An African American blog of politics, culture, and social activism.
Gustave Blache III is a New York based artist from New Orleans, LA. While in elementary school, Blache was allowed to study twice a week at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Drawing from plaster casts and painting copies of Old Master afforded him early understanding of the Old Masters that created the basis for his current work.
He then attended the New Orleans Center of Creative Art, a selective college preparatory high school. Blache then attended the School of Visual Arts Savannah, a satellite campus of the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1994 – 98. During this period, he began to gain recognition for his life-size figurative paintings, which led to several commissions, reviews, and a book cover for the book, I Made My Boy Out of Poetry by Aberjhani. Unsatisfied with the success in Savannah, he went to New York to attend the School of Visual Arts where he earned an MFA in Illustration in May, 2000.
One year after earning his MFA, he had his first one-man exhibition at the Island Weiss Gallery of New York. Known for its 19th-century collection, the gallery also included Blache’s paintings in group shows that included the works of Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt and other major 19th century artists. He was also in the Woodward Gallery’s “Paper 5” exhibition that included work by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Jean Michel Basquiat and other major artists. In 2003, he had a one-man exhibition entitled “The Curtain Cleaners” at the Cole Pratt Gallery in New Orleans. The exhibition was included in Gambits “Hot Seven” issue of things to do that November in New Orleans. Critic, Doug McCash who compared Blache’s work to Edgar Degas, reviewed the exhibition in the Times Picayune. The exhibition introduced Blache’s interest in visual journalism that developed while attending The School of Visual Arts in New York.
In 2007, he was featured in the documentary film, “Colored Frames” which recounts the last 50 years of African American artists’ influences, inspirations and experiences in the art world. “Colored Frames” featured Benny Andrews, June Kelly, Mary Schmidt Campbell, and Danny Simmons. Blache’s painting “Between the Head and the Hand” was used as the cover of the DVD.
Gustave Blache III resides in New York.
Back in the late 80s, the National Conference of Artists, the country’s oldest organization devoted to African American art and artists, held their national convention in New Orleans. I am a member of the Detroit chapter and traveled to the Big Easy to connect with the many artists from around the country. We deemed the 1990s as the “Golden Age of Black Art”, because a new awareness was being born along with new galleries, services and media coverage. The week long conference culminated with an evening at the New Orleans Museum of Art which displayed their vast collection of African and African American art. The reception was held in the world famous Dooky Chase restaurant and Leah Chase was our gracious host. Her restaurant was a museum itself. This was pre-Katrina before all of the expansion and renovations to the classic eatery. Artists in our large contingent were eager to exchange artwork for the best food in town while becoming permanent fixtures in her restaurant. Leah Chase recited the 70 year history of Dooky Chase and her passion for cooking and art. This set of portraits by Gustave Blache is a great honor for Leah and well deserved. By the way, the Fried Chicken, Seafood Platter and Peach Cobbler are rated the best in the world by food critics and by me.
George A Bayard III
Editors note: Randal Maurice Jelks was introduced as a child growing up in NOLA to fine dining in Dooky Chase’s Restaurant.
It’s unusual for the New Orleans Museum of Art to schedule a gala on a Monday night, but that’s the way chef Leah Chase wanted it. After all, most of her restaurant-world colleagues are off on Mondays, so they more easily could attend the party celebrating her 90th year (she was born Jan. 6, 1923) and the debut of “Leah Chase: Paintings by Gustave Blache III, “ a series of 20 intimate portraits of the legendary lady behind Dooky Chase restaurant. The 71-year-old Orleans Avenue landmark is known for its historic role as a meeting place during the civil rights era, the extensive collection of African-American art that lines the walls of the dining rooms, not to mention the authentic Creole cuisine still prepared by Chase.
It also is unusual for the guest of honor at a gala to provide the food, but Chase insisted. “It’s the least I can do, ” she said. “They’re working so hard. I would feel guilty not doing anything.” In the days before the gala, Chase said she was composing a party menu that included chicken pasta, smoked salmon, caviar pies and “maybe a daube glace.” The evening’s entertainment also is a Chase family affair, with music provided by Leah’s daughter, well-known jazz singer Leah Chase-Kamata.
Chase said her relationship with the museum goes back to 1973 when businesswoman Celestine Cook nominated her for a seat on NOMA’s board of trustees. Chase, who had scant experience in the art world, was reluctant. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about this, ‘ ” she recalled. Cook advised that serving on the board was “going to be good for your business, ” Chase said. To her surprise, she was elected to the board for a three-year term, and, at the end of that period, she was invited to be a trustee for life. Chase said that Cook not only introduced her to museum board membership, she introduced her to the works of African-American artists, including Bill Hutson, Jacob Lawrence and John Biggers. Biggers, Chase said, once traded her artwork for gumbo. With the advice of other New Orleans art lovers, Chase eventually lined the restaurant’s walls with what may be the city’s best-known collection of African-American art.
“I’ve been the luckiest person in the world, ” she said. “People who crossed my path were people who helped me grow.”
The museum celebrated Chase’s 75th birthday with a purposeful party at the City Park institution. Sale of tickets to that event went to the purchase of a painting by African-American artist Barbara Chase-Riboud. Chase said she provided the food for that party, too. “I’ll do it for my 100th, too; how about that?” she said. Monday’s event also is a focused fund-raiser. Part of the $75 admission price will be used to establish the Leah Chase Art Purchase Fund to acquire African-American artworks for the museum. One of the evening’s biggest treats will be in a second-floor gallery, where guests will be given an artistic glimpse of Chase in her domain, the busy kitchen of her restaurant. Gustave Blache III, a New Orleans-born artist who now lives in Brooklyn, spent two years visiting Chase’s kitchen to soak up the vibe, then poured his inspiration into a suite of 20 dinner plate-sized oil paintings that capture the unseen labor that underlies Dooky Chase’s seven decades of success.
Blache imbued the paintings with an intimate feel, but they are far from sentimental. The cool light, spare compositions and Chase’s candid poses lend a sense of unglamorous reality to the small genre scenes. Blache said that part of the challenge was capturing Chase as she worked, without interfering with the action. “The kitchen is a bit cramped, ” he said in a February interview. “I was very aware of not trying to impede her. You do not want to be the person in her way”
At the close of 2011, one of Blache’s paintings, titled “Cutting Squash, ” was accepted by the prestigious National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution. In the quietly powerful piece, the iconic chef, wearing a pale violet baseball cap, concentrates on slicing vegetables, as steam rises from pots in the background. In a February interview, Chase coyly commented on the authenticity of Blache’s renderings. “I told him, ‘You could have made me look like Halle Berry or Lena Horne, ‘ ” she said, –”but you made it look like me.’ ”
Blache, who attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, said the Chase series reconnected him with his Crescent City roots, since his maternal grandparents’ first date took place at Dooky’s.
“I still cannot believe it’s happening to me, ” Chase said, reflecting on her humble working-class beginnings and the gala and art exhibit being held in her honor. “If you work hard, you can get what you are going after.