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New Orleans on canvas - an interview with artist and painter Kerin Beard

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You don't have to be a local to love New Orleans like a home, to miss it when away as one misses their lover – to dream of it and ache because of the spent apart.

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New Orleans is a place that people either love or hate – and those who love it love it with zeal – it just seems to fit into the soul as if it were always there somehow.

The same can easily be said of Murfreesboro, Tennessee artist Kerin Beard who specializes in colorful depictions of New Orleans, and the Vieux Carre in particular. Beard's art captures moments that any NOLA-phile can appreciate – the unique architecture, the whimsy of a Second Line, a brass band playing and dancing by – Beard's art conveys her love of this magical place and tugs at that emotion in others who love it just as much.

Just how did Kerin Beard first become interested in art?

“Hard to say really. I remember always drawing when I was a kid, and all throughout school, the typical children's works - horses, people, princesses. I had few art classes in high school, pencil drawings et cetera, whatever the curriculum was at the time. Then in my 20's, a friend's mother turned me on to oil paint. I dabbled initially painting landscapes and liked it. Those paintings are still hanging in my mom & dad's house and sister's house after all these years. Glad I didn't see them in a yard sale," Beard jokes, "Then as I got a bit older, got a new job, married, started a family, and all the things that go with life, painting fell by the wayside. It wasn't until our first couple of trips back and forth to New Orleans that I got the urge again. How could I not? New Orleans is the best muse. So much to see and experience, so I took it up again using oil on canvas, later switching to acrylic, as it became easier for me to paint my new passion - jazz musicians.”

Does she create in any other mediums as well?

“Oil, and now acrylic on canvas. I dabbled in reverse glass painting, but have a while to go with that. I am a sloppy reverse-glass-painter. I considered textured canvas, but I don't know how that would work with my musicians at the moment. But I am always up for new ideas, new ventures.”

And it was actually a family member who turned Beard on to New Orleans - how did that come about?

“My husband's uncle & aunt, the Perrys, first piqued our interest. They were and are avid visitors and have the greatest respect for New Orleans. They simply said, 'You guys need to come see!' And we did - We ended up loving New Orleans so much, we went back on our anniversary in October, then back again in February. Again in June with my parents. Then again and again every October with friends or family. Weather then is perfect and Halloween festivities commence!”

What were some of the initial things Beard did when visiting the Big Easy?

"To be perfectly honest, we went down to 'celebrate' with the Perrys on Bourbon! My husband and I had just gotten engaged, so I believe it was in May 2006. At first it was a little scary. New place, totally different and unique culture. I didn't wander around, especially out of the Quarter and out of my comfort zone. Not to mention the fact that I am directionally challenged, particularly in a grid like the Quarter. My husband, Josh, is my navigator. Our first trip, we did the touristy type things because it was our first time. Hit the bars, ate the food - - - shrimp 'n' grits is still my favorite - - - visited the cemeteries, toured St. Louis Cathedral, took the horse and buggy rides, and just walked around in general."

Beard goes on: “I think the main thing I remembered was the architecture, the details, the colors. So grand! The first New Orleans painting I finished was of a haphazard, slightly askew photo of a home balcony. And the weddings- they always make me cry, and I don't even know the folks! Everyone is so joyous and celebrating and dancing. How could you not want to be a part of that? To witness it? This is what good memories are made of, and that will stay with me forever.”

Since then, Beard and her husband try to maintain a couple trips back to New Orleans a year. Is there a particular time they like to visit?

“We would occasionally visit in February, before Mardi Gras. My husband and I aren't large crowd kind of people, so we shy away from especially grand events. However, we still get to be party to a few first parades, which are always a sight to see! Nothing like it anywhere - can you imagine some of those Mardi Gras floats in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?” Beard laughs, “Now that would be something - the TV network would probably get some phone calls.”

“We usually go in October for our anniversary and my birthday. Great time of year. Leaves starting to change, cool breezes. Perfect weather for sitting on a patio, sipping a drink, and people watching.”

“And as always, we stay at the Prince Conti. Great place, nice people, and haven't seen any ghosts - - - yet. Our first stop when in town is always the Deja Vu Bar across the street. Josh and I carved our initials on the back booth table on our first trip. Every year, we sit at the same booth to celebrate being back.”

