To most people, Mardi Gras beads are only important during the season and quickly lose their luster once the parades have stopped rolling. Not for me. I love finding the unique strands from the 60s and 70s that other people call “gutter beads”. I crave the unusually shaped and colored ones, and admire the way the newer beads glitter and shine in the sunlight. I stand on the sidewalk side for every parade throughout the season, gathering materials to make my art in hopes of collecting a year’s worth of goodies until the next Mardi Gras rolls around.
Using culturally iconic imagery representative of New Orleans, because the material lends itself so, and borrowing the ideals of Neo-Impressionistic Pointillism, I hope to elevate what may be considered kitsch to a level of fine art. The resulting play of light and color attempts to recall the ideals of historically significant fine art pieces while adding a new dimension of glitter and shine through the use of metallic, plastic, and luminescent beads.
In preparation for the formal construction of each piece I first paint my imagery essentially creating a fully realized template to follow. The beads are then meticulously sorted by size, shade, and shape, and cut apart to individual pieces creating a detailed and varied palette; much like a painter would prepare hues for painting. I then bead the work by gluing the beads directly onto the canvas, encrusting it entirely in texture, light, and color. The illusion of three-dimensional space is often created through the use of perspective and shading, but also the variety of size of the beads I use creates actual dimension adding an element of bas-relief. The finished works are stunning to regard both from a distance and upon close inspection of the highly detailed craftsmanship.
Tama Distler is a New Orleans artist living and working in the Garden District neighborhood.