I found myself coming to consciousness driving on the I-10. I felt crummy. Not down on myself, but a general sense of “crum.” C’est la vie. I parked in the Marigny; parking in the Quarter is an overzealous and inconceivable idea. I’ve got three more photos left in my camera, I thought to myself when I put my car in park. I needed to take these photos. I needed a paradigm shift. The first photo I took was of a gate on Royal st. It was a lackluster and badly exposed photo. The next photo I took was of a duck painted on the bottom of a support beam. It was an uninteresting and one dimensional photo. The third photo was of Carl.
If you’ve ever walked on Royal Street, particularly near Rouses, you will have seen Carl’s work. He is one of the many artists who use the fences around Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral to showcase their work in hopes that a tourist will buy their art. You can find his work on the corner near Pere Antoine’s Alley. Carl’s art is within the vein of that tourist art: vibrant folk art on planks of wood and sheet metal roofing. He will later explain to me that this is his “bread and butter.” He was not looking up when I saw him; rather, he was looking at his paint and the wood he was working on. I approached him. He wasn’t startled like many other strangers whom I’ve approached. Carl is, after all, on the fence behind the Cathedral. It’s pretty frequented.
I explained my project. He seemed interested. I took his photo. I asked him if he would prefer Sharpies or pencils as I handed him the notebook.
“Pick whichever you’d like!” he said as he put down his paint to receive the bag of doodle supplies.
“But it’s not about what I’d like, it’s about what you would draw.”
“Look, I draw comics. I can use anything. Believe me.”
“Well then you should take the Sharpies.”
He took my Sharpie bag and pulled out a black one.
“What other colors should I use?”
“Whichever you’d like.”
“Nah, man, I wanna know what colors you like.”
I suggested red and blue. Carl was wearing a Captain America shirt, and I figured a lot of comic book super heroes are usually wearing red and blue (Spiderman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc). He took out a red and a blue sharpie and got to work.
It has been exceptionally hot for mid September. I was standing directly in the sun while Carl was protected by shade under his great green umbrella.
“What is the comic scene like here?” I asked while he was starting a rough outline of something.
“The comic scene, man? I mean, it’s kind of a thing. I mean, it’s not big, but there are people who still do it. Ya know, New Orleans is that kind of a city, you know? It’s the kind of a city that encourages this thing, you know, art. Whatever art you want. This is the kind of city where you can be accepted for ya art. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, man, but this city will love ya for doing it.”
I agree. In New Orleans, taking a Polaroid of someone is enjoyed and appreciated by most everyone who sees it. In Connecticut, you’re a hipster, and you suck too.
“It’s like a bird. New Orleans is a mother bird. She loves her babies, but she knows her babies gotta fly on their own. She’ll love you for however long ya need it, she’ll encourage whatever it is that you wanna do, but at some point or another, mother bird can’t keep feeding ya. You gotta fly on ya own.”
I started pacing to allow the sun to hit the front and the back of my body equally, as to let one side cool while the other broiled. We talked about art for a while, about how shitty Uptown is compared to the Bywater, about how artists will come into the Square and encroach on other’s “territory” (there is a waiting list to have a spot to sell your art in Jackson Square. Recently, new artists have come in and have been selling lackluster art. It’s irritating to someone who’s worked for a while to get a spot at the Square).
“It’s a pretty fickle fence,” he said as he looked up from my notebook.
I looked at my phone. I had five minutes until I had to get to work, but thankfully Carl was finishing up his doodle. He turned the notebook to me so that I could finally see what it was that he was drawing. It was me, a fully fledged super hero version of me with a cape and trusty Polaroid in hand, a big grin on my face. This was an honor. This was empowerment.
I thanked him voraciously, but I couldn’t stay longer. I had to get to work. I felt ready for work now. I’ve been immortalized as a hero; at this point I could do anything.