New Orleans, LA
I’ve been in this city off and on since I was a kid. My grandmother was a tour guide at the old cemetery on Basin Street. I’d be sittin’ there drawing pictures with her all summer. She’d take me to the jazz clubs on Bourbon Street.
She knew a guy on Jackson Square named Napoleon King. He was the first black guy to ever paint on Jackson Square. She sent me to stay with him to learn to be an artist when I was a teenager.
He died in Katrina. I could only come back for three days after the storm; I just had to go somewhere else to live; I’d be too depressed.
I came for the weekend eight years after the storm. I was invited to meet Françoise Gilot, the wife of Picasso. She was showing her artwork down there on Royal Street, and that’s really the thing that changed my life.
She was really nice to me; there was a line of people, and she was looking at me in the line. I could tell that she could tell that I was an artist who just wanted to say “hi.”
I said, “Thank you for being the reason that I came back to where I grew up. It was all destroyed, and I couldn’t be here.” She goes, “New Orleans is a beautiful place for the spirit of art.”
The lady that ran the gallery is getting upset ‘cause there’s people in line that are gonna pay $50,000 for drawings, and I’m not one of them. So, I took a picture and got outta there.
I was walking around town and was like—god, they fixed it up. I started sleeping in my car on Elysian Fields just to stay a little longer and ended up staying for eight years. So that’s how I ended up here. I could be an artist and could visit my mother in Dallas.
BW: Does it feel like you have family here?
Jim: The artists. And I’ve been going to the Rouses down here since it was an A&P. I used to walk an eighty-five-year-old lady there when I was a teenager every day all summer long. The manager then is still the manager now; he’s called Mr. B. Now they all know me. If I’m gone for awhile, and the girls that work there see me on the street, they come and hug me.
BW: You’re leaving in two weeks for Austria, maybe to never return. How do you feel about that?
Jim: Well... I always do return.