By Osman Can Yerebakan
As early as age nine, painter Andrew LaMar Hopkins was busying himself at the library among books on architecture, interiors, and fashion. “I loved old buildings and antiques, but I knew I had to teach myself first about them and then how to paint them,” Hopkins tells Interior Design. He started painting interiors at age ten and never stopped.
The artist’s current exhibition, Créolité, at the Upper East Side gallery Venus Over Manhattan includes over 15 paintings, each a different love letter to the Creole interiors he grew up admiring given his family's link to the culture. Organized by curator Alison Gingeras, the flamboyantly colorful and impossibly intricate acrylic paintings contain details of Creole life in 18th and 19th centuries, filtered through the artist’s expertise in the era’s design and art traditions. Each object and character serves as a catalyst for broader histories and connections between people from Europe, the Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean. “Young architects in the south today are incorporating French doors into their buildings,” says Hopkins who lives in Savannah but continues to notice traces of Creole architecture across the region. “I was on Tybee Island yesterday and saw balconies wrapping around buildings and a lot of shutters!”
Hopkins has had a life as colorful as his paintings. Growing up in New Orleans in the 1980s, he went to his first drag show at age 19 with his French boyfriend. With the same determination that taught him how to paint, he decided to perform drag. The exhibition includes a solo portrait of his alter ego, Désirée Joséphine Duplantier, but in each painting, there is a trait from his immense knowledge of interior design history in relation to Creole culture. They brim with overlooked or passed-on histories of people and built environments influenced by class, intellectual knowledge, and aesthetic drives.
Below, Interior Design selects 10 paintings in collaboration with Hopkins, who shares their symbols of architecture, design, and history.
Creole Jubilee, 2020
In the early 19th century, wood makers in New York and Boston realized the bourgeoning wealth in the south and began shipping containers of goods to states where furniture making was still emerging. “It was not uncommon to see an arrangement of European and North American furniture in an upper class Louisiana home in 1820s,” Hopkins says. This reinterpretation of a 12-inch by 12-inch painting he had created while living in Baltimore over a decade ago carries typical traits of this tradition, including the French doors. The artist celebrates the eclectic nature of Creole interiors with details such as the porcelain vase from France and its wooden chest, which is a typical of Philadelphian craftsmanship. The male nude lounging on the bed covered in a red drape comes from an academy painting of a wounded soldier the artist came across at a museum in Roubia, France.
Creole Tête-à-tête, 2020
This theatrical juxtaposition of an 1830s New Orleans afternoon scene reflects Hopkins’s fascination for the city’s famous French Quarter, where today history and architecture blend in with tourists and souvenir shops. “Whenever I stroll down those streets and look at the buildings’ façades, I cannot help but think about 200 years ago when Creole people built these homes,” he ruminates. This bright pink house exterior is the backdrop of a mundane conversation between three locals and provides small hints from the construction traditions of the time. “Stone had to be shipped from New England, but it was a sought-after construction material due to its cooling nature during extreme heat,” the painter notes about his choice for flooring.
Alix de Morainville in the Louisiana Wilderness, 2019
A striking example of Hopkins’s illustration of the south through its interior traditions, this painting tells the fascinating story of its titular subject through her objects. Alix de Morainville was married to an aristocrat man with a Marie Antoinette-attended wedding at Notre Dame, but soon later she lost her husband and father during the French Revolution. She realized her only way to avoid the guillotine was to marry a peasant, with whom she later migrated to Louisiana. In the painting, her bygone European elite status is represented with her harp, inside a typical Louisiana farm house, with paintings of her parents on the wall. The curved legs of the wooden table were a design tradition highly popular in France in the mid-18th century and later among the Creoles around 1830s. Hopkins, who is a collector of such tables, dresses his paintings with intricate details of his protagonist’s cross-Atlantic story, such as the basket woven in local tradition above the armoire as a salute to two plantation workers de Morainville crossed the Louisiana swamps with to reach her farm house.
The Tomb of America’s First Architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe in Creole New Orleans, 2019
Early on, architects lacked formal education in America and builders oversaw the entire process of construction, in addition to gentleman architects who had trained themselves in the field but still were not formally equipped. This painting depicts a shrine to Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is considered one of the first architects in the country. English by way of France, Latrobe worked in the design of the White House and built houses in Philadelphia. Louisiana, on the other hand, inspired him to maintain a diary and make watercolors of its landscape. “Little did he know that he’d be buried in the same cemetery he painted a few years earlier,” Hopkins says, and adds: “Cemeteries in the 19th century did not have fences so it was not uncommon to have farm animals roam them.”
