On a particularly frigid Louisiana morning about a week ago, NOLA based artist Loam Durapau and I journeyed a couple hours outside the city to lands where slave plantations were once installed, and where today there's a hefty amount of industrial chemical plantations working tirelessly to keep 'civilization' supplied with pesticides, plastics, explosives and the like, at a high cost to the land and the communities surrounding them. This land and these industrial facilities have become the subject matter of some paintings Loam is working on, and ever interested in the tides, ideations, emotions and inspirations which move a creative we delve into a conversation about it, about New Orleans community and communing with some of the Earth's plants.
Loam radiates an intrinsic sense of deep caring that's obvious to see even in the most minute of interactions, and is frequently moved into spontaneous and playful gestures, all the while speaking with a sometimes hesitant, yet often incisive voice.
Leo Skala: Brotha, I am stoked that we finally made this happen, cause we've been talking about doing this for almost two weeks now. Finally dialed in the morning for both our schedules and rhythms.
Loam Durapau: Yeah, finally got it to work out, and on the brink of a really intense cold front too, so, yah, bundled up and feeling that wind cutting through. Which I think is fitting, it takes some effort to come out here and show up for this space, it's not easy or comfortable.
LS: Why don't you speak about where we are first.
LD: Ah, so we are on the proposed property out in St. James Parish that Formosa Plastics is attempting to build a new manufacturing plant on. And it's in a location, that's not far from a school, and communities, and there's already a few other plants out here.
LS: What plant are we in front of right now?
LD: A Mosaic Faustina Ammonia Plant. They make ammonia.... most of it produced by the industry is used in agriculture as some kinds of fertilizer... but it's also used to
manufacture plastics, explosives, pesticides, dyes...
LS: It's the subject of some paintings you're doing right now.
LD: It is the backdrop for a painting, yes. The actual land we're on right now is the
Formosa property, overviewing these sugarcane crops. So the base of it is the field, and
then above is this Mosaic plant. Which it is the issue, these chemical, plastic, and fossil
fuel plants. They are key players in the climate crisis.
LS: So, what brought you out here initially to make it a subject of study and visual work? Is that a trend in your work, is that like, ah, let's go one thing at a time...
LD: No worries, what brought me out here was a desire to experience the land first hand. Ya know, I, I know of groups who are combatting the Formosa Plant being built here, Rise St. James, is the local community here, women, men and children of St. James
Parish who do not want another plant like Formosa to come in and add to the escalated
pollution this environment experiences... but I wanted to come here to bring what I've
cultivated and what I consider to be something that I hold power in. Painting is a way for
me to come and face this space and create a relationship with this land, and to make it
personal. Where it's not just someone else's journey, someone else's struggle, but to
create my own personal relationship with this land.
LS: To what end?
LD: To what ends would you go to in order to protect and care for the person you love
LS: Boundless, in the face of threat... So, your primary work, as a painter, you've been a self supporting painter for like, what-
LD: Ahhh, six years now?
LS: What have been the trends of your work, since, let's just say since the C-schedule
LD: I mean, to be honest, a lot of the work that I have been producing has kind of been all over the place, some of it steps into the spiritual realm, some of it is more aesthetic,
some of it is just coming across imagery that I find appealing and interesting to my own
tastes....recently, doing these landscapes, as an artistic expression, but a lot of the work
as I look it I feel dissatisfied. The work that I started doing when the pandemic started
was actually veering away from painting. I started creating these little sculptures that I
call artifacts. Based on a change of heart, a change of direction, wanting to engage
with natural elements... ya know, going out into the city out of my home scouring New
Orleans for flowers that called to me. It started off with marigolds. A symbol in some
parts of Latin America as flowers that help guide the dead back to the living. To allow the
ancestors to visit their current living descendants, and, ah, it came as a change of my
own diet, my consumption of different foods, deeper practice in tea ceremony...
LS: As we're enjoying right now. Thank you so much for that. It's such a beautiful, potent
LD: It's a way to center oneself and share with community, to honor and pay tribute to
herbal medicines...but these little sculptures, ya know, there's these dried flowers inside
of egg shells with tea leaves encircling them. Then I encased them in a glass dome,
hunting in thrift stores for brandy glasses, wine glasses, chopping the stems off, creating
domes to protect them. There's something about the beauty of the natural world, the
beauty in the fragility and the transition of the natural world. That I've felt just gets
trampled on and overlooked... ya know, we're entering, and have been in a climate crisis
for about half a decade...
