As a city, New Orleans belongs to the Saints. On Sundays during football season, every shop, grocery store, or restaurant has at least one sign of fandom, whether it be a person in a jersey or a flag on the wall. For local artist Alexandra Kilburn, however, a New Orleans saint is a very different thing. This local artist has been working on a series of city-inspired deities painted on salvaged wood. Alex’s series of imaginary saints is created with a deep love for the colors, art, and spirituality found in the Crescent City. In honor of Easter, we asked Alex a few questions about her Diety series and her creative process.
How does New Orleans inspire this body of work?
These little characters are inspired by the spirituality and colorful nature of the New Orleans. There are also elements of medieval iconography, Russian nesting dolls, contemporary street art, American folk art, and children’s book illustrations. I find all the wood that I paint these on around the city, and I especially love when I find a piece that is oddly shaped; it inspires the deity that fits into that shape.
What are your intentions with this series?
My oil paintings feel very serious to me, and can sometimes be emotionally taxing to make. These deities are a kind of release from that. They are very meditative and fun and give me space to play with color and pattern. They are intended to bring good energy, to be colorful positive spirits.
How does each deity differ from the next?
Their personalities evolve as I paint them, building them with bright colors, patterns and fine line work. For example, the ‘Harvest Diety’ is a feminine saint painted on a half circle of reclaimed wood, her face framed by two red and gold suns. The ‘Looking Up’ character is a reminder for optimism. They each seem to gather a distinct expression as I add to them.
What do you love the most about creating art in New Orleans? What particular part of your immediate environment, in your neighborhood specifically influences your work?
I love to work at my desk with my balcony doors open. I can hear the musicians on the street and it’s truly a magical place to paint. I am also constantly awestruck by the sky in New Orleans. It always feels so close, and the colors and clouds are shifting and spectacular. I am also always influenced by images and themes of water, which New Orleans has a significant history with. The water here represents both a support of life and a source of destruction, a yin and yang that is a frequent theme in my paintings, particularly my Wherescape oil series. New Orleans is simply so colorful and appreciative of the present moment, a feeling that is inspiring in and of itself.
Describe your creative process. Are there any rituals or rites of passage you exercise before you begin a new piece?
I paint very intuitively, but I lay out all my paints in a particular way and choose colors very specifically. The patterns for these deity characters build naturally, like free drawing.
Where do you draw inspiration?
I am inspired by so much, all the time. I’ve been energized lately by a few of my friends who are drag performers. The costuming surrounding Mardi Gras as well — the color, the glitter, the textiles, the makeup…I’m sure some of that is starting to carry over into my work.
Who are your artistic influences or gurus?
I especially love painters who use super dreamy colors, saturated or muted. I’m attracted to a range of styles – hyper blending, thick and painterly, illustrative graphic work…I love the works of so many artists. Here’s a list that is probably way too long: J.M.W. Turner, James Turrell, Mark Rothko, Peter Doig, Monet, Degas, Filippo Minelli, El Anatsui, Daniel Richter, John Singer Sargent, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Marc Chagall, Allison Schulnik, Wangechi Mutu, Michelle Blade, Marcel Dzama, Jules de Balincourt, Jiwoon Pak, Jarek Puczel, Chelsey Pettyjohn, Lucas Foglia, Shae DeTar, Evan B. Harris, Mamma Andersson, Radcliffe Bailey, Alexandra Levasseur, Ambera Wellmann, Andrew Hem, Erica Lambertson, Jenny Morgan, Betsy Walton, Elena Stonaker, Richard Colman, Sarah Letovsky, Jeanne Gaigher, Will Cotton, Claire Sherman, Herakut, Blu, Maria Kreyn, Zio Ziegler, Jaz, Other, April Gornik, Kashink, Becca Stadtlander, JR, Rebecca Green, Sara Barnes, Edgar Saner, Marcel Dzama, Phlegm, Basik, Adrian Landon Brooks, Swoon, Hernan Bas, Os Gemeos, Ever, Andreco, Know Hope, David Altmejd, Kaye Donachie, Varda Caivano, Jorge Alegria…
In New Orleans, art and music go hand in hand. What type of music, band or song lyric best describes your work?
Lately with this series I have been listening to a lot of Tame Impala. I’m not sure that describes my work, but it’s been keeping me excited. For my oil paintings it would probably be Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball album. It was a childhood favorite and still strikes a specific emotional chord with me. It makes me think about memory. It has beautiful layers of sound, and her voice is so unique.
Where can we find you when you are not creating art?
Most likely wandering with my Catahoula mutt, Luna, and enjoying this pace of life with the people I love.
What is something people don’t know about you? A fun fact.
I have moved 11 times over the course of my life to different cities and countries, but New Orleans holds my heart in a way that feels more permanent. I love to travel but the feeling of finding a home base for the foreseeable future is truly special. I smile uncontrollably whenever I land at Louis Armstrong Airport.
New Orleans artist Alexandra Kilburn is a painter, muralist, illustrator and designer. Originally from Atlanta she has lived and/or studied fine art in several different cities including Prague, Boston, Chicago, New York, Halifax, Cape Town and New Orleans. In addition to working in her studio, she currently teaches visual arts at an elementary school level for Community Works, a non-profit after-school program here in New Orleans.
To view more of her Deity series, check out Alexandra Kilburn’s page on Whereyart.net.