For New York-based artists Cleo Wade and Liza Voloshin, New Orleans is both sanctuary and artistic playground: a place to replenish their creative stores when big-city life threatens to wear them down. As Cleo’s physical birthplace and Liza’s adopted second home, New Orleans is also the source of their creative philosophy–one that bonds the longtime friends and collaborators in both life and art.
“So much of what I do creatively comes out of my upbringing and the city that I’m from,” explains Cleo. “The words that I write, the colors that I use… I don’t think I’d be able to tap into that if I wasn’t raised in such an open-hearted place.”
“Even from an outsider’s perspective, there’s such a spirit of love and community in New Orleans,” echoes Liza. “I’ve never experienced such a palpable passion for life anywhere else in the world.”
Over the course of many creative pilgrimages to New Orleans together, Liza and Cleo’s art has flourished amid the vibrant, welcoming environment of the South: “It’s the place I first made a film, actually” says Liza. “I found that you can try to paint New Orleans, and you can try to photograph it–but you’re only able to capture the colors and movement through the medium of film.”
Over the course of many creative pilgrimages to New Orleans together, Liza and Cleo’s art has flourished.
Respectively, Cleo and Liza are a poet and a visual artist, but neither draws strict parameters around the scope of their individual work. “There’s nothing I’ve made that Liza hasn’t touched in some way” says Cleo. “When I created a limited edition book of poems last year [2014’s Falling Out of You is Eternal], the first person who looked through it was Liza. And when Liza made the short film for our friend Margot’s single release, I think I was the first person who went through the footage.”
“So much of what I do creatively comes out of my upbringing and the city that I’m from,” says Cleo Wade.
Liza confirms that “...every single aspect of our creative work is collaborative. Cleo is my ultimate muse” - (“Go on…” Cleo encourages, laughing.) “I was looking through photos I took in New Orleans on a recent trip and it struck me that, yes, these are architectural images–but really they’re about Cleo within that setting. They’re about capturing a woman’s energy, creativity, and soul.”
Cleo and Liza find their artistic inspiration in the Marigny district, where the city’s Creole culture comes to life in vivid, technicolor glory. “The color combinations on the houses are out of control. New Orleanians are not afraid to have a lime green house with yellow shutters and a red door,” says Cleo. “The architectural style means that each house has so many dimensions, and the residents paint all of them a different color.”
Liza and Cleo’s art has flourished amid the vibrant, welcoming environment of the South.
The women also take regular journeys through the Mid-City district, where streets are lined with the lush foliage of the subtropical South. “When you drive through those streets, the trees envelop you,” says Liza. “You’re cruising through this tunnel of beautiful greenery, with all these crazy-colored houses and shacks alongside. It’s just amazing.”
Beyond mini road trips and bike rides to the Po’ Boy stands, the artists never arrive in New Orleans with much of an agenda, aside from a few key stops. “You’ll never find someone on a to-do list in New Orleans,” says Cleo, aghast at the thought. “And no-one ever walks down the street in headphones – you might miss a ‘hello’ from a friend.”
For both women, New Orleans is a place to go with - and work from - a state of flow; a space where their free-spirited sensibilities find breathing room outside of the alpha-driven confines of New York. “What unites Liza and I is that we agree the creative process doesn’t have to be a torturous experience, borne out of anxiety and loneliness” says Cleo. “Because how much more fun is it to expel that in a joyous, fun, vibrant way?”
It’s this creative spirit that forms the basis of their all-women art collective chez conversations, as well as their longtime friendship–first cemented with a trip to Cleo’s family home years ago. Even now, Cleo’s mother’s kitchen remains the first port of call when they return: “I’ve never tasted anything so heavenly, or filled with love as Cleo’s mom’s cooking,” says Liza.
Cleo and Liza take regular journeys through New Orleans’ lush streets. “You’re cruising through with all these crazy-colored houses alongside. It’s just amazing.”
“We also always make a stop at my dad’s balcony for champagne,” adds Cleo. “He wears a three-piece suit in a different color everyday, which he matches to a different colored bicycle. People in New Orleans are very flamboyant.”
Evenings are spent dining on the terrace at Cafe Amelie in the French Quarter - “our friends own it, and it’s just life-affirming” says Cleo - or listening to ‘20s jazz at one of New Orleans’ iconic bars. For first time visitors, Cleo also recommends “a walk along the iconic Royal Street, anywhere between the 2800 block and the 3500 block - ”
“New Orleans girls never live anywhere else–and even if they do, they always come back.”
“ - and don’t miss Cleo’s billboard!” adds Liza. “That’s a pretty essential New Orleans landmark. It’s a giant love poem she put up to mark the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, right at the entrance of the French Quarter.”
For now, their relationship with the city remains a long-distance love affair, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll resist New Orleans’ siren call for very long. “I think you always feel rooted in the place that you create from,” says Cleo, “and New Orleans is the basis of everything I make. The Louisiana writer Chris Rose put it best when he said: ‘New Orleans girls never live anywhere else–and even if they do, they always come back.’ I think that to myself every day.”
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