LS: Longer than that. I'm pretty sure Great Nature can shake all this off like a loose case
of fleas with the brush of it's shoulder if it really wanted to. Nature would be
fine, just very different than we've known it. It's more about the survival and real thriving, the extension of humanity's purpose and sustainable practices...
LD: Yeah, we're seeing more action being taken, but there's also alot of retraction. These
little sculptures were a way of appeasing my own well being, and seeking connection
with our Earth, our home. To invest my time and effort into something that I find beautiful, about the decay, and about the living. And part of the process has been learning to communicate directly to plants. To ask permission from the flowers before picking them, before bringing them into my space, before drying them and creating with their, ah, shells. And it's a process, ya know, I don't feel like I have the full answer as to what drove me to do that work, it was just more of a pull, like I need to do this, I need to have a direct connection and interaction, to touch and feel and bring it into my home. And I want to share that experience with others. To share the beauty and simplicity with what's already there and available. It ties back into coming here, to this land, to create a
stronger relationship with that which I want to protect and care for.
LS: These paintings aren't commissioned.
LD: No, this is just work I'm doing for myself.
LS: Aside from the, I think it's great, that you're doing this for yourself, what's the ideal
outcome from all this work? Not just for yourself, but for those echoes and reflections
and inspirations that every artists work inevitably produces in the larger conversation...
LD: To continue to voice for the land, the air, and the water and the people and the
animals that are effected by these industries. A way of participating in something I've
cultivated to continue to stand against industries that have no intent of slowing down or
caring for that which is around them. In my view. From what I've seen, of their responses
and the damage they continue to cause through water, land and air pollution.
LS: Yeah, I've come to the conclusion that just recycling and avoiding plastics, and
being as conscious as possible of my personal eco footprint isn't enough...
LD: An end to it, a cutting it off, putting a stop to it, changing direction in a radical way! Not so much in a radical way that it's going to take from us, it's simply just going to change the direction. Ending plastic production and use does not mean our lives are suddenly going to crumple and fall apart. It just means that we will no longer have single use plastics. You now have to carry a canteen for your water. Now you're responsible to find a water source to refill it. Which has larger implications as well. There are technologies and ways of supplying things that come in packaging that do not need to include plastics. But because its cheap, and it pushes profit margins for large industries they do it. So it's used. Because people buy it.
LS: Yeah, yeah, the evils brought out by capitalism and false convenience that pushes
profit margins at the cost of all else that so many of us are disgusted with and don't
support in the ways we know how and is totally unsustainable and should be overhauled on a much larger scale, immediately... Well, mhm, let's get a bit of New Orleans context. Cause we're like an hour and half outside of NOLA, and you've been living there for the last ten years. How is it as an art scene, as a community, as a working painter, cause it has such a reputation. For people who maybe haven't lived here, or been here in depth, or don't know much about it besides Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, and the city is so much more than that, as well as being a big part of it. That sort of spirit of carnival and music, surprises that can be found here in the streets anyhow.
LD: It's a really easy community to step into and to have a voice and to find whichever
tribe you want to roll with. It's a very welcoming city, accessible, available and supportive
of creatives. A city which has allowed for me to create a sustainable living, by just
opening it's doors. I mean, my landlady for example, was lenient on my rent for the first
seven months I decided to start making a living as a painter, I never paid rent on time.
Like, a month behind, because, she understood, and cared, and believed in my passion
and drive to become a painter, and eventually things smoothed out. If you can dream it,
you can make it, and New Orleans will integrate it if done with heart. New Orleans makes opportunity easily available. The art markets here, that now are all over, weren't as popular before. There used to just be high end galleries off of Julia St., Royal St., or
artists making their living on Pirates Alley and Jackson Square. Frenchmen street which
was once just a locals music scene, became a hub with an artmarket that housed
thirtyfive-forty artists all in different disciplines, crafts and makers. It distinguished itself
from the French Market, which has a lot of trinkets from all over the world, touristy masks and beads, but the Frenchmen Art Market became a hub for self made creatives. Soap makers. Jewelers. Potters. Sculptors. Photographers. Leatherworkers. Candlemakers. Painters. Etc. It became a meeting ground for creatives who were passionate about their craft, like myself, who wanted to make a living creating their own work, and it made it possible.
