If we are particularly lucky, we accumulate a handful of truly special relationships during our time on this earth… Those remarkable bonds that connect parents and children, old friends, and life-partners. The kind with that special time resistant quality; truly resilient links existing in a rather harsh and unforgiving universe, perhaps outliving even our physical forms. When we are in the presence of those we share these bonds with, our souls open up a little. Joy seems especially close in reach on these days. Our windows to the past creak open slightly wider, and exhilaration from shared experiences can squeeze in to breathe an extra bit of life into us. I always yearn for these reflections of the past in others, and am reminded of them when in proximity to someone I’ve shared bits of my life with.
In the twilight of a long weekend in early 2015 (MLK Day), I am compelled to finally begin this habitual recording of the most recent chapter of my life; which is something that I’ve been meaning to get to. The past few days have been special, and better resemble days that may have existed in slightly more effortless times. Old friends came to visit New Orleans and I was reminded that these exceptional relationships need no time to recalibrate their wavelengths; it’s as if we never spent a day apart, and seems it will always be this way. Rejuvenated by the energy found in one another, we wasted no time truly enjoying our lives in the setting of a particularly beautiful weekend in this timeless city. Feeling particularly reflective in the afterglow of a weekend well lived, I realized that the content of my days has changed enough for it to feel like a page has turned since my last post on this blog. It seems to take the passing of 3-4 months for things to really begin taking shape when I look back. Change and progress become recognizable, and their sources also begin to show their heads. Through this lens I hope to examine my recent past, and extract the pieces of it that are worth carrying forward into the future.
When I last left off, I had recently secured a job as graphic designer/web developer, though in reality the role leaned heavily toward the latter. I had only recently rebooted my life in the Crescent City, so this job was a concrete stride in a positive direction, and for a time I was happy with it. I’ve probably mentioned this in my writing before, but I find it effective to break job satisfaction into a few important parts: The obvious is what a particular position is doing for my life… What’s the compensation like? Is this experience going to be useful in future endeavors? Second, who am I doing it with? My colleagues weigh greatly on how much I enjoy time spent at work. Finally, the true unicorn is the degree to which I enjoy what I’m doing. I can say with certain confidence that no-one absolutely loves going to work every-day, but I think it’s fair to say that some people hate it more than others. This last piece is the true, deep-down nerve of the situation; unless I’m reaping some kind of enjoyment out of the work I’m cultivating day after day, the job is going to eventually wear me down the same way that weather and time bury mountains. I loved my co-workers at this job, everyone was very friendly and accepting, but I learned a very important lesson about myself in this position: Wading through front-end code on a day-to-day basis wore on me like river on rock. I knew it simply couldn’t last forever, so I began looking for greener pastures.
As what seems to be the usual case, the search was disheartening at first. I felt like I was staring straight at a very solid ceiling for creative positions in New Orleans. Don’t get me wrong, gainful employment for creatives does exist here… These roles are simply not in excessive supply, so sometimes just the timing of a job search can be damning. The only thing that can be done in this circumstance is to simply cast the net wide, and relentlessly follow up on leads without crossing the cusp of being a nuisance, so that’s what I did. Throughout the process I gained some great contacts and met some amazing people. I feel the need to mention Line58, definitely one of the most skilled design and branding studios in the city. A true testament to their absolute bad-assery is a design grant that they offer to the non-profit community of New Orleans that may not have the funds available to pay for competitive, cutting-edge branding work. I shared coffee and a couple of lunches with one of the principals, Geoff Coats, whom I immediately appreciated as a truly rare kind of person… The kind of guy who follows up just to see how you’re doing regardless of whether he has anything to gain from the interchange. Although things did not develop with Line58, I will be sure to stay in touch with them throughout my professional career.
