Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2011
Herb Roe painted himself from Appalachia to the Gulf.
By Anna Purdy
The waiting list is long for folks wanting to get into Herb Roe’s apartment, including me. It’s probably the coolest in Lafayette, and that’s mostly because he designed it along with virtually everything else in it.
Located on Garfield Street, the apartment rests at the top of an art gallery in an old warehouse. Trains pass a dozen feet behind the building, serving as a reminder of its past life. This is also where Roe and fellow artists host their art shows.
I first met Herb nearly 10 years ago when I was a bartender downtown. Details of the encounter are too salacious for print, but suffice it to say I was asked to come to the front of the building to get a woman to put her shirt back on. Her I knew, Him I didn’t. We shook hands around her naked form and, like so many friendships based on creativity and eclecticism in a square world, our meeting was appropriately weird.
Roe was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. He and his siblings were raised in a middle class Midwest home with mountains shading the horizon. An artistic impulse threaded Roe’s life, but aside from the exoticism of New Orleans as a spot for a future visit, moving to the Gulf Coast was the furthest thing from his mind. Enter Robert Dafford.
In 1993 the Lafayette-based muralist was beginning work on an extensive Floodwall Mural project throughout the Ohio Valley. Roe had just finished his first year at art school in Columbus and thought the chance of working with and learning from a “real artist” was too good to pass up.
“He had an innate knowledge of color and color theories,” Dafford recalls. “Very few people can understand the palettes we use to make true realism, especially in creating a large scale illusion of space.
“He had an advanced knowledge of types of perspective plans and the systems for infinitely adjustable grids and scale measurements I use for adapting imagery to very large scales, odd viewing angles or locations. He quickly learned how I adjust the composition to the human eye. He also knew how to work. Believe me, painting 40,000 square feet of concrete wall is work.”
For 15 years Dafford and Roe worked together on murals projects around the country. “He became a part of my family,” says Dafford. Roe’s work with Dafford brought him to the Hub City. He never returned to Ohio. And all these years later Roe is now the “real artist” he always wanted to be. Under his belt he has a graphic novel, Black Sun, based on an Elvis-like film noir hero, allegorical portraits hung in homes around the country and dozens upon dozens of murals under his belt.
Chris Briggs, a UL education professor, is an ardent admirer of Roe’s and an avid collector. “I started collecting Herb’s work when I became smitten with his John the Baptist painting,” Briggs says. “I love how this work seemed so real, like the person was standing right there. The details are amazing — the fur in his vest, the veins in his arms. Then I continued my collection adding one of his Mardi Gras pieces — a Mardi Gras character playing the violin. Each additional piece was acquired because the work spoke to me in some way. Bottom line, it is the fine details of his work that set the works apart for me.”
Herb and I spoke about his work over Ohio River Valley moonshine tempered by friendship and surrounded by his work.
What drives a boy from Ohio to want to paint like an Old Master from centuries ago?
It’s an oddity isn’t it? I’ve never been sure why myself. It has just always been the way I wanted to express myself. Something about that particular style lets me express my thoughts about people, relationships, life. It takes a lifetime’s work to gain proficiency with the style, but I’ve never really had any desire to paint in any other way.
What do you call your style of portraiture?
“Classical realism” is what I generally term what I do, based on the classical tradition of doing detailed underpaintings followed by layers of colored glazes and working into the wet glazes. I have developed my own individual working methods, especially for how I begin and compose pieces. I’ve interjected a lot of computer manipulation into my sketching process. I like to costume, pose and light my models in the traditional manner, but I use digital photography to capture the image and then do Photoshop manipulation to compile multiple figures, backgrounds and make adjustments prior to transferring the image to the canvas. I sometimes combine as many as 15 separate images together to get the one composition I want. After that it’s pretty standard classical technique with the detailed grisaille painting followed by layered glazes to adjust light and contrast.
About how many steps are involved with laying something down on canvas? How many hours go into the average portrait?
