One Artist’s Quest For Beauty, Fulfillment And Opportunity
Story By Kerri Cooke • Photos by Chris Brennan
You might not know the name Jeremy Price, but I’d be willing to bet you have noticed his work.
Price is an artist and responsible for many murals and signs you see downtown. For example, the grapes mural on the side of Cotten’s Downtown is a work of his, as is the restoration of the Walgreens mural near the Corner Market.
He’s also painted logos for Navarra’s, Barbers on Broad, the Paramount Room, In-Laws, Insane Sausages, Tademy, Blaze Smoke Shop and Freedom Life church.
Not one to stay in a box, Price also paints portraits and commissioned paintings and works as a graphic designer. He recently painted two barrels to sell at Smoke and Barrell: one portrays a buffalo and another Jean LaFitte. Price says he won’t turn any job down.
The Journey To Becoming An Artist
Price remembers that when he was a kid, he would stare at a huge sculpture over the dairy section in the old Market Basket (now Kroger). It was a 4-foot-tall sculpture of a head. He would stare at it for so long that his mom would come over and pull him away. He believes the head might’ve represented Zeus and even wrote a paper on it while in college, calling it “the god of the dairy section.”
He always did art in one form or another, Price says. But he never thought of it as a career until he went back to college to get a degree in criminal justice. He took an art class as an elective. And there was no going back from there. Price ended up getting both a criminal justice and an art degree.
Another important event occurred in college. Price met his wife, Hannah Wilson-Price, in art class. They are both artists now. Price says he and his wife are better at different things but considers his wife the better artist. He hopes that as more and more of her work gets out, she will be able to branch out to larger projects.
Beginning A Career
The way he began his career as an artist was not planned. It “happened organically,” Price says.
The first mural he did was one for Exposure Magazine. He portrayed “God blowing the planets out” as a “fun creation story on five sheets of 3-quarter inch plywood.” As Price was finishing up the mural, he saw an old lady walk up and stare at his work.
It wasn’t just a random old lady. She was a woman who Price believes had some sort of mental disability and always yelled at him and his friends as they skateboarded downtown as kids. She continued this practice until “five or six years ago.”
Price naturally thought that the lady was coming over to rant. But, much to his surprise, the lady came over, gave him a hug and showed a “sweet side” he had never seen.
Price says that moment meant so much to him and has been the biggest compliment to his work because it opened his eyes “to how one piece of art totally changed this lady’s spirit.” He hasn’t seen her again since that day.
The creation mural is now displayed at The Grand Church in Kinder, and Price made a replica for a woodshop in Ragley.
Price also worked as a painter for Golden Nugget for a while until it became too stressful.
A Bump In The Road
Things came to a grinding halt five years ago when Price almost lost his arm in a motorcycle wreck. He didn’t have health insurance and the doctors were about to amputate his art arm, when one of the doctors mentioned to his parents, “At least he isn’t an artist.” Price’s parents responded that he was, in fact, an artist. This fateful interaction changed everything. Price credits Lake Charles’ Dr. Weber with saving his arm. In one month, Price had $153,000 worth of surgeries. He ended up only having to pay $4,000 of that total.
Even though Price still has his arm, he says he doesn’t have a lot of feeling in his forearm and hand because one of his nerves was damaged. He says if he is painting a lot, “by the end of the day I can’t even feel the brush in my hand.” He also doesn’t know if he happens to drop a brush unless he happens to be looking at that moment. However, he says painting murals requires your arm to be in a less than ideal position, so even without his accident, he would still have some form of arm fatigue.
The Difference Between Public Art And Street Art
Price mentions that painting signs is what pays the bills and “gives us the ability to do other things we like to do.” Murals or commissioned art is less regular than sign work because “everybody needs a sign.”
Public art (murals that are commissioned) is “more about the art and less about the artist.” The purpose of these works are about “making a statement or shining a light on a certain issue.”
However, street art, Price says, is more fun because you have a little more freedom. Street art was easier when Price was single and didn’t have a family because it is work that goes unpaid.
