Post-Katrina monotypes tell a story of change
Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 21:01
Vernacular architecture destroyed, homes ruined and garbage in the street is what artist Barbara Brainard saw when she returned home after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005.
Brainard found inspiration amongst the debris and chaos, and she decided to take to the streets — armed only with a camera and a bicycle — to start documenting the scenery.
"New Orleans Portfolio," Brainard's collection of monotypes depicting the effect Hurricane Katrina had on the city, is being displayed at the Anita S. Wooten Gallery at Valencia College's East Campus until March 9.
An opening reception was held Friday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., where attendees were able to view Brainard's work, enjoy refreshments and chat with the artist.
Brainard's monotypes are done entirely in black and white and are created by manipulating etching ink on a zinc plate, then putting a piece of paper on top of the plate and running it through an etching press to produce one monotype.
"They're drawings; there's no technique to it, no magic," Brainard said. "I teach drawing; that's my strength, so this is how I draw."
The result is a black-and-white sketch with blurred, ghostly figures and indistinct lines.
Brainard said the 23 monotypes were mostly created during summer 2011. Brainard named the monotypes according to the area or street depicted in the work. When she sets out to do a piece, Brainard will get on her bike and ride around the city taking photos that she later uses for reference.
The Boston native, who now lives in uptown New Orleans, began documenting the city just before Katrina hit and has continued her work ever since.
When the storm struck, Brainard was in Chicago for a Cubs game, and when she was permitted to return in October, she said what she saw was surreal.
"It was amazing; it was unrecognizable from all the debris," she said.
Jackie Otto-Miller, the gallery director, became fascinated with the idea of post-Katrina artwork after Jason Burrell, an instructor at UCF's School of Visual Arts and Design, recommended she get in contact with New Orleans artist Keith Perelli. Otto-Miller couldn't book Perelli for the show, so she did some more research to find another artist who did post-Katrina artwork.
She found Brainard, contacted her about a year and a half ago and has been planning the gallery ever since.
"I like the sense of space, I like the low horizons, I like the fact that it documents old, vernacular architecture that probably is not in existence anymore," Otto-Miller said of Brainard's work. "I like the sense of place that it describes."
Brainard said she hopes her work will give people who have never visited the city a sense of what New Orleans is like outside of the crime, Katrina and Mardi Gras.
Attendees at the exhibit reacted favorably to Brainard's work, even though some of them had never seen or heard of monotypes before.
"I think it's pretty amazing. The pictures depict a kind of emotional time in our history and just the black-and-white images make it really powerful and meaningful and the way that she created them is really interesting," said Amanda Flader, a UCF graduate student studying counselor education.
Stephanie Williams, a junior studying fine arts at Valencia, came to the exhibit with her father and sister. The family lived in New Orleans but moved to Florida about 15 years before Katrina struck.
"I think for me, whenever I see a painting or a piece of artwork from New Orleans, I just like to visualize where it would be in the city, so I think it's cool to just look at it and see different people's perspectives of the city," Williams said.
At 8 p.m., everyone gathered in the gallery as Brainard walked attendees through the exhibit while providing contextual information on each piece, as well as anecdotes about the struggles New Orleans faced after the hurricane.
"At the corner grocery store … they dumped their meat on the sidewalk and it sat rotting in the 100-degree heat," Brainard said during the gallery walk. "That was right next to our neighborhood bar — it takes a lot of vodka to cover up that smell."