It depends on the piece. Some as few as 3 or 4 layers, some as many as 20, with the toning glazes and layers of more refined detail. For a typical piece I’ll spend from 20 to 40 hours working on it from sketch phase to varnish, but for larger or multiple figure pieces such as my newer Courir de Mardi Gras-themed pieces, it can take as much as 120 to 140 hours to finish a piece to my satisfaction.
If someone commissions you for a portrait what is it you look for in them? How do you bring out who they are?
I try to figure out what they see themselves as. We all have our own stories, our own way of seeing the world and how we fit into it. It’s like the old adage about life being a stage, only I think deep inside we all see ourselves as the main character in our own personal story. I try to look for that and find a way to show it on the canvas.
Allegories and mythology are a theme that reverberates through your work. What is it that draws you to them? How does this influence your work?
It helps me relate to how people see themselves. What stories do they tell themselves about who they are? Are we Sisphyus? Salome? Hercules? A personal combination? I take myths and stories as a starting point and usually mishmash many different stories together. People are complex, and no one story fits us all.
What murals did you take part in downtown? Were they all under Dafford?
I worked on the “Exporting Cajun Culture to the World” allegory on the side of the parking garage where T-Coon’s used to be and on the historical down piece where the ACA now stands. I also helped repaint a few of the older ones, such as the iconic “Cars” on the old parking garage, but most were done by Robert in the 1980s before I started with him in 1993. Most of the murals I did with Robert were in other states. I’ve never actually counted exactly how many there were, but it was well over 200 pieces. In my hometown in Ohio we did over 60 on a half-mile stretch of river floodwall. In another in Kentucky we did 40, so they can add up pretty quickly.
What advice would you give 18-year-old Herb Roe and is it the same advice you’d give to another young artist?
Work harder and never be afraid to explore new techniques. Do more preparatory work. It is so much easier to do a good painting if you know where you want to go with a piece when you start it; you don’t spend the majority of your time correcting things you should’ve worked out already. I would give that advice to any young artist, including an 18-year-old Herb. The more I work and the more my technique improves, the more I wish I had gotten here sooner. Practice, practice.
What is the process for a mural? Do you use a computer program to map it out?
I use a lot of different methods, but over the last 10 years certain computer programs play a huge part in my design process. I combine many sources for pieces, from old photos, to my photos with period dressed models to 3-D renderings of sites or locations that have changed dramatically from the period I’m trying to show. An example are some murals of Native American villages and mound sites I’ve done. They were inhabited anywhere form several hundred to a thousand years ago, a little before the advent of photography. So I intensively research whatever archaeology has taken place at the site or similar sites; I reconstruct what was where from the available research and build a 3-D model, which I can rotate until I get the composition that I want. Then I transfer it to the wall. Then it’s a matter of painting in the thousands of details that make it a real scene. This has become my technique in general, not just for murals.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Casual cool for Thanksgiving
Shop Lafayette goes strong
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
A divided 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a Lafayette district judge’s ruling absolving the co-owner of a New Iberia accounting firm of liability in an embezzlement case.
Our View: It’s reasonable, temporary and invests in Lafayette’s future.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
Three bedroom in Port Barre or two bedroom in Opelousas
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
“I am only getting a little nervous about two projects — the proposed Sasol GTL facility [not the new ethylene plant] and the proposed G2X facility — both in Lake Charles. They need a hefty difference between oil and natural gas prices to make sense.”
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Lower oil prices also might slow the growth of oil production in parts of the U.S., Canada and elsewhere because it will no longer be so profitable.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
A Lafayette woman faces up to 20 years in prison for running up more than $1 million in unauthorized charges to her company credit card.
Signs that our state’s banking industry is undergoing a downsizing in 2014 were further confirmed today with the FDIC’s latest figures showing a third straight quarter in which Louisiana lost more banks and earned less money.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
State police say a 47-year-old Lafayette man, who collected more than $83,000 in disability benefits, is accused of operating two businesses out of his home at a time when he claimed he had no income.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.