Drawn to the magic and majesty that lives in the world

Henry Lipkis Mardi Gras Float Designer and Muralist, New Orleans, Louisiana

Comment | New Orleans, Louisiana | 03 February 2022
Henry Lipkis, a Mardi Gras Float Designer and Muralist based in New Orleans, Louisiana, says that he knew he wanted to be an artist from a very young age. This passion was further encouraged and supported by his parents which he credits for his success today. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“So we are standing in the middle of my largest mural called ‘The Third Line’, here in New Orleans,” explains Henry Lipkis, a Mardi Gras float designer and muralist currently based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Standing in front of his 150 foot long, 35 foot tall depiction, he explains what the mural represents.

“This is a mural of the second line culture,” he states. “The second line refers to all the people that join in and follow the parade, the first line refers to the members of the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs that throw these parades, including the band. And then the third line are the people like me who obsess over the second line and make art about it.”

Lipkis credits the city of New Orleans as being the inspiration for the mural showcasing one of city’s most unique and dearest traditions.

“In the first two weeks that I came here as a travelling mural painter, I was hanging out with a friend and we hear the sound of a tuba playing in the distance,” he recalls. “My friend asked me if I had been to a second line yet, and I had no idea what that was. So we got up and ran a few blocks to where the music was coming from and we were just immersed in this beautiful chaos that was the second line parade,” he shares with excitement in his voice.

“I was completely blown away and was in the midst of some of the best music that I had ever heard!” he exclaims. “There were these beautiful people dressed in bright green, Italian tailored suits, wearing gator skinned shoes,” he reminisces about the moment he says he fell in love with New Orleans and realized he wasn’t going to leave the city.

Henry’s mural, entitled “The Third Line”, is his largest mural to date measuring 150 ft in length and 35 ft in height. The mural depicts the second line, which refers to the people that join in and follow a parade. The mural shows huge crowds of people dressed in their Sunday best dancing and playing instruments in the streets of New Orleans. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
This was also the moment and experience that would lead him to want to paint a “piece about the second line culture.” So once he had settled into his new city and built and established relationships he went ahead and created the piece in 2016.

Originally from California, Henry says that art was always a part of him when he was growing up, and he knew that he would end up being an artist as an adult.

“Every kid is an artist and likes to draw pictures, and then there is a moment for most people when they say they can’t draw something and then they stop, but I never stopped myself from drawing,” he emphasizes. “And I had very supportive parents, which was a big blessing,” he adds.

From his perspective as an artist, Lipkis shares that everything from the culture, the art, the social scene, the music, passion and tradition, all contribute to making New Orleans a unique and special place.

“I can’t imagine not being here. I am very impressed and drawn to people who are stepped in tradition, and being able to work and be artistically engaged with second line culture and Mardi Gras Indians, both of which are very unique to this city, it is truly an honor,” he enthusiastically underscores.

In discussing work and what it means to him, Henry says work can mean different things. “It can mean showing up and putting in the grind to do what you need to do. But it’s hard for me to really explain because I love all the work I do, even though some of it makes more money than others,” he reveals.

Designing and painting floats each year for the Mardi Gras parade allows Henry to cover his everyday living expenses. This also helps him focus on his other artwork without having the pressure to sell them right away just to put food on the table. ILO Photos/ Kevin Cassidy
His steady work and source of income he shares is from his work as a Mardi Gras float designer and painter. “That’s my steady work,” he notes. “It covers my bases like my rent and my bills and I love doing it.”

“Designing and painting floats for the Mardi Gras parade every year, gives me the freedom and time to let my other art and projects grow organically, without the pressure to have to monetize them before they are fully cooked,” he says.

His advice for young people looking to get into the field of art is: “Always think on your feet. Always be looking for opportunities that are not being presented to you, but opportunities that you can make for yourself.” He says the more artists engage and collaborate early on in their career, the more that they will be able to sustain themselves later on, in the same way he has.

“A career in the Arts is only limited by you,” Lipkis underscores, speaking from his own experience.

“When people see my artwork I’d like for it to evoke a sense of the magic and majesty that lives in the world. And show how things can fall apart and how they can grow from the rubble of what came before,” he says of his hope and desires of how audiences interact with his art creations.

That sense of magic and majesty he mentions are certainly hard to miss when looking at the Third Line mural and all the people and their stories as they take part in a unique tradition.