The work of Willie Birch has powerful political, sociological and spiritual meaning that is wonderfully anchored in the daily life and celebratory rituals of New Orleans. In this series of paintings the artist documents a community and culture devastated by Hurricane Katrina; however, an undercurrent of optimism and celebration remain evident in the work.
The artist captures the distinctive vibrant rituals and spirit of New Orleans in street parades, second lines and the revelry of Zulu but also the dignity, uniqueness and beauty of everyday individuals. Birch continues to be especially fascinated by the retention of African elements and traditions in the dress, music, dance and rituals of New Orleans’ African-American community.
In several works in the exhibition, Birch employs the technique of multiple framing. The multi-panel format facilitates the experience of Going Home and the physical movement of a parade in Big Shot. In the preface to the recently published Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch, which is available at the gallery, Lolis Elie writes, “The sensuality and sentiments [of Birch’s art] speak New Orleans with an eloquence that is insightful, local and universal.”