LOOKING FOR HOPE: THE NEW ORLEANS DRAWING PROJECT 2006–2013

Endicott College • Beverly, MA • endicott.edu/centerforthearts • Through April 11, 2014

By: Robyn Day

 That’s not my house, but it’s my property,” Jeffrey Marshall heard from behind him as he drew 1750 Reynes Street. “I can charge rent, but I can’t destroy or move the house because it isn’t mine.” It wasn’t the first time Marshall had heard this story, or others like it. The New Orleans Drawing Project encompasses them all. Like memories, his drawings hover between the painstaking detail of representation, the textures of wood grain or the National Guard’s spray paint indices, and the fluid lines of abstraction that suggest more than mere records ever can say.

GreenHouse
Jeffrey Marshall, Green House (Make it Right 9), 2010, grease pencil on illustration board, 10 x 15″. Courtesy of the artist.

“Make sure you show the work,” he has been urged countless times from residents met in the New Orleans streets, and now Marshall is doing just that. His Drawing Project offers an opportunity to expand on their stories and portraits. Marshall’s work follows New Orleans through its turbulent and troubled recovery in Katrina’s wake, an ongoing, ten-year artistic endeavor that began in May 2006. Fresh out of college in the early ’90s, Marshall had moved to New Orleans for Teach for America. His love of the city is enduring, making his art a deeply personal public act.

Through drawing Marshall becomes, as he says, a “physical player in the landscape” of New Orleans, his process transformed from a solitary path to a collaborative one. A frenetic artist whose materials change yearly from large-scale, chalky conté to grease pencil on wood grain contact paper to watercolors, he has an eye for complications, layering, building up, and erasing in a process that becomes a metaphor for his subject. “I have to destroy the drawing in some way. It has to be a disaster,” he remarks.

Yet Marshall is no disaster artist in some disaster Disneyland. His is a critical documentary project. He has drawn new citywide water pumping stations (installed in 2006 under time pressure, the defective pumps were to be tested and repaired once in place) and the green, low-income housing on former homeowners’ land spurred by Brad Pitt’s charitable foundation. You can discern the problems lurking below the surface of New Orleans in the complex layers of Jeffrey Marshall’s accomplished drawings—not just in the actual rubble experienced there, stuck indelibly to your feet.



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