Probably one of the most important truths about looking for gainful employment is that your network is going to have a significant role in your success. My triumph in this particular job hunt relied very much on this notion. I had heard of a very unorthodox “advertising agency” called GumboLive, perched on top of the old Jax Brewery in the heart of the French Quarter. Various friends had alerted me to its existence, and a Miami Ad School colleague Coko Bernal had been working there for over a year. I didn’t know all that much about the agency, and went about trying to learn as much as possible so I could formulate my plan of attack. This reconnaissance turned out to be more difficult than I’d expected, as GumboLive had near to no online presence. I must admit I was intrigued, there isn’t much like a lack of information to cause a mind to begin fabricating elaborate fantasies stretching the limit of possibility. After a call with my colleague Coko, I was able to deduce that GumboLive was something of an agency for ad agencies… The bulk of the work was conceptual; helping creative teams get to their ideas faster. Okay, I thought, everything about this place is unconventional, so I wasn’t really surprised when I saw the application and eventually had my interview. Similar to Miami Ad School, applying to GumboLive involved answering creative asks without many limiting factors. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated toward one of the prompts that read as followed: “How can we get people to ride more trains in America?” I spent a week creating a mock campaign for Amtrak based on a new line of products. My idea was for to create and advertise new travel packages based on the adventure personality of the rider. I had tons of fun ideating for this brief, as well as creating this little logomark for the campaign.
I think its definitely necessary to give a shout-out to my better half Addie for always being my audience and always providing constructive, actionable feedback. Before I knew it, I had submitted my work and was at my interview with GumboLeaders Jim and Ann. As a truly proper foreshadowing of the atypical nature of the employment journey I was embarking on, the interview consisted of knocking back 4 or 5 Blue Moons with my bosses-to-be, talking about everything from my application, to Jim’s action-packed friendship with Dr. Bob, to my experience at Miami Ad School and finally bidding adieu as I stumbled out onto gleaming cobblestones on the foggy French-Quarter night.
Not to long after my boozy interview I was offered the job, which I accepted with optimistic enthusiasm. I nervously announced my resignation to my supervisors at my previous position (I held them in high regard, and was distressed at the notion of leaving at a busy time and causing extra work for them), and strategically arranged a week-long gap in between my current gig’s end and the first day at my new position. Another pigment-related project had reared its head, and I wanted to make sure to plan for enough open days to really give it my all. By now, most people reading this have heard of Exhibit Be, so I’m not going to go too deep into the story of how it happened (If you are interested in a refresher on the subject, check out this Nola.com story). Long story short, there was a really great graffiti spot on the West Bank of New Orleans; an abandoned apartment complex of about a dozen 5 story buildings. It was very much a spray-paint Zion; endless canvas and all the time in the world to tinker and make. Enter Brandan Odums, a local street artist who is best known for painting larger-than-life portraits of African-american heroes. He began painting at the spot very regularly, and eventually crossed paths with the manager of the property. Stunned by the quality of the art that was popping up, the property manager wanted to collaborate and turn the entire complex into an exhibit for Prospect 3, a semi-annual art fair that completely engulfs New Orleans. Thus, Exhibit Be was born: A massive showcase and event space resulting from the collaboration of dozens of New Orleans “street-artists”.
I was invited to aggregate a team of artists to embellish a 5 story swath of one of the building facades for the exhibit. I didn’t need to think for a second about who I wanted to attack this wall with; I knew my graffiti family, the Fat Kids and Strange Animals, would be just the guys for the job. I’ve never enjoyed working with anyone as much as I do with Bordeaux, Tard and Mrsa: 3 immensely talented and well tempered gentlemen. Together we laid plans for our 5 story mural, and soon we had a loose framework of what we were going to paint… Plans can be restrictive, after all. I’ve found that the true collaborative magic happens on the field, in process, with the help of a mystic potion made of energy drinks and maybe some Jameson. So for about a week, we spent 8 hour days full of fun and fumes in a bona fide Shangri-la of our aerosol religion.
