‘Could you paint something over here? Up on this door? Maybe on the sidewalk? … It lit a fire in me’
Louisiana local painter, Josh Wingerter, has seen a flurry of news coverage recently, for his “Drive Through Galleries” of vibrant, cheeky, topical painted stencil work along Royal, Burgundy, Decatur and Frenchmen streets. The reporters and photos may be a new development but he’s far from being new to the scene.
Tell me about where the “Drive Through Gallery” started and how it came to fruition.
“The locations came up naturally. On the first day, I started painting outside of Who Dat Cafe, where my art is regularly on display. On the second day, I went to Frenchmen Street, where I’ve been working for the last nine years at The Art Market and then The Art Garden. I knew the owners at Cafe Negril and The Spotted Cat, so I felt at ease doing pieces on their boarded-up windows. Those two pieces got a really good response, so the next day, other owners of shops on Frenchmen started saying, ‘Could you paint something over here? Up on this door? Maybe on the sidewalk?’ Once I got six pieces up, I thought, ‘This could be like a drive-through gallery. People are walking by and everyone’s getting excited.’ It lit a fire in me. I thought, ‘If I can turn this into something nice, it’ll really be something.’ The next day, news crews started showing up and taking pictures, people would drive by on their bikes to see which pieces I’d done in the past hour. It seemed to be giving people a reason to maybe not be so grim.
It feels like your art is suddenly everywhere. How many pieces have you painted since this project began?
I’ve done 93 pieces around the city, so far, over the course of nine days. And if you count the days that I did the donations, that’s another 180 pieces. It’s well over 200 paintings.
The donations, that was from three different live auction painting events you did?
Yes, the first was at the Who Dat Cafe, where the money from the paintings went to providing free meals for unemployed hospitality workers. The second was at The Art Garden, where half of the money went to buying essentials for our artists and the other half went to Second Harvest Food Bank. The third was at Peaches Records, for the Hashtaglunchbag program that feeds the homeless. These were all businesses who’ve consistently supported my work, so it felt natural to partner with them.
These days, you’re seen as a philanthropist, but graffiti comes with a very different stigma. Have you ever gotten in trouble for it?
When I was younger, for sure. Now that I’m a dad and I have to make it home at night, I don’t really do it as much… definitely when I was in college though. I’ve never been arrested, which is cool but even during this project, we’ve had a bit of resistance. We just moved on, where we were asked to do so but, funny thing is, where we didn’t paint, someone else came and painted, the next day. That’s just the cycle of things.
How do you feel about people who tag over artwork?
I’m not exactly hype but it’s an expectation for me. That’s the street rules. When you put stuff up, you do it because you want to do it and then someone else does the same. Most of the work I do now is more formal art, things on canvases. What I do on the street is for fun. Art itself is a dialogue and it’s not always the words you want to hear. Tagging over something beloved is the visual representation of that.
Talk about your process.
I try to paint every day. It used to take over two weeks to complete a piece and now I can do one in a few minutes, if pressed. I’ve sold over 1,000 paintings in my life as an artist, which only began at age 22. I’m more of an “experience” person than a “being told” person so I try and I try and I try and I try and whatever I like, I continue and whatever I don’t, I dismiss. I didn’t go to college for art, so I have massive admiration for artists with that sort of technique.
Who are a few local artists you admire?
Oh man, this is gonna be a list: Kiazer Sylve, Keith Eccles, Bryan Brown, Jacquelyn Levan, Marcus Akinlana, Ramiro Diaz, Monica Rose Kelly, Terrance Osborne. Keith was actually my high school art teacher. He is a great local artist in his own right, but my life would not be my life without him. I absolutely love Brandon “B-Mike” Odums. It’s artists like B-Mike that make me able to exist. The things happening for me would not be happening if it weren’t for artists like him. I really feel that way. I love what he does for the community and I would not even remotely compare myself to him because of how amazing his work is. It’s so empowering, so culturally relevant, so New Orleans. (I’m a fan, if you haven’t noticed.) Oh, Ashley Longshore. I watch pretty much everything she does. I’ve never seen a person who looks more happy or more legitimately themself, without explanation. What she does with her business should be inspiring to all artists, in my opinion. She’s giving us a playbook. She’s showing us that you can be successful, you can change things, you can make moves and you can still just have a blast doing it!
It seems like you’ve thought about that one a lot.
Yeah, well, these are who I look at as masters and teachers and educators in the creative world for me. Also, I’ve been talking to people, for a couple of years now, about what New Orleans would look like with a graffiti park.
And you’re dreaming of how you would curate it?
A lot of current art is about creating an atmosphere and saying, “This is the atmosphere you view this work in.” We have the artists to make that vibe and I genuinely feel like a graffiti park is gonna come here no matter what, so what I’ve been pushing for is, if we all get together and create it ourselves, then our locals could be the featured artists, instead of international artists coming in and monopolizing the scene.
I could not have done these things or made any of these moves without the business owners that participated and handled the sales and my team: Maria LeBlanc,The Workaholic, Horatio Glass, he’s one of the guys that works with me on all of my jobs and Nathaniel Jonas, a photographer who got every cool shot and started putting things on social media for me. Other than that, I hope all is well received and I love everybody!