But there are times when the concepts of public art and street art merge. For example, Price was commissioned by Dave Evans to do some artwork. Price says, “Me and Dave are on the same wavelength. It is hard to find a client who trusts you to do what you do and allows you to go crazy [when creating] and still pay you for it.”
As far as the grapes mural on Cotten’s Downtown, Price says it was probably the most fun for him to do. While not given complete freedom, he was given quite a bit. He was also able to get some other local artists involved and make valuable connections.
The Creative Process
When Price is planning a mural where he has “full freedom of design,” he begins with an central idea. He plans for a month doing different sketches until the design is just right. But after he preps the wall he will be working on, Price says, “another idea pops in my head.” He then proceeds to “throw away a month of work and start something new.” Price says that it is rare for his original idea to make it onto the wall.
Price says it is “surreal” to see the evolution downtown has gone through since he has been alive. When he was growing up, downtown “was not very welcoming or safe. Nobody’s parents wanted them to go downtown.”
He has been doing murals for 10 years and says it is great to observe how downtown has changed just in that short amount of time. Much to Price and other artists’ benefit, “Art has grown with the city.”
When I ask Price how it feels to see his art all over downtown he says, “It doesn’t feel like I painted anything.” It is surreal and “crazy” that he has been involved in all these projects.
He says he believes in a couple decades his murals will be a “history marker” for Lake Charles and the downtown area. He hopes to eventually be able to “tell a story” with his murals. “All murals are to make people feel good or beautify an area of town,” says Price. He hopes to be an inspiration to a younger generation of artists, saying, “Art is important and people can make careers out of it.”
Price is not one to want to keep the entire art market to himself. He wants SWLA to get even more interested in the arts and produce and support a variety of artists. “Eventually I hope there are a lot more artists and more public funding so I can go and stare at other people’s art.”
The Challenges Of Being An Artist
“It’s a big relief when I’m finished, especially working outdoors in Louisiana. It seems like it rains every couple days” is what Price says when I ask him how it feels to finish a project. It can be pretty stressful to meet a deadline. He has been known to work nights for a week straight and only get three hours of sleep a night to finish a project.
However, even though it is hard, Price isn’t complaining. He says this type of work environment allows you to be a “champion of yourself.” He says regardless of what type of job he is doing, every one is rewarding in its own way.
But Price is real about the hardship of being an artist in SWLA and of being an artist in general. He says, “I want to quit doing art once a week every week. But I don’t. I just keep doing it. There are lots of highs and lows. The highs make it all worth it.”
One project he worked on had a major hitch. Price had two hours of work left on a mural. But when he returned the next day, the paint had melted down the wall. Price said it added another day’s work to his schedule. Nothing like that had ever happened before. It was believed to be a result of a paint mixing error.
In addition to the Louisiana climate are the challenges that come with the artistic climate in SWLA. The payment for murals here is quite low compared to what it would be in Texas or other states. He says the price of his murals depends on the detail involved and ranges from $10 to $25 per square foot. An average sized mural would cost around $2,000.
“Artists have to make a lot of sacrifices in this environment,” Price says as he laments the lack of interest and support in SWLA compared to other areas. He is about to start working on a huge mural that costs $20,000 in paint alone. Murals such as these would cost between $60,000 to $80,000 for our neighbors, so you have to make peace with “not getting paid what it’s worth.”
But there is a plus side to creating in the local environment. There is “less competition and open gates” to do what you envision.
Lagniappe’s Best Of 2019 Artist Of The Year
As you’ll discover a little further on in this issue, Price was voted best artist of the year in Lagniappe’s annual poll.
Price says it’s “cool to know that many people know I do art and appreciate it and took time to vote for me.” He says something like this puts “wind in your sail” and gives you motivation to keep creating.
Price says his career never “could’ve happened without my mentors, professors, my parents, my wife and child, Dr. Weber and God. If not for them I’d be a cop or turning valves in a plant.”
Next year Price hopes to have a website up and running, find more places to sell art (you can find his work at Luna Bar and Grill) and be a part of some out-of-state galleries.