Artist James Michalopoulos's distinctive paintings of New Orleans houses and cultural icons are internationally recognized.
James Michalopoulos is an oil painter and sculptor best known for his skewed, post-impressionistic depictions of traditional New Orleans architecture and his posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. A rum distiller, restaurateur, and stage designer as well as an artist, Michalopoulos divides his time between New Orleans and a studio in France.
Born James Mitchell in 1951, he began signing his artwork using his family’s Greek ancestral name of Michalopoulos in the mid-1990s. He studied art at the University of New Orleans, the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts, and Bowdoin College.
Michalopoulos is a prolific oil painter whose work vividly and expressively captures the essences of New Orleans’s French Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods. His subjects include old cars, landscapes, and female portraiture as well as architecture. Employing exaggerated viewpoints and skewed perspectives, his renditions of old shotgun houses and ironwork-laced balconies seem to twist and dance in shadows of moonlight. He uses palette knives for much of his work in oil, a technique that allows him to work quickly while laying richly saturated, pure colors.
Says Michalopoulos, “My style is an abstraction of the figurative—I like color, volumetric shape, and graphic lines. I take my liberties and express my emotions in a poetic interpretation. The abstractions facilitate a direct expression of the core essence of my subject.”
Art critic Kevin Allman of the New Orleans alternative weekly newspaper Gambit writes of Michalopoulos’s buildings, “They slope, soar and sway. Some of them rear back on their foundations, or lurch drunkenly over cracked sidewalks; others dip their balconies over the street curiously.”
Michalopoulos’s post-impressionist stylizations of New Orleans musicians have appeared on five posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, including portraits of performing legends Malcom “Dr. John” Rebbenack (1998), Louis Armstrong (2001), Mahalia Jackson (2003), Fats Domino (2006), and Allen Toussaint (2009). “My charge is to present the subject in a way that shows their true character,” Michalopoulos explains of his approach to the portraits. “So I really have to look at them and follow their energy and follow their spirit and try to present it in a way that is faithful, and places them in the environment of the city and their musical milieu.”
Michalopoulos is also a metal sculptor. In 2012 he installed a group of five thirty-foot-tall, abstract pieces titled Mother Cluster along Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Severn Avenue in Metairie, Louisiana, a public art project sponsored by patrons Henry and Pat Shane and installed by Jefferson Parish.