Dorian Bennett, the art collector, was gracious enough to interview world famous artist E. Paul Julien for this issue of New Orleans Canvas Magazine. As an artist, E. Paul is unusual because his work encompasses photography as well as mixed-media and painting. E. Paul continuously tries to push the boundaries of photography through double exposure, re-photography, transferring to a gold or silver-leaf substrate, and other techniques. In many of his works he also explores his own South Louisiana narrative. E. Paul also likes to challenge the idea of stereotypes in his art, which can be seen in the groundbreaking E2 photo series (named E2 because he collaborated with artist, Elizabeth Kleinveld). In the E2 series, iconic images from paintings, film, photography, and literature were reimagined.
Dorian: Let’s start with the basics! Where are you originally from?
E. Paul: I was born in New Orleans, but raised in Modeste, LA.
Dorian: When did you first realize you were meant to be an artist?
E. Paul: Well, its kind of a long story. I was 21 or 22 and I had just met this beautiful nurse. We went to her house for the first time ever. But unfortunately she was divorced for two years from a crazy person that wanted to kill her! I happened to be there when he was going pull off the whole thing.
Dorian: Oh my God! Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time!
E. Paul: Yeah! He shot me 12 times (I had about 24 bullet holes because of exit wounds) and he shot her 18 times. And he killed her. He had planned on killing her, her mother, and their baby. Luckily her mother and their baby weren’t home at the time. I didn’t know all of this when I accepted her invitation to come over.
Dorian: That’s horrible! What a horrible experience to be stuck in the middle of a bullet fight!
E. Paul: Yeah! Before that I just lived with my family on an old plantation in the country. I grew plants and I was just a dreamy kid. After that happened I knew that I needed to do something more important, something meaningful to me. I decided I was going to be a photographer and make art even though I had never been to a museum.
Dorian: So you had never been to an art gallery or museum?
E. Paul: No, no real exposure to any art even though I had everything that I needed in Modeste. I had the Mississippi river and I had 1200 acres of land, but I wanted to be able to communicate my story. I wanted my life to have meaning.
Dorian: So you were real plantation owners?
E. Paul: Yeah. I grew up kind of like Tom Sawyer. I would play out in the woods all day and come home when the sun went down.
Dorian: Would they ring a bell for dinner?
E. Paul: I actually tried to save the bell. The plantation house finally fell down after Katrina. And I took the bell with me to Chicago, but it was stolen.
Dorian: I love that! I grew up on a farm andI know what it’s like to be a young kid exploring and growing up out in the woods.
E. Paul: Yeah sometimes we’d be gone for two or three days because we build a camp out in the woods and cook. We had our own little crew of about twelve kids.
So I was like, I’m not going to get a job. I kind of got the basics covered. I’ve got a house, land and I just want to do something meaningful. I decided to be an artist and then at that point it was like, okay, I can’t do it here. I went to LSU and Southern (University) looking for mentors and guides to help me on that journey.
Dorian: Did you attend art school ? Or are you self-taught?
E. Paul: I did not attend an art school, so I am probably considered self-taught. But I did make friends with a lot of Professors. So I really didn’t teach myself. It wasn’t magical.
Dorian: When did you first start making photography?
E. Paul: I started with photography because (without art school) I knew I wasn’t going to take years to learn how to draw someone. I knew that photography was something I could produce immediately. My dad had taught me how to use his Nikkormat FT-2 camera when I was little. It was like a magic box! It was fascinating to me.
Dorian: What mediums do you work in?
E. Paul: I work with everything: Photography, painting, mixed media.
Dorian: Why did you choose to also become a mixed media artist?
E. Paul: I had been toying with it for a while when Katrina happened. And it forced me away from the dark room. I had lost everything. I was just stuck with paper and negatives. So I started creating with what I had.
Dorian: When I looked at your work, I see the work of highly sophisticated artist. But you’re one of those self-read, self-taught kind of guys. How do you differentiate your art from the rest?
E. Paul: I try to create art that has meaning. I want to make my mark on the world. It is kind of like an autobiography.
Dorian: What do you wish you had known about being an artist before you got started?
E. Paul: I’m glad I was ignorant about being an artist because I had no idea when I first started. It had nothing to do with money anyway. Like I said, my family never went to a gallery or museum or any of those type things, so I just thought it was a way to tell stories. If I had known it was going to become so much about making money, I would have lost the passion for it back then
Dorian: How do you handle negative criticism?
E. Paul: I never take anything personally. This too shall pass. Keep smiling and keep moving.
Dorian: Your art tells a story. Is each piece meant to tell its own story? Or is it meant to be part of a greater tale?
E. Paul: I don’t think I can really answer that question because I’m in the middle of it. I’m still making it! Looking back on things, some pieces seem to be telling the same story. Other pieces seem to be telling different stories because it’s about my life. It is evolving.
Dorian: Is anyone in your family an artist?
E. Paul: Technically no, but they are more interested now that I have become successful. Everybody is a craftsman, which is just a stage before you become an artist. So I grew up using my hands and building stuff and taking stuff apart.
Dorian: Can you describe what brings you to the lustrous golden finish that seems to be present and much of your mixed media work?
E. Paul: Since mixed media is something that doesn’t involve just being in the dark room and only working with light, I can bring out additional aspects that interest me. I have been inspired by other artists, particularly a Venezuelan artist named Luis Gonzalez Palma. I also want to bring out gold aspects of the early Africans and their radiance.
Dorian: Have you had any artistic mentors?
E. Paul: Yes, I sought out professors at LSU and Southern and started interviewing them to find out information. They were eager to share information with me. I sat in their classrooms even though I wasn’t enrolled. Terry Kennedy and Thomas Neff were both important to me. One was more into metaphors and meaning and the other one was into the technical aspect. Terry was my best friend.
Dorian: Do you have a favorite out of all of the art have created and why would it be your favorite?
E. Paul: I’m not ready to pick one because I still have a lot more creating to do. Hopefully I have many more years left to create art. I was going to be strictly photography, but, life and circumstances have pushed me in different directions. I’m not sure where I will end up..