When the violent winds of Hurricane Katrina churned through Jacqueline Bishop’s Uptown neighborhood, she pulled out a tape recorder and captured their sounds. For 12 hours, she and her husband sat in their living room, frozen, “listening to the outside breaking into pieces.”
Then it ended. She opened the front door and discovered “a new landscape” devoid of life.
“There were no birds, squirrels, cats, dogs, rats, insects — nothing,” she said. “A falling leaf sounded like footsteps a block away.”
The intense quiet from that weekend, including the floodwaters that forced the couple to flee to Houston, found their way into “Before the Storm,” a painting she produced a year later.
Prior to Katrina, Bishop was already recognized internationally as a painter whose work focuses on environmental degradation — from deforestation in the Amazon rainforests to the shredding of the wetlands in coastal Louisiana. She also taught a course on art and the environment at Loyola University.
“Before the Storm” was far more personal.
Wildlife, from birds to fish to raccoons to deer, are shown on the precipice of danger just over the horizon. Bishop said she tried to capture the stillness she experienced in her neighborhood in those early hours after the winds subsided and before the levees broke.
Surrounded by water, the animals seek refuge in tree limbs and small watercraft. They stand adrift in the water. They fled the city but have nowhere to go.
“Animals seem to intuitively sense threat more than humans, which is a valuable message,” she said.
Like the fragile wildlife stranded in her work, Bishop said her city “seemed to be separated from the world” following the storm, especially when some lawmakers and pundits suggested that New Orleans did not deserve to be rebuilt.
It took a year after Katrina for Bishop to take up painting again. After a short period in Houston, she accepted an invitation to curate an exhibition of New Orleans artists at Space 301 in Mobile, Alabama,. With the help of gallery owners Arthur Roger and Denise Berthiaume, the show opened featuring 39 local artists who, like her, were displaced. It ended up traveling to four cities.
She said the migration of wildlife, as well as the migration of people, left the region both physically and metaphorically isolated in a way that still impacts her work today.
“None of us would ever be the same,” she said.