Pamela Reed introduced me to Lance (AKA Reverend) Vargas this past February at his Deurty Boys gallery in the French Quarter on Chartres Street. Lance, along with business partner and fellow artist Jeremy Hebert, welcomes potential customers with a down-to-earth attitude and a witty sense of humor, very different from what one might experience at the average art gallery.
Lance deserves recognition for being brave enough to represent himself and start his own gallery in the French Quarter. Looking at the copious amounts of art that grace the walls you realize that he must work constantly to maintain his inventory of art, much of which does get sold!
NCM: Where are you originally from?
Lance: I moved to New Orleans in the late 1900s from Pensacola, FL. I’m a Gulf Coast kid.
NCM: And I understand that you are a professional artist as well as a gallery owner?
Lance: Yes, I’m the owner, operator, and proprietor of Deurty Boys Gallery. My art and Jeremy Hebert’s art are also featured.
NCM: What led you to become a professional artist as opposed as to just having it as a hobby?
Lance: I’d been laid off from two or three jobs in a row. I decided that I was going to do this and (even if I only made $5 an hour) I would work 100 hours a week. Just keep doing it until it hit. I started selling my art on Jackson Square, for which the City of New Orleans graciously provided a permit! I was able to reach a wider audience there and started selling and making more art. Constantly having to create more art has made me a better artist.
NCM: How long have you been a professional artist?
Lance: Ten years this Summer.
NCM: What made you decide to open a gallery as opposed to finding a gallery to feature your work?
Lance: We were featured artists in another gallery and we were making the majority of that gallery’s money. We had a falling out with the gallery owner due to shady business practices, so we left and opened our own place.
NCM: How long has Duerty Boys been open?
Lance: Since May 2016.
NCM: What genres do you work in?
Lance: Jeremy focuses on Pop Art and I focus on Southern Primitive.
NCM: Whose work inspires you the most? Do you have any artistic heroes?
Lance: I very rarely look at other visual artists. I don’t want to be influenced by somebody and have their work creep into mine. I don’t want to bite into someone else’s style.
Some artists do that subconsciously and more disreputable artists do it consciously. In order to avoid that, I try not to look too much at other artists. Unless they’re my friends and I’m looking at their art because they’ve asked me and want my opinion.
I get most of my inspiration through film and music. Some pieces are directly inspired by lyrics in songs. Stuff like that inspires me more than other visual arts.
NCM: Did you go to art school or are you completely self-taught?
Lance: I’m completely self-taught. I enjoyed drawing as a kid and would decorate my room every year.
NCM: What’s your favorite medium to work in?
Lance: Wood. Definitely wood. Always wood. I love using lath board out of old houses with plaster walls. Basically obsolete building materials because houses all have dry wall now. A lot of the Mardi Gras Indians in town use lath board. Any old Southern city with a bunch of old houses has a lot of lath board. You can see it used in several pieces around the gallery.
NCM: Do you ever have trouble finding materials to work with?
Lance: Yes, it is boom or bust with the lath. When I find a 1600 square foot house that is pulling out the lath, I can get all of my lath board for a year. It’s just a matter of finding that house. There are less and less as the years go by. I have an 8 foot bed in my truck and I usually fill that up trolling around neighborhoods, looking for the lath sticking out of the back of dumpsters.
NCM: When did you first start working with wood?
Lance: The genesis of it was when I moved into an old craftsman house in Algiers. I was refinishing my wood floors. It taught me about sanding, staining, and coating heart pine, using masking to create lines and designs in the stain.
Since I had my own shop in the back of the house I was able to develop from there. It took awhile because a lot of the early stuff was really bad.
NCM: What made you choose Southern Primitive over other styles?
Lance: I just have a Southern soul. I have always been interested in Southern Gothic writing. I grew up taking road trips through the South. I’m fascinated with the Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner aesthetic that they created through their books and the films based on those books. The deep primitive South provides endless subject matter.
NCM: You might be the first “Southern Primitive” artist we’ve interviewed. Your art is different from everyone else we’ve featured so far.
Lance: There are other primitive artists, but I might have been the first person to put the two words together. Not everything that I do is Southern Primitive, but my best work is.
NCM: What, do you find, is the most challenging part about being an artist?
Lance: Probably just the straight logistics of the career. The most challenging part for many other artists is one that I have never had a problem with: self-doubt. Thinking that your stuff is not good enough and comparing yourself to others is a huge problem for a lot of artists. But once I figured out that I was doing this or nothing, once I understood there is no Plan B, then I was able to push away the doubt and negativity.
NCM: Is there anything you wish you’d have known about being a gallery owner before you opened this gallery?
Lance: It is really hard to say because this is my first gallery and it’s my only experience. You definitely need to pick the right partner. Go into it with somebody that you get along with and who has a similar personality. Jeremy and I are two creative guys from small cities where there wasn’t a lot of opportunity or encouragement to be creative. We both showed up at Jackson Square at the right time and we’ve been on a parallel path for a while now.
NCM: How do you handle negative criticism? Has anyone ever given you negative feedback that has really stung?
Lance: I tell them to go f___ themselves. Just kidding! You can’t please ’em all, though I’m sure that I can handle anyone that walks into this gallery and starts into an abstract critique of my art. First, I’m closely connected to every piece of my art. And second, I’ve heard everything by now. I’ll engage them, but there’s nothing they can tell me about my art that I’m not prepared to hear.
I can show you the flaws in any one of these pieces because I know each one intimately. For example, that one came out too dark over there. And that one over there has too much stain around it’s eyes. Or that one’s theme is too abstract.
NCM: If you had to pick one favorite of all of your work, which one would that be?
Lance: Of the art in here, I would say the decorated door over there. There’s also the one with a girl running away from a tornado. It’s based on a Neko Case song about a tornado stalking this woman. I like it because I did a good job conveying the synesthesia of the song. The song created a mood for me. I had a visual image in my head and I was able to put it onto the piece of wood and carve it out perfectly.
NCM: How do you come up with a pricing structure for your art?
Lance: I’ve used several factors: the rarity of the wood, how much attention the piece gets, the time involved making it, and how easy it will be to move it out of here. That’s how I’ve done it in the past. Then I recently watched a documentary about art auctions in New York and realized that their pricing (structure) was all bullshit anyway.
NCM: What is the best advice you’ve received from other artists about being an artist or gallery owner?
Lance: As an artist, if you hang it on the wall, it will eventually sell. As far as being a gallery owner, that’s harder to answer because most of the gallery owners I know are very competitive and don’t share information. I don’t want them to influence me and destroy my mission.
NCM: Anything else to share with our readers?
Lance: Just that we are living in an age when a lot of the things in our homes aren’t authentic and homogeneous. What you buy at Deurty Boys Gallery is original art made in New Orleans from antique lumber out of New Orleans homes.
You can see Lance’s work in person at the Deurty Boys Gallery at 901 Chartres Street in the New Orleans French Quarter. Deurty Boys also has a website at www.deurtyboys.com.