Being atop the New York City art world is a long way from singing in nursing homes and still further is the dream of a young artist from a small town making it big in on of most important metropolises in the world.
Boutte native Rashaad Newsome has been living in New York City for over a decade and has been working as a professional full-time artist for the past seven years.
But before he moved to New York, Newsome first made the move from Boutte to New Orleans where he attended Tulane University and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2001.
Newsome said during his time in New Orleans he only did a few art shows.
"I was very much under the radar. When I was in New Orleans I was a lot younger and I was sort of finding my voice there," he said.
It was not until he moved away that he began to blossom as a professional.
"New York is the center of the art world and one of the amazing cities," he said.
For about a decade after moving to New York while trying to make it into the art world full-time Newsome held a variety of jobs to make ends meet.
"I worked as a preparer, which is a ground guy who install exhibitions at galleries. I DJed a lot. I worked as a freelance videographer. I worked for a fashion designer at some point – just various different jobs," he said.
Little by little he began to get the attention of curators and others in the art world. He also studied film and began experimenting with various art forms.
"I had been in numerous group exhibitions and I had done a couple of different residencies and gotten some awards," he said. "I worked really between, video, collage, sculpture, performance and sound. I worked between those and blended them together."
In 2009 he had his first solo art show and from there his career has only grown.
"I think it was really my first exhibition. I had sold some pieces prior to that exhibition that allowed me to go out and focus on my work, but when you have an exhibition you have a number of people that buy your art and it allowed me to focus on my work," he said
In 2010 he began a trilogy of exhibitions and films for which he has become most well known.
Newsome has been remaking the historic coat of arms, a European design form used to identify families that began being used in the 1100s. He said he came up with the idea to remake the coat of arms during a residency in England. In his version he replaces symbols used in historic coat of arms with pop culture status symbols such as Rolex watches, jewelry, cars and women. The pieces sometimes measure as much as five feet by ten feet and include the mesmerizing use of overlapping collage and feature iconic centerpieces.
"I came to heraldry looking at historic architecture," he said. "The viewers understand the pop culture part of the work."
The trilogy began with the exhibition Pursuivant in 2010, continued with Herald in 2011 and has finally culminated with Newsome’s return to New Orleans for King of Arms exhibition now on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).
"King of Arms is a bit of a departure because it is centered around the various New Orleans communities that were important to me such as Tremé and the brass bands," he said.
As part of the art opening Newsome choreographed and filmed a celebration that mirrors his artwork. The event that began the exhibition at NOMA combined the ceremony of royalty with unique elements of New Orleans, which Newsome filmed.
"The film consists of a coronation ceremony that mixes coronation ceremonies with kings of the Renaissance era and Mardi Gras kings," he said.
Newsome said coming back to New Orleans and being recognized in the state’s most well respected art museum was a great honor.
"It was a great experience. I got to collaborate with a lot of different people who inspired me. It was great to get that sort of accolade from the museum," he said.
Newsome’s father Blanch Newsome, a regular musical performer at the East Bank German Coast Farmers’ Market was on hand to see the spectacle.
"I knew he had talent, but I never thought he would go to England and do all the things he has done," Blanch said.
Hundreds of people lined the museum’s drive in New Orleans to welcome Newsome to the exhibit including Blanch who was in the crowd.
"The band just lined up and he marched through the crowd and he was crowned," Blanch said. "They took a scepter and put it on each shoulder and his crown was like a black leather hat, but a crown a real king would wear."
Blanch said he remembers Newsome’s first foray into the arts when the family would do singing gigs around town.
"He was singing with me when he was seven years-old and his brother who was ten years-old. We would go to places like the Luling Living Center and sing," he said. "My wife used to set him up with a white shirt and bow tie and the people loved to see him."
For others who would like to follow his path Newsome has a big piece of advice.
"Just focus on making work you think is important and putting in the faces of those that will help you continue to make that work," he said. "With the arts there is no blueprint, you just have to go out there and do it."
Newsome is represented by the Marlborough Gallery in New York City.
You can find out more about him and his work by visiting http://rashaadnewsome.com.