Anglo Saxon Family Living in Creole New Orleans, 2019
After England gained control over the south after the French and Indian War in 1760s, Louisiana was given to Spain. French culture and language, however, still remained prominent under Spanish rule until 1803. This was also a prosperous period when money came in from the other side of the Atlantic and Spanish colonists married French Creole women. In 1803, Napoleon set his eyes on Louisiana, which then stretched as far as Canada, but sold it to America for 15 million dollars after conquering the state. “If you went to opera, there was a side of the booklet in French and the other side in English,” says Hopkins about the melting pot of Creole, French, and American cultures. “Anglo-Saxon Americans saw French Creoles go to ballroom parties on Sundays.” This painting captures such medley of cultures with furniture and design of an American household. The seating is French, from 1830s Louis Philippe era, as well as the clock and the porcelain vase underneath. The marble and wooden table in the center and the mantel are from New York of the same period.
Neptune's Bathroom, 2019
One of a group of paintings which Hopkins calls “tasteful nudes,” this depiction of a statuesque young man inside a marble bath tub flourished from an Instagram picture of Christian Dior’s bathroom in his chateau in southern France. Dior had bought this French Revolution era house in 1950s, and, according to the painter, the designer’s signature vision of rejuvenating late 18th century through fashion is reflected here in interior design. The youth with lush brown hair also comes from a nude Hopkins came across on Instagram, while the shell-covered Neptune bust on the light blue wall is inspired by an object he came across at an antique shop.
The Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba in the Hôtel de Pontalba, 2019
Another breathtaking Creole nobility story is told in this painting of Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, who became the wealthiest woman in Louisiana at age three after her notary father died. She moved outside of Paris to marry a French man whose in-laws realized they could not control her wealth because women were allowed to own property separate from their husbands in Louisiana, unlike France in mid-1800s. She separated herself from the family following bouts of hostility from her father-in-law and began living in Paris, which was unheard of at the time. Upon returning to New Orleans, she invested in starting an architectural style in the city similar to Paris, where she eventually returned and built a massive house by combining three 18th century mansions. “She was a Creole girl with the most mesmerizing house, two doors down from the French President in Paris,” Hopkins laughs. The architect who was also working on the renovation of Louvre designed the storied Hôtel de Pontalba which included this Japanese lacquered room. This highly valuable material cost similar to gold at the time, and here, it reflects an elaborate interpretation of the era’s fascination for Chinoiserie style decoration.
Tea Time in Creole New Orleans, 2019
In addition to portraying 1840s Creole domestic architecture, this painting also speaks to the era’s racial dynamics. “This was how people of color fit into interiors at the time,” says Hopkins about the servant bringing tea to the wealthy white woman. “Passing of cherished items through generations was common, so I added the outdated Louisiana table from the 18th century,” he explains. The clock with a figure of George Washington is French, while the painting of two figures is by French painter Jacques Aman. Portraiture painting, similar to furniture making, was in a premature state in America, and wealthy south was a common clientele for European painters who crossed the Atlantic during the winter months and made fortunes by painting portraits of the southern elite. Over the 18th century local style armoire is a watercolor of a pink flamingo by Haitian-born painter John James Audubon. Penniless most of is life, he rented rooms from free women of color and made a living by painting portraits and birds, such as the region’s flamingos.
Marie Laveau in her Saint Ann St Creole Cottage, 2019
In contrast to predominantly lavish interiors throughout the show, this humble cottage depicts a typical Creole household with two rooms in the front and two in the back. “Creoles did not show off with their house’s façades but did so with their interiors,” Hopkins says. The tradition was to enter the house from the back through the two-door entryway. The painter’s vignette here shows a cottage interior lived by New Orleans’s well-known voodoo queen, Marie Laveau. A recurring subject for the painter, Leveau adopted the voodoo practice from her later-emancipated Haitian slave grandmother who built this cottage for her granddaughter. “Catholicism and voodoo were practiced together back then,” notes Hopkins who also added a portrait of Laveau's longtime white companion on the wall. Interracial marriage was not legal but after she lost her husband at the seat, the two lived together and had 13 children.
Gabriel Aime at Le Petit Versailles, 2019
Le Petit Versailles was a plantation in Louisiana, named after its owner’s wealth which was compared to Louis XIV. The plantation was decorated with an English garden, canals, a Chinese pergola, trees imported from Asia, and a green house where exotic plants and fruits such as pineapple or coffee were grown. The painting shows the owner’s only son, Gabriel, who occasionally took trips to Europe and brought art and decorative objects, such as this porcelain bust and a replica of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of Christ. It was one of these trips when the son caught the yellow fever and died a few days after returning to Le Petit Versailles.