NOLA Artist “Dapper” Bruce Lafitte climbs “out of the crab barrel” and into our hearts.
Artist “Dapper” Bruce Lafitte beautifully embodies the spirit of New Orleans. Born to a 12-year-old victim of rape, he thought his only way out of “falling into that crab barrel” of the New Orleans projects was playing football. It was the aftermath of another maelstrom, Hurricane Katrina, that final pushed him to seriously consider art as a career.
Lafitte’s artistic ability started early. Lafitte attended Booker T. Washington High School where he began winning art contest at school. He recalls that he would bring his awarded artwork home and his Grandmother, Aretha Abrams, who would reward him and display his work for the entire household to see. “She was a very honest critic—still is to this day” recalls Lafitte. After working for years doing every type of job imaginable everything was halted when Hurricane Katrina hit. Evacuated to Minnesota in the aftermath Lafitte remembers a social worker said he should be an artist. After that conversation Lafitte went into his FEMA trailer in New Orleans and created over 1000 pieces.
A few years after that Lafitte had begun doing local art festivals. It was not long before he got his first art show. The turning point came with Dan Cameron, renowned America art curator, took an interests in Lafitte’s work that prompted Lafitte to transform from an art world outsider to a celebrity. Cameron presented Lafitte with a check for $100,000 and one simple pronouncement: create a collection. This first series is still Lafitte’s favorite collection “without the first there wouldn’t be the 10th” Reminisces Lafitte.
Lafitte is now a regular artist at the Louis B. James gallery in New York. One of his latest collections centers around a childhood hero: Mike Tyson. Growing up in the projects Lafitte was no stranger to the violence within his community. “When I saw something I would draw it.” Recalls Lafitte. Tyson represented a sense of community and helped bring together his family and community. The neighborhood would become quiet. All of the anguish seemed to halt, as heads seem to bow in silent supplication towards the TV sets. Names like Joe Louis, Mohammed Ali, and Jack Johnson were spoken with adoration and reverence.
Lafitte saw Tyson as a representation of personal competition. “The artwork has to change. It has to keep getting better.” After breaking the barrier between his upbringing in the projects and the prestige of the professional art world, Lafitte is looking to tackle a new nemesis: himself. Lafitte recently changed his name from Bruce Davenport Jr. to Dapper Bruce Lafitte. The surname Lafitte, a paternal surname, represents his acceptance and absolution of his personal history.
Lafitte has now shown in 14 countries and is displayed in universities in 39 states. Lafitte has also donated numerous pieces to schools in the New Orleans area that display it proudly. Lafitte is currently curating a show at the New Orleans public library on Napoleon. Also on the horizon are shows in New York and Tokyo.