LS: I mean, that's one of the things I immediately noticed and loved about this city when I spent some time here three years ago, and part of why I'm drawn back to it. I was blown away by the vibrancy of the art scene in a myriad of directions. Authentic makers spaces and craft that I hadn't seen condensed like this in a lot of cities in the states, I've been curious what about New Orleans allows that to thrive here, hah, if you can answer that.
LD: I feel like that's one of those unanswerable questions, it doesn't have a direct answer to it...ah, what allows for it to thrive is...resilience...
LS: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you, alright, let's just leave that be....mhmm, well, shifting
gears then, what other painters have inspired you, living or dead? I mean, do you follow,
like, I guess I don't want to say a painter's lineage...but, ya know, with my primary
discipline as a writer, there are for sure certain writers who've inspired me, whose work I
admire and appreciate, and occasionally draw from.
LD: There are many influences that have brightened the path for what is now available. I
have admired Alphonse Mucha, Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Gustave Klimt, Rene
Magritte, and Goya. They made a fantastic mark on the collective consciousness. I draw
from many other creative wells. Performance and installation artist Andy Goldsworthy
and his engagements with nature, their collaborations and conversations lift me. Magical Realist Gabriel Garcias Marques weaving the invisible threads of real, surreal, and mystical. All is magical and he helped open my eyes to this truth. French musician
Clozee brought the sounds of the forest and other ancient rhythms into my field and has influenced several paintings all to her beat. Chris Long, a master painter, made a big
influence on my brush work.
LS: So, then, mhm, I've got like, a dual-pronged question for ya...how has COVID
affected, or at least, the pandemic media and restrictions affected the art scene in
NOLA, but also how has Burning Man Culture and ethos influenced part of your
responses to that. I know Burner Culture has been a big influence for you, as it has been
for me, and which I still think is a magnificent seed of total cultural revolution, the
principles at the core of that festival scene have generated some extraordinary
responses, conversations and actions...
LD: That's all fair. I can't speak too much for, well, lately I've become really
hermetic. What I've seen has been a different breaking up of core groups and markets that were our sustaining work spaces, and a reassembling of different spaces and markets. Gaining their own independence and growing their own vision of maker spaces/artist markets. I've been keeping low, making a meager living off commissions, some of that on Instagram. As for Burner Culture, at the beginning of the pandemic I was using a lot of my prints to support my friend and Burner, Andrea, in the work she's doing delivering meals and food to the houseless community. She's shifted a lot of her own life and lifestyle, and from the start has been a support in finding and distributing resources to the community in where they're needed most. As for myself, ya know, creating paintings donating percentages of sales, creating prints, donating percentages, I've seen a lot of other artists doing that in this city. Which has a result, to keep supporting the community of New Orleans which was lacking in resources. An artist I know covered Frenchmen street with stencil art on the plywood of shuttered store windows. He covered Frenchmen, and it became this rolling art gallery. People would stroll down Frenchmen street like it was a gallery. He sold off these plywood stencil paintings, then the funds got donated to hospitals, medical workers, other artists. Ya know, artists have taken their own through the pandemic to return the gifts that this city has given them.....Yeah, the houseless population has grown quite a bit, businesses have been going under, but ya know New Orleans has done things like placing an eviction
moratorium, not allowing landlords to evict people, I'm about to go do a big red beans
and rice cook, delivery and feed with Andrea for Lundigras and stock up some of the
community fridges. And in New Orleans the community here is already super familiar
with this sort of thing. This understanding that without our neighbors we're not gonna
make it that well...
