Jazz Fest poster captures essence of Aaron Neville

Jazz Festival 2013 poster, James Michalopoulos
Jazz Festival 2013 poster, James Michalopoulos

When artist James Michalopoulos learned that Aaron Neville was to be his subject for the 2013 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival poster, it was hardly unfamiliar territory.

“He has actually sat for me on many occasions over the years, and I have photographed him at least 25 times,” Michalopoulos said.

With Jazz Fest starting Friday and continuing next weekend, Michalopoulos’ vividly representational poster of Neville is on sale in local galleries, including Michalopoulos’ in the French Quarter, and at the festival itself. The poster depicts Neville, tambourine in hand, circled by flying doves, with a cemetery behind him and a crescent moon above.

“There is such a deep, spiritual quality to his work,” Michalopoulos said. “Listening to him release, listening to him perform, I understood that the essence of his music is his becoming that release.”

The inspiration for the original painting’s design derived largely from the ethereal quality of Neville’s unique, instantly recognizable vocal style, Michalopoulos said. “He is driven by his passion for what he sings about — that’s why that voice soars.”

Elaborating on the symbolism embedded in the artwork, Michalopoulos said, “The poster is the edification of that moment where he is totally released. The doves are symbolic of that. They are the movement upward: the spirit released.”

The cemetery is an expression of New Orleans culture. “There is a certain regard here for death that permits appreciation and celebration of the life that somebody has lived,” the artist said. “And it is also a vital part of our architectural heritage.”

As for the poster’s title, Michalopoulos said, “I called it ‘Heart Song’ because, for me, Aaron’s passion and driving force is the expression of the heart, the truthfulness of living a heartful life. He is committed to his spiritual life and to his love of the city and his love of music.”

In addition to this year’s Jazz Fest poster, the sixth one for which Michalopoulos has been commissioned since 1998, he also designed the poster for this year’s Greek Festival. That festival takes place Memorial Day weekend at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Robert E. Lee Boulevard.

Settling here about 25 years ago from Washington, D.C., Michalopoulos honed his artistic skills on the streets of the French Quarter. A decade later he opened his own art gallery on Chartres Street in the Faubourg Marigny, later moving to a more prominent location on Bienville Street in the Quarter.

The inspiration for much of Michalopoulos’ artwork is derived from his surroundings. He is perhaps best known for his paintings of New Orleans architecture, often showing buildings with a distinct slant. His work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collections of many celebrities and Fortune 500 corporations.

He is also a gifted sculptor whose colorful, towering metal sculptures soar above the fence that surrounds the courtyard housing them adjacent to his studio.

Beyond his artwork, Michalopoulos has established himself as an entrepreneur, with ownership of several businesses and galleries, a vineyard in France and a local rum distillery, Old New Orleans Rum Co.

Michalopoulos calls New Orleans “an incubator for expression. This is a city that is welcoming, warm and always has its arms open to the world. We are a safe harbor that allows people the room to experiment and create so they can find their personal completion here.”

For more information about the Aaron Neville poster and how to order it, go to http://www.art4now.com.