INSIDE CONGO SQUARE: PORTRAIT OF THE QUEEN BY A YOUNG ARTIST
FOR A SELECT FEW
The Congo Square @ Jazz Fest poster enjoys a purpose and personality distinct from the “Classic” Jazz Fest poster. It celebrates the Afro-Caribbean diaspora at the core of America’s (and the world’s) culture that is figuratively and literally at Jazz Fest’s heart. As a boutique project produced in significantly smaller editions than its older sibling, its art is inherently freer, subtler and rarer. The project has developed a loyal following of curating collectors who prefer whispers to screams. This approach has attracted eminent artists including Elizabeth Catlett (2000) and Benny Andrews (2001), artists most could only dream of collecting otherwise. The poster is a secret bargain; it makes big name artists accessible and presents new talent at the beginning of promising careers that will typically push them out of reach.
PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG ARTIST
Brisco is different - young but inspired by the old: Rembrandt over Basquiat. After earning a B.A. in Studio Art from Wesleyan he was lured to New Orleans in 2014 by Tulane’s MFA program, which gave him a studio and a stipend. He quit after a year claiming - as only the young might - that his “creative process is fueled by discomfort and struggle.” His "fuel" was a year and a half driving forklifts and 5-ton trucks at an Irish Channel warehouse, followed by slinging ribs at a BBQ joint, laying cinder blocks at a distillery and rigging lights for movies, all the while painting from 10pm to 7am. Brisco’s art habit has rendered him “allergic to money.” A mismatched romantic in a pragmatic era. His DIY studio is a mix of clamp lights and cigarette butts situated in a no man’s land between the 8th and 9th Wards.
THE TWO FACES OF FREEDIA
There are at least two Freedias: The explosive performer with the booming voice and personality to match - pictured in the gig poster on the wall - and the elegant Queen Diva whose confident gaze and smoldering energy are regally internalized. Brisco began by conceiving this latter Freedia as Madame X, the New Orleans socialite turned Parisian model pictured in John Singer Sargent's famous 1884 painting. The original’s sideways stance is replaced by Freedia’s proudly direct stature. While Madame X rests her hand on a table as an allegory for her need for financial support, Freedia’s hand is posed next to a record player, not for support but to symbolize the blending of her voice and recordings in concert. Brisco's intellect serves his art.
MAKING IT WITHOUT FAKING IT
As technically skilled as he is, Brisco’s craft is about seeing; selecting setting, pose and telltale elements with care, emphasizing some details while downplaying others. He works from sourced objects. Ever resourceful - a function of his vow of poverty - the record player is his. It could set a Sidney Bechet mood one minute and scratch out The Hot Boyz the next, symbolizing the duality of his subject.
For the window overlooking the French Quarter's Bourbon Street, Café Lafitte in Exile (a legendary bar that has hosted the likes of Truman Capote and John Steinbeck) was pressed into service. It came with its own reward: after granting Brisco access to the balcony, the bartender poured him a rum and coke on the house - testament to that sliver of Bourbon Street that still embraces community over money - the very tone Brisco set out to portray. His work flowed naturally; rigorously mixing colors and evoking life-like representations of skin and form with a compressed palette in a sparsely lit room using broad gestures. He didn’t miss a beat.