How's Bayou? Dirty dancing and Mardi Gras
My wife Millie never could understand where the ankle-deep mud at La Casa de los Marinos came from.
The floors were concrete, and she never actually saw any mud. Besides, many of the mid-1960s socialites who mingled with the sailors in the rough-and-tumble Decatur Street bar ended up dancing on tables with exotic men from far away.
So why did they always exit with a bathtub ring of dirt that lingered like dingy first-communion socks an inch or two above their insteps?
"Las Casas," as it was incorrectly known to the art-gallery set of the Vieux Carre in those days, was the final destination of gallery hoppers. Now Maspero's dishes out Reuben sandwiches and draft beer where tequila once ruled supreme and artists from the Orleans, Downtown and 331 galleries -- the likes of George Dureau, Noel Rockmore, James Lamatia, Millie Wohl, Paul Ninas, and John Clemmer -- fought battles of words over the latest one-man show.
In the early 1960s, Clemmer, a retired Newcomb professor who recently turned 90, took a detour from Abstract Expressionism to create a one-off, never-to-be-repeated, Mardi Gras Day collage of throws of the day. Mother snapped it up when it appeared at the Orleans Gallery, an artists' cooperative that featured the work of several avant-garde local art professors.
Half a century later, artist Stephan Wanger has, unaware of Clemmer's bead-painting, created images that expand Clemmer's idea into painstakingly-elaborated mega works of the beadmaster's art. Clemmer was more off the cuff and included just about everything that was thrown from floats at a time when "Made in Japan" meant strands of rainbow-hued glass beads and Kewpie dolls.
In Clemmer's The King's Float Passes, beads fill the roughly 24-by-36 inch panel with images Wanger would recognize, but the dolls that stare out at the viewer from the bottom of the crowd, giving the scene perspective and depth, are plastic, not plush toys.
A pink plastic plastic plane does a flyover to honor Rex, and a masker sports rubbery spider eyes at bottom left. Colorful pinwheels that, believe it or not, we all scrambled for, serve as rainbow lamp standards, and figer twisters -- those hollow rattan sausages that would capture both index fingers when you tried to pull them apart -- recreate some of New Orleans's first skyscrapers.
Not only is Clemmer's work -- which he declined to have exhibited in a New Orleans Museum of Art retrospective a few years ago -- a celebration of the mad, vibrant celebration that is Mardi Gras; it's also an historic record of the somethings we all thought were worth fighting for in the early 1960s as we shouted, "Throw me something, mister!"
And, if you look closely, I imagine you can find a young female masker with black beads around her ankles somewhere in the crowd.
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now juggles his time between Dixie Art Supplies in New Orleans and Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville. For more information on NolaVie, go to nolavie.com.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.