If you include Carnival, New Orleans may have the liveliest and certainly the most public arts scene in the country. Think about it, all those tireless float builders, wacky dance troupes, fabulous black Indian maskers and glittery Mardi Gras morning costumers are artists, aren’t they? Carnival might be the biggest art festival in the country that isn’t called an art festival.
In 2022, there was a particularly compelling artistic confluence amid the creative chaos, a conceptual coincidence that can’t be ignored…even though Carnival ended two weeks ago.
We’ve reported on this year’s more than wonderful costumes produced by the Ladies of Beadwork. The Ladies are dedicated to Carnival beadwork in all its forms, from rhinestone ball costumes to Mardi Gras mosaic Indian patches. Each year, the Ladies choose a subject – “Ain’t Dere No More”, “We Went to the Audubon Zoo” and others – and painstakingly sew beaded costumes that illustrate the theme.
This year, the Ladies were inspired by the colorful street art scene of New Orleans. From graffiti by spray masters such as READ, Hugo Gyrl and Mr. Balloon Hands, to the mural of Skela and BMike, to the iconic advertising signage of the popular Manchu Food Store, the Ladies’ costumes covered the city like a coat of Krylon.
But it’s better. In addition to graffiti-inspired costumes, there were also anti-graffiti-inspired costumes.
On Mardi Gras morning, Marigny and Bywater were haunted by a guy dressed as the late graffiti eradicator known as The Gray Ghost. For a quarter of a century, beginning in 1986, a former Marine named Fred Radtke campaigned against graffiti, which he saw as visual detritus, a sign of anarchy and general societal erosion.
He pursues his passion with a determination and tenacity that earn him the congratulations of a large part of the population, but also the contempt of the crowd of graffiti artists and their fans.
The concrete gray paint used by Radtke to erase thousands of illicit paints inspired his nickname. Sadly, the Gray Ghost passed away in August 2021. Radtke’s passing marked the end of a significant era in pop culture, but news of his death didn’t break until much later, midway through the season. of the carnival.
The guy who dressed up as The Gray Ghost on Mardi Gras doesn’t want us to use his name – anonymity is part of the masking custom of course – so he’ll simply be known as JCL. Dressed in a gray-dyed bed sheet marked with graffiti tags and a gold crown, JCL wandered through the thick crowds of Royal Street and the surrounding area, using a gray paint roller to pretend to erase all the graffiti he encountered. He also knocked down a few customers who crossed his path.
The costume was so simple that JCL – an artist from the South Hollywood set – said he was a little chagrined. He said it was kind of a visual “dad joke”. But in truth, the meaning of her outfit was probably only clear to those in the know.
“I made my voice explode shouting ‘Boo!’ he said of his performance.
JCL said he knew a few graffiti artists in the 1990s and was well aware of their animosity towards Radtke. “This city is built on underage oxen,” he said.
JCL said some people hated his costume because of what it represented…until they knew it was him under the sheet, then they understood the irony.
Irony and irreverence are a big part of carnival satire, of course. But there is a paradox. On the one hand, JCL may have made fun of Radtke, but somehow there’s no greater honor than being satirized at Carnival. JCL’s comedic costume was a tribute to The Gray Ghost’s importance as a cultural figure.
JCL certainly gets Radtke’s role as the foil for the graffiti crowd. “Sometimes having a good enemy helps you better define who you are and what you believe in,” he said.
Note: Many thanks to Amanda Zapp for use of this photo. If you have any photos of the JCL costume that you would like to contribute to this story, please send them with permission to post them to [email protected]
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