For most of the public, Exhibit Be meant a vibrant enclosure of paint adorned buildings crawling with people of all ages enjoying food trucks, car shows, poetry slams, live music and general revelry. For us, however, I can firmly say that our Exhibit be happened before gates opened to the general population. For us it was occupied only by a chosen few; making endless trips up and down those stairs to paint and then examine the last strokes from a viewing distance. It was taking breaks in former apartments strewn with broken glass, savoring every breath before putting masks back on and getting to work. It was the sweet astonishment that we had created something so massive and compelling, together. I attended a few of the public opening days, but none of them made me feel anything close to those weeks prior, when we had completely cleaned, transformed and given life to this concrete behemoth. Exhibit Be is a project I will remember for a long time.
Another notable graffiti related incident occurred over this jobless lacuna; a rendezvous with the widely relished artist Sofles. Many of my readers have probably seen his recently viral hyper-lapse collaboration with the immensely talented videographer Selina Miles, titled Limitless. If, in fact, you haven’t viewed this video, I would highly recommend taking a few minutes to do so now, regardless of your level of interest in aerosol art… This video is nothing less than a testament to human will and our endless desire to master skills and the world around us. The dynamic duo found themselves in Baton Rouge for a mural event thrown by the Museum of Public Art. With some time to spare, and a desire to capture some good natured vandalism abroad in America, the two reached out on social media and by chance we were able to connect and make arrangements for them to spend a quick night in our city. I must express how surreal it was to receive a call and find the Aussie-accented voice of one of your idol’s on the other side of the line… I knew even before they had arrived in city limits that this would be a night to remember. Sofles had never painted an American freight car, so I was eager to make arrangements to introduce him to the sublime pleasure of decorating this kind of steel. After meeting up at my place and exchanging pleasantries, we were on our way with a cohort to hunt down Sofles’ first boxcar… And I have to say it is hilarious how identical narrating this scenario could be to describing a dream that I may have had on any given night.
After locating a nice blank boxcar, calling to us with empty metallic echoes, we went about beginning our sketches and fills. My blood was electric in my veins, I was sharing Sofles’ first American boxcar… It was too good to be true! And, as these situations sometimes tend to be… It was. An engine light appeared down the tracks, spooking us to take cover in adjacent shadowy alcoves. With the amount of people watching the action, and Selina’s camera gear (she was time-lapsing the whole thing), we were not able to stay incognito. The engine slowed as it approached our hiding places and rung its bell indicating that conductor was wise to our game. Not wanting to get our nonnatives in any kind of official trouble, we quickly scampered back down to our cars with our heads hung low. After discussing broken plans to come back and finish, we set on trying to find some more relaxed spots to paint since we were now even more hungry for action, and wary of any further intervention. We ended up hitting a couple of nice chill walls that night, and passed memorable hours slinking through chain links and ducking out of view of oncoming car headlights. More astonishing than the level of skill with which paint was emptied from Sofles’ cans onto the wall was the complete lack of ego inhabiting his persona. Both Sofles and Selina were immediately recognizable as extremely down to earth and humble people… The kind that take no effort or energy to enjoy time with. Again I must express my excitement and gratitude for being able to call this adventuresome night my own. The more unforgettable experiences the better, so bring ’em on!
I was able to spend another day with Selina a few weeks later when she was in town filming a music video for her friend Dusk, who had just been invited to open for Nas on his Australian tour. She needed a guide to scout locations and, always down for a day full of UrbEx, I was happy to oblige. We drove around for most of the day visiting abandoned spaces and talking about life-goals, travel and the anthropological history of New Orleans. One of my favorite spots we were able to visit happened to be the run down civil war era fort that was used to film the final scene of True Detective. We rode up to the defunct brick structure and entered without consequence, the gate wide open. Pervasively creepy, this brick laden enclosure was full of burned-down candles and ashen black plots of soil giving away memories of recent bon-fires flickering with questionable spirit. Entering one of the arches, a cool breeze rushed past us, and on the ground laid in bricks was the word “run”. Well, that was quite enough for Selina, so we quickly walked out toward the gate. Low and behold, we had been padlocked in. For some reason panic had not found me… I was fully aware of the creepiness that was unfolding in front of me, but I was able to hold it together long enough for us to scale the barb wire fence without incident and scamper back to my safe, friendly car. We rounded out that day with excited conversation of what had happened, a couple of glasses of Delirium Tremens and jerk chicken wings. Adventures with Aussies… Memorable would be an understatement.
