|LIKE MOST NEW ORLEANIANS, cover artist Jamar Pierre—or J. Pierre—always returns home, but he is an explorer, a traveler in constant pursuit of new adventures and cultures that add depth to his work as an artist. Pierre journeys far and wide to bring imagery of the new worlds he encounters back to his studio for inspiration. Renowned for having the unique ability to blend different cultures and history together, while infusing the spirit and culture of New Orleans into his work, Pierre’s art is instantly identifiable. He creates with a fervor, bearing the weight of social responsibility as he speaks through his brushes to his worldwide audience. When asked what drives him, he responds, “I eat, sleep and live art. I paint from my spirit and my soul. I have a love and passion for art, and I need to make a positive influence on the community and environment through my work, whether it’s teaching, doing a commission or mural in the community or traveling for a residency.Born and raised in New Orleans, Pierre was surrounded by art and music. He says, “My father was a musician as well as an artist. I was born in 1973; I remember the old New Orleans, and I feel like that spirit haunts me. I remember going to the juke joints with my family and seeing the funerals with second lines in the neighborhood. The French Quarter, the brass bands, the Mardi Gras Indians, all of those things have influenced me and my work.”
Pierre’s grandparents lived in the bayou and river parishes, and he recounts fondly the time spent with them. “Growing up, I would visit my grandparents over holidays or on weekends, and I always had this connection to nature. Then, as a teenager, you rebel of course, and I started hanging out in the French Quarter and became a ‘Quarter Rat.’ I began doing graffiti and street art—it was all about living an urban lifestyle, jazz and hip hop.”
At the time Pierre began doing graffiti in the 1980s and ’90s, it wasn’t accepted as a mainstream form of artistic
Now, with over 25 years of professional visual art experience, Pierre is a multi-faceted artist who works in many different mediums, including oil, acrylic, pen and ink, aerosol, oil pastel, colored pencil and watercolor. His portfolio encompasses corporate and private commissions, public murals, official posters, set design, album covers and product advertising. In terms of process, the artist explains, “I start with the basic principles of design—good balance and composition—but I also have a story in mind. There’s a lot of critical thinking that goes into a painting. Once I get the basic shapes down, then I build up my color scheme and blend my colors. Sometimes I’ll have up to 20 layers of paint.”
A methodical texturing distinguishes Pierre’s brush strokes, and his works are filled with vitality, color and exuberance. Contrast is a consistent theme in Pierre’s art, the urban and the natural, rhythm and stillness, busy and serene. He says, “My work is a conversation between nature and urban. As I got older and started traveling more, I began to realize how much I loved nature. Nature represents the inner child, and it has brought me back to my inner child. Nature brings me to a spiritual place that allows me to be creative.”
Pierre is Longue Vue House & Gardens 2018 Artist-in- Residence. He talks about his experiences at Longue Vue and the influence it has had on him as an artist: “It’s very inspirational bags for a visual global journey through Pierre’s eyes and see the show.
Until September 2, Longue Vue is presenting an exhibit of 26 of Pierre’s works titled Citizen of the World, Son of New Orleans. Featured are pieces created at Longue Vue, as well as paintings from Pierre’s international residencies in Iceland, Costa Rica and the Toronto Islands. So, pack your bags for a visual global journey through Pierre’s eyes and see the show.
Maria Pote, executive director of Longue Vue House & Gardens, speaks glowingly about Pierre: “A local gem, much like Longue Vue, Jamar has an incredible talent—his work is vibrant, dynamic and engaging. Longue Vue is committed to making art and art education accessible to children, adults and families, and we are honored to partner with local artists like Jamar Pierre.”
Pierre teaches a variety of art workshops at Longue Vue and develops art-based educational programs for students of all ages with diverse socio-economic and multi- cultural backgrounds throughout the metro New Orleans area. The artist describes the reciprocal benefits of teaching: “I teach kids, and I tell them to just try and not be scared. Just let it flow. When I teach, I’m teaching myself how to paint all over again. What I really teach is how to be patient and how to be mindful. You cannot paint or create until you let go of the ego.”
In addition to Pierre’s current residency at Longue Vue, he was chosen by the NOLA Foundation, formed by the mayor, to be the official New Orleans Tricentennial Artist. He created the artwork for the official Tricentennial Celebration print, Resilience, a reproduction of which is currently being exhibited in the Adams Reading room of the library of Congress. When asked about the painting, Pierre says, “Resiliency is who we are; it is what we are about, and we do it with a joie de vivre found nowhere else on earth.” His print of the official Tricentennial painting is sold in two sizes in the Shop at Longue Vue. Pierre, along with Daniel ‘DeeJay’ Pate, also created the New Orleans Tricentennial Activity Book, a fun-filled coloring and activity book for children and adults featuring crossword puzzles, games, quizzes and historical lessons.
Pierre’s list of accomplishments, awards and honors is long. Highlights include his selection by the mayor’s office for the past four years to design a mural honoring the country to be represented at each local festival. Then the artist orchestrates the painting of the mural by local students, and ultimately, the mural is exhibited in the mayor’s office as a permanent installation. Pierre also serves as the Artistic Ambassador for New Orleans. He participates in city-wide celebratory events and meets with visiting international dignitaries and guests of honor.
Though a traveler of the world, Pierre is truly a son of New Orleans. No matter how far he treks, this talented artist is never very far from home because he carries his New Orleans heritage and identity with him in his art. The rhythm and culture of the city are always with him and are the heartbeat of his work.
Citizen of the World, Son of New Orleans: Cover Artist Jamar Pierre
by Shauna Grissett, photos by Candra George