Many of Beard's works are inspired by New Orleans scenes, people, and architecture. Being that most of her painting is done in Tennessee - does Beard work from photos or memories - or both?

“Mostly I work on photos, adding my own colors and other little details that seem right. I think the memory, or feeling of that memory decides the color initially. The scene chooses me though, I can't describe the feeling, I just know it when I see it. I think to myself, that would make a great painting!”

And who are some of those jazz performers that Beard is so inspirited by as of late?

"I currently researched 'Sweet Emma' Barrett, the George Lewis Jazz Band, and Lester 'Prez' Young, posthumously, of course for paintings. Looking into Pete Fountain right now and the Olympia Brass Band for inspiration. Some of these suggestions are from native folks who either saw, or know the legends' stories. Personally, Preservation Hall always gets me moving and in the mood to paint, which is my most coveted painting (1000 Years). So many past and present - I have my work cut out for me! And I always take suggestions."

Beard's work has received recognition in her home state of Tennessee as a featured artist in the Middle Tennessee Arts online magazine, and her paintings have been displayed in a solo exhibit at The Center for the Arts in the Boro, and featured in the Sweet Mysteries exhibit at Chroma Gallery in Nashville - how does it make her feel to see an appreciation for her work even outside of the state of Louisiana?

“What a wonderful honor it is!” exclaims Beard in earnest, “Most people are receptive to my work here in Tennessee. The really special folks are the ones who have been to New Orleans, though. I think to myself, 'They get it.' If you've never been to New Orleans, I don't think you get the feeling of it- the true essence of what 'it' really is. I can pick the 'it' folks out right away. They are the ones who stop and linger near the paintings, then offer a story or an experience they've had while referencing one of the paintings. Which is perfect - as that is the intention. For example, one couple saw my work at a show and said, 'I remember this place! We stayed right there!' and pointed to a hotel room window in the painting. Or, 'My daughter was just married in New Orleans! She had a wedding just like this!' The ones who have had no experience with New Orleans just keep walking - which is OK too. You either like it or you don't. I believe as an artist, you take a risk in putting yourself out there. It's frightening sometimes - you have to really get geared up to take a hit or two, especially when you put a piece of your soul in a painting of a place that people may not be familiar with. But at the end of the day, I'd rather remember taking the opportunity, instead of not trying at all.”

Does Beard every get teased about her muse being New Orleans when she lives in not only another city but another state altogether?

“I get the question 'Are you from New Orleans?' a lot! But I haven't yet received any negative feedback from NOLA folks about not being a native, in fact it's just the opposite, they are my greatest encouragement and wealth of knowledge! Every, and I do mean EVERY person I meet at a gallery or a show that is from Louisiana always has an interesting story to tell, or a place we need to visit when we go back. I welcome the constructive criticism from the people who know the most- the ones who live in NOLA or have grown up there. I respect the criticism - And I think they respect that I respect that. We have friends, the Heauslers - Justin was born and raised in Metairie. He is an excellent source of ideas and info. He'll let me know if something isn't ​true to form. Nine out of 10 times, I take his advice.”

Have Beard's impressions of New Orleans changed at all over the years that she's been visiting?

“My feelings and impressions have gotten dearer I think. Especially since we haven't gotten to visit in a year or two. You start to miss it. As you said previously, 'it slips into your soul' describes it perfectly. The people are welcoming and friendly. The food is the best I've ever had. The music gets you moving. And of course, there's always something going on on Bourbon Street. Every time we visit, we always see something new, or something we've missed, or something we should go back and see.”

Describe who Kerin Beard is in addition to the colorful painting she creates...

“A wife to Josh, a mom to three-year-old, Nolan. Making ends meet and taking risks that any sane person probably wouldn't take. I recently 'retired' from the 9-to-5 with two hour commute, and started working part time which enables me to focus on Red Shutter Orleans Art and my small web design business, Painless Sites, not to mention actually having the opportunity to get in some good face time with my family and son. Everyday is a new adventure or a way to reinvent, so I look for these opportunities. But finally, my main goal is to contribute, to accomplish, and to make 'pretty paintings.' How lucky I am to be able to do this - - - how truly fortunate!”

To learn more about Kerin Beard and her Red Shutter Orleans - New Orleans Art please visit her website.

Red Shutter Orleans is also on Facebook, and you can purchase her art work on Etsy as well.

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