Thu | Oct 17, 2019

Artist tells stories in three-dimensional metal

Published:Sunday | September 22, 2019 | 12:24 AM

OPELOUSAS, La. (AP)

Louisiana State University’s Tiger Marching Band is so dynamic, artist Carroll Gautreaux had to add a third dimension to his metal art painting just to capture it.

But, then, that’s what Gautreaux does — turns what could be flat two-dimensional scenes into paintings that pop out from the canvas.

The band painting is only one of his artworks through which the artist tells the story of south Louisiana’s traditions and cultures.

There are scenes of fishing camps, crawfish boils and sugar cane harvesting. Families gather on the front porch to play music in some scenes and fill the dance hall on Saturday nights in others.

There’s the Cajun courir de Mardi Gras and the Bourbon Street version of the holiday with revellers in bright colours.

“My paintings, they take you places. They remind you,” Gautreaux said. “I’m Cajun to the bone, and I love being Cajun. I wanted to try to do anything I could to help preserve the Cajun heritage. My paintings concentrate on from around 1955 to about 1970, when we did things the old way, as the kids call it. And it reminds people of these things. When I go to the shows, people, especially the elderly, come in and say, ‘Oh my God, I remember that.’”

At 67, Gautreaux bases most of his paintings on scenes from his life, although he also does pieces on commission.

From sheets of galvanized metal, Gautreaux first creates the background for his paintings. On another metal sheet, he uses a pencil to draw out buildings, people and other parts of the scene. With hefty scissors, he snips them out then uses a tack welder to connect arms and legs and attach the characters to the background with a metal tab.

Next, Gautreaux mixes spray paint on a palette and brushes it onto the metal, making sure to highlight details — the stripe on the sides of the pants of the Golden Band’s members, a dairy farmer’s worn clothes, wispy sugar cane, a musician’s fingers.

Always home

Having grown up in Opelousas — a place Gautreaux says always was and always will be his home — most of his scenes are of Acadiana. He started out drawing in elementary school and painted portraits while a student at Opelousas High School.

Art went by the wayside after he graduated and took a job as a maintenance man at a local fast food restaurant.

He learned carpentry on the side, and a few years later, he started his own business.

“I worked in carpentry for 45 years, and I fell sick,” Gautreaux said. “I came down with lung cancer. I had surgery a couple of years ago and they removed the top of my right lung. I’m fine. I went to my pulmonologist yesterday, and she gave me the green light. But my surgeon advised me not to go back to doing what I was doing, because it was too strenuous.”

He returned to art as a hobby about a dozen years ago, then the hobby became his full-time endeavour after retiring two years ago. Now, Gautreaux spends his time handcrafting his metal paintings, using a machine only for his cedar frames.

He shows regularly at the Market at the Mill in New Roads, the Omelet Festival in Abbeville and the Spring Arts and Crafts Festival at the Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia. He’s also a member of the Louisiana Crafts Guild and has a website, cgfrenchmetal.com.

What had been his carpentry shop has been transformed into a studio he calls French Metal, which includes the gallery in the back, where his pieces don’t stay for very long. Those that aren’t purchased at shows and festivals are bought by visitors to French Metal. And once Gautreaux’s wife, Janice, retires from her job as secretary at Opelousas Catholic High School at the end of the school year, they’re hitting the road for more shows, spreading his brand of Cajun culture far and wide.