The art installation ExhibitBE hijacked much of the attention that Prospect.3 hoped for during New Orleans’ biennial art festival last fall.
ExhibitBE transformed a dilapidated housing project on the West Bank into an exhibit space, with large-scale murals that addressed the themes of housing and home, spray-painted five stories high.
ExhibitBE was the brainchild of Brandan “BMike” Odums, who graduated from NOCCA in 2003. As a part of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell’s celebration of the impact of NOCCA on New Orleans’ creative community, Odums spray-painted a mural outside the festival’s NOCCA Pavilion last weekend, and he’s back this weekend to do another one.
Odums’ affection for spray-paint art comes from graffiti. He’s also been involved in video production as part of 2-Cent TV, a collective that worked to use music videos for educational and social change. He has since made videos for a number of rappers and local artists, including Trombone Shorty and Mannie Fresh, but he’s turning down video work these days unless he really wants to work with the artist because he’s excited by his visual art.
“I like to paint the way I listen to music,” he said. “When you listen to music, you have to hear the whole song then and there. That’s the way I paint. I like to get it done while I’m there, and spray paint is the best medium for that. It dries fast and it sprays fast. I’m in love with spray paint. It’s something I hope to keep using for a long time.”
His work at the Fair Grounds provided some insight into Odums’ process, which is a blend of planning and improvisation. Once he got his makeshift wall, he winged it with the manipulated image in mind.
“The first day I came out here, I played around with the background,” Odums said. “I was seeing what colors they had available, and they had a cool yellow and this cool red, so I started playing around with that.”
As he painted, he thought about what to do, and the NOCCA Pavilion and young musicians inside brought to mind a boy with a trumpet.
That night, he googled “boy with a trumpet,” found an image he liked, played with it in Photoshop to settle on a color palette, then came out the next morning with that image to inspire him.
ExhibitBE was similarly the result of planning and improvisation. Odums is a West Bank resident, and he would paint in the abandoned project without permission because it was a relatively safe place. While painting there with friends, it occurred to him what a great site it would be for an art installation.
When the owners walked in on him one day and seemed friendly, he pitched the idea to them and they agreed.
To ensure a measure of visual coherence, Odums bought almost 700 of cans of spray paint so that the more than 30 artists would share a color palette, and he made sure they understood the overall concept.
“I tried to challenge them with information about that site, about what happened there, the history of the space and the people who lived there,” he said. “I hoped that would influence and inspire what they created.”
Odums was conscious of one criticism of graffiti: that it’s often made with little regard for the place it’s painted.
“I wanted to make sure all the artists were super-conscious of where they were painting,” he said. “In return, everybody who attended was conscious of where they stood. I didn’t want ExhibitBE to just be a cool art project. I wanted it to be the story of blight and and the history of that particular site, and the history of disaster capitalism.”
One condition the owners of the property required was that Odums get insurance. To save money, he waited until the last minute, getting it two weeks before ExihibitBE was scheduled to open. That forced everybody to work smart and spontaneously. He misses the whole experience — particularly the excitement and sense of camaraderie that accompanied bringing together established street artists and young ones new to it.
These days, he’s got the same challenge all artists have — how to do what he loves and get paid. The market for massive canvases is limited, but while he’s figuring it out, Odums is making more. He is working on a show of “super-large” paintings that he hopes to show later this year in a Bywater warehouse — “a gallery on steroids.”
“I’m trying to figure out how to take what happened at ExhibitBE and bring it indoors to a more controlled environment,” Odums said.