Artist Dana Nehdaran Creates New Exhibit Inspired by Bellocq’s Storyville Portraits

Source: Spillman Blackwell Gallery

SPILLMAN | BLACKWELL Fine Art is pleased to announce the opening of A Preservation of Light by New York-based painter Dana Nehdaran. The exhibition opens on October 1st and runs through November 23rd. 

The opening reception will take place October 1st from 6-9 pm at 866 Camp Street in the heart of the New Orleans Arts District, in participation with Art for Arts’ Sake Downtown and the First Saturday gallery openings. Guests will enjoy light bites, live jazz in the courtyard by Julian Addison’s “Triple Shot,” and a full bar sponsored by the Sazerac Company, serving the official cocktail of New Orleans—The Sazerac. 

Dana Nehdaran is an Iranian-Jewish artist who studied painting at Sooreh Art University in Shiraz. Of the more than eight series created by Nehdaran, all focus on the tension between past and present. A Preservation of Light is the newest body of work by the artist. It draws inspiration from the famed E.J. Bellocq portraits of the women of New Orleans’ historic Storyville district.

E.J. Bellocq was born into a French Créole family in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A professional photographer, he made a living photographing landmarks and ships for local companies. After Bellocq died in 1949, eighty-nine glass plate negatives of portraits of female prostitutes, taken circa 1912 from New Orleans’ famous Storyville district, were found in his desk. The images were purchased by photographer Lee Friedlander, presented at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, and published in the book Storyville Portraits. In addition, an extensive collection of the images was published in Bellocq: Photographs from Storyville in 1996.

Nehdaran described his connection to Bellocq’s work and the inspiration for his portraits.

“On a trip to New Orleans, I stepped into A Gallery for Fine Photography that carries several of Friedlander’s carefully reproduced prints and was, as most people are, immediately drawn into the gaze of these women,” he said. “I love historical photographs and have painted a similar series, Esther’s Children, based on photos of early twentieth century Jews in Iran, my ancestors. When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped New York City, I found myself surrounded at my home studio with huge empty canvases, my memories of New Orleans, and the haunting reflection of Bellocq’s muses. I befriended them and their casual familiarity peering at me from the gold-toned printing paper. I hoped to re-envision their spirit, recognize their lives’ limited choices, and imagine the stories behind each and every one of them. Bellocq captured their story in the physics of light and silver. His vision became my vision as I worked to recreate that ray of light using acrylic, oil, copper, and the soot of beeswax candle (lamp black oil). These paintings represent my version of a love poem both to Bellocq and to each of the women whose life he touched and momentarily captured forever.” 

“We are simply thrilled to present this work,” says gallery co-owner and Director Leslie-Claire Spillman. “Seeing these portraits in the person for the first time was an emotional experience. In my two decades in this business, I’ve never seen anything quite like them. The paintings seem to breathe. The eyes of the women, often meeting the gaze of the viewer directly, have a spark of life. The large scale of the paintings adds to their ability to pull you in and make it hard to look away. They have a palpable presence, and the deep connection that the artist feels with the subjects, and his desire to reveal their humanity through the work is obvious.” 

SPILLMAN | BLACKWELL was conceived by Amy Blackwell and Leslie-Claire Spillman in 2020 amid the pandemic lockdown after the gallery where they both worked closed. SPILLMAN | BLACKWELL is a women-owned gallery with a wide range of programming that focuses on providing visitors with an open and inviting gallery experience. Spillman and Blackwell have a combined 30 years of gallery experience.

The gallery seeks to promote its artists locally and beyond, with a large and diverse roster of artists working in a wide variety of media and processes and offering a range of services, including installation and logistics, to collectors, artists, galleries, and institutions nationwide. SPILLMAN | BLACKWELL seeks to promote its artists locally and beyond, focusing on being an artist-centered and community-accessible space.

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