Entrepreneurship, New Orleanians, Pursuits/Hobbies, Visual Arts

How a local artist is paying homage to Black New Orleans

The Autocrat Club. The Calliope Projects. Ceasar’s Nightclub. While they definitely aren’t the most tourist-laden spots in New Orleans, if you’re Black and grew up here, they’re a part of your history. 

“I don’t know about you, but I’ve never in my life seen a She She’s commemorative cup or anything commemorating Ceasar’s,” said local artist Jacq Francoi$. His collection of limited edition art featured mugs with local Black establishments from different parts of the city on them. And if you’re wondering if he’s talking about the New Orleans East Gentleman’s Club She She’s, yes, yes he is.

 

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“Which, you know you can laugh at it, but when you think about these important establishments that people herald in the culture, Ceasar’s will come up,” he said. “The Sandpiper Lounge will come up. The Autocrat, that’s so important. Why have I not seen anything with the Autocrat on it?”

So Francoi$ took it into his own hands, making a line of 13 mugs representing Algiers, Gert Town, Central City and other parts of the city in a unique way.

In fact, he’s been taking art into his own hands since a young age.

“I have been an artist professionally for five years, but I have been doing artwork in general since 1993 when I was 3 years old,” he said. “As the story goes, my grandparents and my mama said before I was taught or before I could even have a conversation, I was drawing. I would open a newspaper and write down verbatim passages from the newspaper. So, I was always writing and drawing.”

 

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But he wasn’t always an artist. With a knack for customer service, he started off working in numerous retail stores. He said he knew it was time to follow his dream after a conversation with his then manager.

“It wasn’t until 2014 when I was at H&M in the FrenchQuarter and I talked to one of my managers one day,” he said. “I said, ‘You know what? I think it’s time for me to stop having a 9 to 5,’ and my manager told me, ‘Well yeah you should quit.’ And in my mind, I’m like, ‘Well damn! If my manager says that, then maybe you should quit!’ She gave me her blessing and when I had my art show last year she was there.”

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Francoi$’ art features bold lines and more often than not, even bolder phrases and lettering.

“It’s multilayered with that,” he explained. “I’m a big, avid reader. I love to read. Even more than artwork, I love books. I’m always enamored by finding new words, learning new words. But truth be told, I started to incorporate words in my artwork when I felt like the ideas and the messages behind the image weren’t being conveyed how I wanted them to.”

 

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Francoi$ told the story of a particular drawing to prove his point.

“I drew a woman who was doing whatever, and someone came back to me and said, ‘Oh I saw that beautiful woman, she was crying,’ and I was like, ‘Well no she wasn’t crying, she was enraged,” and I wanted my artwork to be specific and have no room for error. You can’t misconstrue it if it’s said.”

All of his works pay homage to local culture and artists. The ‘Ancient Melpomene Proverb’ shirt reads “I’m from New Orleans. So you already know how I’m comin’, love.” You can practically hear the New Orleans accent as you read his work, and feel the vibes of the city through his prints.

 

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“I feel like there is no major influence that I have more than New Orleans, besides Black people,” he said. “For me growing up in the 90s, I was raised around a lot of older people, specifically my cousin. Everyone was at least 10 years older than me, so when I was 8 years old in ‘98, they were at least 18 or in their 20s. That was when Cash Money Records, No Limit Records, back to school dances, Teen Summit, and all that stuff was really a thing. At the time, that was all I thought was important. That defined what was cool to me, to see these Black people dressed up, being their authentic selves, so when I got older instead of me following the trend and forgetting the past, no, that’s still very cool to me now.”

Francoi$ said it’s important to him to be a caretaker of New Orleans culture.

“I see (the culture) kind of being mishandled, I see it being mislabeled, I see it being forgotten or erased,” he said. “I kind of thought it was important that this part of my career, I shine the light as much as possible on not only Black culture but Black New Orleans culture specific to the 90s. Even though we all can look back at a pair of Girbauds or look back at DJ Jubilee or Mia X’s album from the 90s or the early 2000s, to me, I feel like those should not only be looked back on but still be celebrated as much as they were then because without those things you would not have New Orleans.”

So, what’s next for Francoi$?

“I have a collaboration happening with DNO (Defend New Orleans),” he said. ” I am working on a book which I am really excited about. It is a book of artwork, sayings and quotes, and it is just something that is so big and black and beautiful. So, I can’t wait for that either.”

He said although he knows his art isn’t for everyone, having the city embrace him is where his heart, and true success, lies.

“It took me a long time to step out on faith and decide I had what it took to be a full-time artist,” he said. “The one thing I can say is, not only has God been really good to me in my career, but the city has shown me so much love and acceptance and really gotten it. I know my art is not for everyone. I know it’s very specific but I think there’s a universal appeal to it and if anything I’m just happy that New Orleans has been very welcoming to my art.”

You can visit Jacq Francoi$ at his website or follow him on Instagram.