Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 15 News List

New Orleans through the prism of art

Fifteen marooned Gulf Coast artists have been plying their trade in New York.

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Elizabeth Bick shares a TriBeCa loft with 14 other Gulf Coast artists. She is creating a work from damaged New Orleans walls and photos of Katrina survivors.

PHOTOS: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Like other circumstantial heroes of Hurricane Katrina, Dan Tague did his part. With a canoe and later a motorboat he and his friends plucked 40 to 50 people from the roofs and attics of the mid-city neighborhood in New Orleans and ferried them to dry land.

But after the dangers of the hurricane were over, he had to cope with losses peculiar to his breed of humanity. He is an artist, a sculptor of eclectic creations, and his first-floor studio was washed out and clogged with mud, a career's worth of art ruined.

New Orleans, he suspected, was no longer a place where one could create art comfortably, with the sheer struggle of foraging for food, art supplies and a source of electricity likely to become a full-time preoccupation. Seeing the lingering devastation would remind him of all that he had absorbed: a man impaled on a spike, a corpse protruding from a floating coffin.

But this rescuer has been rescued, his dry land a loft in TriBeCa where he and 14 other marooned Gulf Coast artists are plying their trade.

Though they are still deeply unsettled and often dispirited, they are working and earning money, dividing the 3,048m2 building with canvas and plywood partitions into 15 studios and receiving US$850 a month in stipends from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. They have been invited to show their work in the city's galleries.

"This was the worst disaster of my life, and through this opportunity it turns into one of the most positive things in my career," said Tague, who is 31. "Having a studio in the city, having the means and funds, I can make art all day, every day."

He is grappling with the disaster through his creations. One sculpture, Self Portrait in Harm's Way, consists of an orange electrical extension cord wound along a wall in the outline of a man, then stretching to the ground, where its frayed end leads to some coins. It tries, he said, to express in wry fashion the shock he felt in the flooded city when he tried to siphon gasoline from a fuel tank to power his studio's generator, and law enforcement officials overhead in a helicopter fired warning shots at him.

Another artist, Julie Anne Pieri, 30, is preparing a grimmer work. She and her father spent the storm in the Superdome, where the toilets overflowed and rumors had it that using them came with a risk of rape. (The authorities said later that they had been unable to document any reports of rape.) Her proposed work, Walk on It, will be an idiosyncratic depiction of one of those bathrooms.

"This installation will give the public an opportunity to walk on it just as thousands had done for days," she writes in a summary.

Vidho Lorville, 35, a Haitian painter who lived in New Orleans for four years and taught art to schoolchildren, is turning out an abstract canvas of bodies, what he called "the bric-a-brac aspect" of the disaster.

Even Rachel Perkoff, who has been working for several years on a film documentary, is thinking of infusing it now with some reference to Hurricane Katrina. The film is about her sister, Kat, who ran a lesbian bar in the French Quarter and was killed in 1980 at the age of 23 in a car crash under circumstances that Perkoff has still not resolved.

"Memory is distorted, but it's all you have, and I feel that about New Orleans," she said. "Not only is my sister dead, but the city she came from is dead."

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