brothers didn’t really want anything to do with me just cause there was such an age difference there. So my mom and I would sit together all the time and we have this thing we used to do together all the time that was super fun. My mom would make a scribble… and then pass it to me and tell me to make something out of the scribble. And I’d draw and turn her scribble into something, and then I’d make a scribble and hand it back to her. She was always buying me paper and number 2 pencils and it was like that right up until high school. When started high school I started getting suspended all the time and the in house suspension room was connected to the art room and there were three periods a day where there was no art class so my suspension teacher with permission from the art teacher go hang out and paint in the art room.

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M: Well that’s pretty sweet, that was definitely a silver lining to the school suspensions, I had those too when I went to school and De La Salle, like you got to miss class but you still gotta do the crap you missed right?

F: Yeah, and you get the occasional note under the door.

M: Ohhh, yeah definitely (both laugh)

F: Yeah you know but we were really blessed to have that teacher, he was an ex priest you know, I’m not a religious guy but he was cool.

M: So is there a particular purpose and or meaning you hope to convey in your work as a whole?

F: Great question, not intentionally, but I know where it comes from, and I know it’s all about unconditional love. My mom was dyslexic and she was the second oldest of nine children back in the day in the 50’s so they labeled her retarded in the 9th grade, they pulled her out of high school and she stayed home with my grandmother and help raise all the other children. Like I essentially got super mom, and then the tragedy happened (my brother). My mom and dad divorced when I was 8, I was cool with it, I understood it, but I always had this ability, I could disappear in my drawings.

M: Yeah it is great to have an escape.

F: Now there’s no f***ing art class in inner city schools in the whole state of Louisiana and my kid goes to inner city schools so I gotta do it, I don’t want to do it but I’m gonna do a non-profit thing and single handedly put those classes back.

M: I recall when I was growing up Loyola used to put on this visual arts day camp, so you could do something like that.

F: Man, we need a solid art teacher in every f***ing ghetto school in the state. They oppress the children that have the most creativity, that’s where it’s happening. We are all standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and they worked really f***ing hard to get us this far, so we have this DNA and this innate knowledge and my theory is the less you think about it the more you’ll hear.

M: I concur 100%. So of all known artists throughout recorded time, with whom do you most identify and who is your biggest inspiration?

F: You know, I don’t think I identify with anyone, I think I identify with everyone. I think I identify more with everyday people, like the people who go see the concerts at the Maple Leaf. I have beats in my head and in my soul.

M: Have you ever considered doing a multimedia style presentation with certain music and your art?

F: Not yet but that would definitely be awesome to get that going on. Once in a while I play piano, I’m not a very good piano player but I just play my own shit, I know the chords.

M: Sometimes I imagine it just flows out of you.

F: Yeah or if I’m just trippin on acid and just kaleidoscopin out you know.

M: Absolutely.

F: I don’t really have to eat hallucinogens anymore, I strongly believe I access that area on my own. It’s the place anybody goes to when they’re really focused on a specific task, it’s also where they go when they’re asleep. Everybody’s amazing beautiful and identical when they’re sleeping, color, religion, age, everything.

M: I like that. So what if any influence does the stylish vibe of Oak St have on the general ambiance of your gallery?

F: I’m not sure my gallery has an ambiance, the paintings just kinda landed where they are. I’m nuts, I make this big abstracts and I don’t know what to do with them. Like the biggest one was called spiritual revolution. The other day I got really high and went to the art store and bought $800 dollars worth of paint, I usually never do that in one shot, so by sunrise I had systematically squeezed out every ounce of paint out of those f***ing tubes onto those paintings, just streams and streams of color and it ends with a revelation.

M: Well perhaps that was the purpose all along.

F: That’s what Mr. Hank would say.

M: Do your day to day surroundings and activities influence your style of art?

F: They totally do, when where and how, I can’t… I don’t want to know. When I first moved to New Orleans 20 years ago I lived in the lower nine, I drank a lot of green Chartreuse, woke up 4 days later with scars, bleeding, and Josh Carlina was like “Hey man so I’ll see you tomorrow?” It was bad, I remember leaving his house one morning from a Chartreuse thing, and the buses would just fly through the lower nine back then, I was going right over the tracks one day and my Bugle fell off my handle bars and the bus ran it over.

M: Oh crap (Both laugh) Would you agree as an individual and an artist that you and New Orleans are a good fit?

F: I believe I’m blessed that she (New Orleans) has let me live here and have her as a muse because I hope to live here all my days.

M: Outside of brush and canvas is there one statement you would like to make to appreciators of art and future French enthusiasts?

F: Life is art, everybody is an artist and everybody needs to hear that and know that and believe it.

After our conversation, I am pleased to even better know the man, the artist and all around cool person to have the good fortune of meeting known as Frenchy. Like many, the guy in the bar, always greeting bar friends and others alike with a smile and a hug and eager to offer his seat to the lady left standing has so much more of a story to tell than could possibly be summed up in 1 or even a thousand articles and so much more to still bring to the world, his friends, and his family.

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