“Conan” ~story of a New Orleans artist (before the Great Pandemic of 2020)*
A special forces Army Ranger during the Gulf Wars, Gregory Arthur Conan took up his mother’s trade (Parisian artist) after serving two tours of combat duty. In New Orleans he joined the many who follow in the long tradition of sidewalk artists, coping best he can with hardened PTSD-type symptoms, quick temper, outspoken, embattled, standing his ground when passers-by get in his face judgmentally or even physically sometimes.
The cover photo of this video is of a birthday gift being painted by a New Orleans sidewalk-artist named Conan for my teen son who had just graduated high school in Outback Australia. Conan adds a sun, moon and cactus growing in the water –saying skaters like he himself once was (and, he claims, still is) will always find a place and time to skate: in the heat of day (sun), dark of night (moon), over mountains, through water, around cactus’ and any other obstacles….
Conan pushes your buttons to the limits, likely out of boredom or the need for human interaction –any interaction. We need more Conan’s. The French Quarter has enough tax-paying Jackson Square artists who show their works along the fence or behind the Cathedral; and gallery artists with leased shops on Royal, Chartres and the side-streets. Some pre-Katrina Jackson Square artists even continue their work online.
Police have beaten Conan to a pulp more than once. They just don’t like sidewalk artists, especially those with brash personalities. Conan takes his licks — even the time they almost killed him, dumping him on a top bunk in jail unconscious.
He looked like death warmed-over, face swollen and bandaged, broken arm…. It reminds me of a story I came across about a 19th Century master artist and marble sculptor Achille Perelli who, migrated to New Orleans to escape Italian fascism.
Perelli’s paintings and sculptures are in museums and many local mansions and buildings even today. Interviewed by the local paper while he painted on a Vieux Carré sidewalk, the old master artist is quoted scolding local authorities for disrespecting him and other sidewalk artists: “For the artists in Paris, in Italy — the local people take them into their homes, feed them, shelter them, help them….
“In New Orleans, the police shoo us away from the banquette like rubbish!” That was more than a century ago. It is unbelievable and a sad statement of human nature that Conan has the same problem with society today as did Achille 100 years ago. Perhaps even worse.
…Alas, some years have passed since the above-written words. I learned this morning, at 12:34 on the 5th of July, 2020, that my old artist friend has died. I’m assuming from “Coronavirus” but time will tell; already the many friends he has accumulated over the past couple decades are commenting on the as-yet unconfirmed rumor of his demise…
*[unedited, 1st draft of another story in “My Kingdom for an Editor” series]