Andrew LaMar Hopkins, Self Portrait of the Artist as Désirée, 2019, acrylic on canvas, 12 × 12"
By Charity Coleman
Maximalist splendor was in full effect across the thirty-two paintings in Andrew LaMar Hopkins’s solo exhibition here, “Créolité,” which was organized by art historian and curator Alison M. Gingeras. Hopkins, who lives in Alabama, creates fictionalized tableaux of America’s antebellum years that “[celebrate] the cultural mixing of European, African, and mixed-race peoples’ lives and material cultures . . . based on the histories of Creoles living in the South,” per the show’s press release. His works, set primarily in New Orleans, do not deny the reality of white supremacy or chattel slavery, but their focus is on the complexity and diversity of Creole heritage, which is little understood and is still too often erased.
Inside Hopkins’s paintings, one will find depictions of stately, luxuriously appointed homes and the grand characters who occupy them. The artist’s aesthetic seems a combination of nineteenth-century dollhouse and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984–95), the television program that was the sine qua non of Reagan-centric capitalist excess. (Hopkins also imbues his work with an old-school drag panache, which makes perfect sense—his maquillaged alter ego is Désirée Joséphine Duplantier, a deliciously subversive figure with lavish tastes and exceptional presentation.) Each of the artist’s scrupulously researched interiors outdoes the next in extravagance—this is because Hopkins, an antique dealer and collector, has the inside scoop on all the recherché objets he paints, which deepens the historical context and temporal weirdness of his images.
Marie Laveau in her Saint Ann St Creole Cottage, 2019, shows the inimitable voodoo priestess—a free woman of African, French, and Native American descent—in her house, posing with a rose and a rosary and wearing a tignon head wrap and a black gown with a chestnut-colored shawl (her attire resembles that in artist George Catlin’s 1835 portrait of her). An untrained eye will easily miss the wealth of information provided by this picture.
For instance, the armoire is cherrywood; the vase holding magnolia blossoms is of eighteenth-century Parisian porcelain; and the oil painting on the wall depicts Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion, a white Frenchman who was Laveau’s husband via plaçage (a form of civil union, practiced throughout the Spanish and French slave colonies of the United States and the Caribbean, between European men and women who were Black, Native American, or of mixed race). Even amid all the ruffled beauty and visual splendor, Hopkins never conceals the tawdry details of America’s colonial past.
Yet despite Hopkins’s historicism, there is an insistence upon imagination rather than exactitude—period details are always embellished in the artist’s distinctive style. Take his Self Portrait of the Artist as Désirée, 2019, a beguiling portrayal of his glamorous female persona. Désirée is a chic woman: her deep scoop neckline, veiled hat, triple strand of pearls, and smart coiffure could have been pulled from the 1940s or ’50s, or even Lucy Ricardo’s closet. Yet Désirée doesn’t initially strike one as a petticoated lady of leisure from ages past, in contrast to the figures in many of the artist’s other works on display. She looks like a modern woman—or at the very least a character from the early twentieth century, perhaps a Hollywood actress or a fashion designer—someone who works.
A wall at the gallery was painted powder blue with rows of gold fleurs-de-lis, which added an inviting New Orleanian warmth to the show. It also echoed the background of Tiffany Christ, 2005–20, a devotional painting fifteen years in the making and based on a stained-glass representation of Jesus done by the craftspeople of Charles Lewis Tiffany’s famous company. Hopkins’s depiction of the savior is tongue-in-cheek: He’s rendered as a sunny blond, whose locks match the gilded frame he appears in, and swathed in pastel pinks and violets, while his golden crown of light beams against a cerulean sky spilling with vivid color. Hopkins’s martyr is extravagantly radiant, like a Tiffany Jesus should be. He is also a symbol of sacrifice and splendor by a singular artist who embraces both blood and beauty.