LS: That's one of the things I saw when I was first here a few years ago as well...people
are pretty ready to just talk and engage with each other, and it was seeing, like, pop up
bookshelves all over that people had set up in front of their houses with books to give
and take, these stations even had medical supplies, canned foods, all sorts of
stuff, and people are just doing that on their own initiative that's part of what gives a real feeling of care in the city... mhmmm... Anyhow. So, I suppose, wrapping back around to the paintings you're doing, and St. James Parish, so, what happens with these paintings, do you write a manifesto for them, do you get a gallery exposition-
LD: Ah, no, no, no, no, at least not immediately. I want to organize with Rise St. James,
ah, and I want to do a show and have it be for the voices of the folks here with Rise St.
James and for climate activists and for the community to be able to come together and
continue to support this battle.
LS: Yeah, I saw a whole bunch of industrial plants out here pumping whatever they're
pumping into the air and soil, and it struck me when you were telling me that,
what, like, New Orleans has another name as a part of Cancer Alley?
LD: Yeah, this strip of land from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, is called Cancer Alley.
Because all along the Mississippi River there are hundreds of plants constantly putting
out harmful emissions. Louisiana Methanol, just to name one, there are higher rates of
different forms of cancer all along this strip in the populace. And that's been known for a long time. That's not just been recently unveiled. It's had that nickname for at least
LS: That's a nickname that should get rearranged. Brutal! Ahhh.
LD: Yeah. Ah, yeah, like this fucking weather man!
LS: Whew, yeah! It's cold out here this morning. Well. Mhm. Alright. Is there anything else you want to talk about while we're here? We covered a pretty good basis.
LD: I guess it's really about creating a personal relationship. Making it personal. And
painting is just my way of making it more personal. Ya know, having tea in this space,
something that I personally have a growing relationship with makes it more real. Coming
here and bringing some of the soil that lives on this land and bringing it back home
makes it more personal. This is my life, not just the land's life. It's not separate from me,
it's connected to me, and if it's connected to me then in this case I must fight against
what is trying to poison and kill me. That's what I feel is a huge part of the disconnect in
why we aren't All just out here, or wherever these industries are, and fighting for the land and our health! They hide in the shadows. You can't directly see, ah, in...ahhhh.....it's just not so direct, it's subtle...
LS: Hah, screw that, maybe its a subtle issue for some, it seems pretty direct to me. There are countless examples that have shown up in the world at this point by various authenticated journalists, science panels, and anybody with their eyes open that it's not even contestable. Not to to mention that any sane, sensitive being in contact with the Earth has been able to feel it intuitively for however many years. That's certainly part of the reason I've spent so much time out of the States for so many years, I could just see and feel this mass lack of caring or attention in the greater populace and governmental systems here in so many ways that had much larger echoes and ripples and I wanted literally nothing to do with it, around it, whatever...there are things about objective terrestrial reality that don't until we all do.
LD: I feel that, I resonate with that. I feel a lot of people also resonate with that, but that there's also a ton of people not wanting to hear it, like it doesn't register, that they also have to do something about it...
LS: There's a better response than just being comfortable, or distracted, or whatnot.
LD: Yeah, we're all responsible for this Earth. All this beautiful light, we're caretakers to it and developers of how we create with it, and ya gotta get out into nature and spend some time with it, I mean every part of your life is spending time with it. Ya know, your entire existence is a part of this. And it's been under attack for a while. I'm definitely not the first to recognize it or say it, and I won't be the last, but I certainly am committed to standing up for it. And whatever powers I've cultivated and am continuing to grow I'm going to make use of to stand for it.
LS: Beautiful. Let's end on that note, it's fucking cold out here. Freezing.
LD: Yeah, let's get out of here.
LS: Thank you for all the energy and the time, and the tea.
LD: Likewise. Thank you for bringing all of these questions, and you, man, this has all
awoken so much in me that I'm grateful for. What a beautiful conversation to have in this freezing day.
LS: It's cold!
LD: With these massive, intense sci-fi looking industrial plants pumping big plumes of-
LS: Not even good sci-fi, maybe some sci-fi visions of the future have this shit, but I want to see solarpunk visions of the future come to fruition...like, sooner than later...this doesn't have to be, what we're looking at right now.
LD: Oh fuck yah. Wind, and water, and sun energy, and so on, they're all available. Those technologies are available today to be put into wide-scale use, and have been suppressed by these industries... but it can't last. (if you'd like to see more of Loam's work, buy prints, originals, or contact him check out his Instagram account @durapauart)