New Orleans artist George Dureau, whose paintings, sculpture and photographs of the human figure in all its forms earned him acclaim and attention around the world and influenced a generation of artists, has died. He was 83.
Arthur Roger Gallery, which had mounted a retrospective of his work last year, confirmed Dureau's death Monday.
Dureau had battled the effects of Alzheimer’s disease the past several years and was in the care of a local nursing home. But well into his 70s, he remained a French Quarter fixture, living in the neighborhood and walking the streets where he created much of his most recognizable work.
In 2013, friends and colleagues organized what they called a “living estate auction,” selling off many of his belongings and personal art collection, to raise funds for his care. That same year, Arthur Roger Gallery mounted a retrospective of the artist’s work.
“George Dureau possesses a singular ability to render the beauty of the human figure in compositions inspired by allegorical scenes from great paintings and sculpture in Western art,” said the gallery in its description of the exhibit.
It was just one of many career retrospectives honoring Dureau and his volumes of work spanning a 40-year career. A 1999 exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Center featured more than 175 photographs, for example.
Dureau’s focus on the human figure drew him international acclaim and attention, including his photographs of nudes, street people and the maimed and deformed. His paintings and sculptures often drew on mythology, often featuring depictions of centaurs, satyrs and nymphs.
Observers often compared his photographs to that of controversial New York photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In reality, Dureau influenced Mapplethorpe, since the two were friends in the early 1970s and Mapplethorpe admired Dureau’s work so much that he even restaged many of the New Orleans artist’s earlier compositions.
Locally, Dureau is also known for his painting depicting Professor Longhair, which became the 1999 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster. Major public art works included the pediment sculpture for Harrah’s Casino on Canal Street and the gates at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Born in New Orleans, Dureau attended LSU, earning a degree in fine arts. After serving in the U.S. Army, he also studied architecture at Tulane and worked as an advertising and display manager for several downtown department stores while he pursued a career as an artist.
Funeral arrangements are pending.