Willie Birch: Up Close Narrative Painting
Art in America
September 23, 2016
There’s a chair in artist Willie Birch’s studio in New Orleans’s Seventh Ward. I can’t remember if he ever told me it was “his” chair but, in my many visits to his studio, I’ve never sat in it. I met Birch when I first moved to New Orleans six years ago, and over time he has served as mentor, friend, and, on occasion, burr. At age seventy-three, Birch is an energetic pedagogue, quick to jump up and grab a book from his shelves when making a point. It is in those moments, when the chair has been suddenly emptied of his presence, that it has looked to me its most strange. Once covered in rich, inky upholstery, the chair is now threadbare, with exposed stuffing and gaping holes such that you can see right through to the door. Even in the context of the unpretentious shotgun house turned artist studio—cluttered with boxes, papers, works in progress, and xeroxed source images tacked to the walls—the chair is extreme, especially considering Birch is most likely to be seen on the streets of his native city sharply dressed in linen pants or sporting a crisp straw hat.
New Orleans’ African Retentions: Willie Birch with Billy Sothern
The Brooklyn Rail
Willie Birch is a New Orleans-based artist whose exhibition Celebrating Freedom: The Art of Willie Birch is currently on view at New Orleans’ Contemporary Arts Center. Billy Sothern, author of Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City (2007), recently visited Birch in his studio, which is located in a neat, white, “double shotgun” house in the Seventh Ward, a neighborhood that is rich in New Orleans’ vernacular culture but that otherwise suffers the economic, physical and social blight that has long faced many of the city’s black neighborhoods.