At some point within this fume and friend filled babel I had begun my new job as a creative at GumboLive. Since very little explanatory information exists online, I will start with some context. GumboLive is a think-tank that was established in the heart of the French Quarter about 3 or 4 years ago. It is co-owned by media behemoths Interpublic Group and Momentum Worldwide, and fed briefs by the myriad ad and media agencies that exist under their mammoth umbrella. We’ll receive a creative brief from one of these agencies looking for thought starters or additional concepts to pitch to their clients (including Coke, GoDaddy, United, USPS and many, many more), and turn some creative thinking around for them usually in a matter of 24 or 48 hours. Additionally, we are sometimes charged with bigger-picture thinking regarding the structure of our parent companies and the organizational systems existing within them. It is fast-paced, loose, and the most enjoyable job I think I’ve ever had. Our fearless leaders even encourage the creatives to keep busy with freelance if there is any kind of lull in the work.
The office is perched on top of the old Jackson Brewery, which has been converted into an eccentric shopping mall of sorts, in sight of the upward climbing spires of the St. Louis Cathedral. Within this building one can find varied services including reflexology, off-brand sporting apparel, and the most depressing food court ever to be established. Worry not, however, amidst this outdated retail funk is our agency; the creative roost on the top floor with commanding views of the Quarter and the Mississippi river. An added personal bonus is a unique perspective of passing freight trains and the graffiti adorning their vast flanks, which people familiar with me will know to be a valuable and much celebrated benefit of our circumstance. So inspired was I by this periodical passing art show that I created a new Instagram feed featuring all of the freight art that passes by throughout the day; and so: The Bench Castle was born.
In addition to the conceptual and train-watching excitement filling my day, I have gained a new respect and adoration for the game of Ping-Pong. The crisp “pit-pat” of Ping Pong volleys can oft be heard during breaks or brainstorm sessions, echoing from our heralded arena (ping pong area) flooded with sunlight and tucked in back of our office. I am still pretty low on the food chain of my pong-seasoned colleagues, but let it be known that I will stop at nothing until they shudder in fear at the sight of me brandishing a ping pong paddle.
This past few months also contained a pretty notable life event for me: spending what will likely be my last holiday season at my childhood home in Oak Park, Illinois. My parents will soon retire to their beautiful new home in Santa Fe, which they have been looking forward to for years now. This exodus gives me both excited and sullen feelings, as I cannot express how much I will miss our old house and the nearly palpable memories filling it to the brim. Yet, I am ecstatic as I look forward to see my parents enjoying their new adventure, and the opportunity for me to visit and come to know yet another region of our beautiful country… I am certain that bitter-sweet is the most common flavor of life.
My holiday at home was once again a flurried reprieve from normal life. I was sure to fill it with equal parts productivity, relaxation and enjoyment of loved ones. I am happy to say that I managed to take my DSLR out to shoot a number of times over the break… Illumination at the Morton Arboretum with my family was definitely a notable one, as well as loitering around the Lincoln Park lakefront with good friends and an oversized gin and tonic, taking long exposures of the skyline and passing traffic. After saying goodbye once again to frozen Chicago, I turned my compass south to make it back to New Orleans for an indelible New Years Eve with the love of my life.
As I look up from the screen, I realize that we are already deep into 2015. So far the year has already been astonishingly chock full of creative and life ventures. Buku Music and Art Project 2015 is right around the corner, and with it will come the 4th annual Live Gallery which I am excited to be curating again. Additionally, New Orleans first skatepark is rising; an asset that the city should have gifted itself many years ago. I have been playing a bit of a hand in ensuring that its Kickstarter campaign will be successful, but more on that to come next time. For now, please enjoy my last few months in photos in the gallery below, and help yourself and those around you ensure that 2015 is the best trip around our radiant sun yet.