"Northeast Quadrant"
The Katrina Collection
The Katrina Collection is a series of mixed media assemblages which incorporate storm debris. The series was begun within a few weeks of August 29, 2005, when the worst natural disaster in United States history zeroed in on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The series now comprises nearly 1000 works of art, and pieces may be found in the collections of former President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, ESPN announcer Jon Miller, singer Faith Hill, and Good Morning America co-host Robin Roberts. Public collectors of the work include the Safeco Corporate Collection, Katrina Museum, Katrina Research Center of University of Southern Mississippi, Art Across Arkansas, Mississippi Humanities Council, and University of Virginia.

Film on the work of Lori K. Gordon

This is a 20 minute film about my work. It focuses on The Katrina Collection, and plans for the second stage of The Labat Project. Click on the arrow on the bottom left of the screen to play the video.
To view The Katrina Collection, scroll down to the end of this page. Click on any image for a larger view.
Artist's Statement:

Like so many people along the Gulf Coast, the life I knew was torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. I lost my home and studio in Clermont Harbor, Mississippi to a 35 foot wall of water and 150 mile per hour winds. Not one wall was left standing in my entire beachfront community.

In both a literal and a metaphorical sense, this series is composed of pieces of the storm. I have had an incredible amount of help in its development along the way. In particular, I wish to thank the Mississippi Arts Commission for their continuing support. Friends and neighbors gave me permission to rummage through the debris on their property, shop owners in Bay St. Louis and Waveland made the same generous offer, and there have been many strangers who invited me onto their property or delivered boxes of debris to my door. A couple of months after the storm, I was invited by Lisa Michiel of Art Gulf Coast magazine to write a story about my experiences for their first post-Katrina issue. The following article is reprinted by permission of the Michiels.

Life is about a lot of things, and one of those is loss. In recent weeks, thousands of people along the Gulf Coast have had more than our share of loss to deal with. So many of us lost our homes, our businesses, and our way of life. For some of us, it’s been even worse; we have lost friends and family members. It is hard to find anyone who was not profoundly affected by the massive storm of August 29.

Before Katrina ravaged our coast, I used to drive down streets just to marvel at the beauty of my surroundings. I spent countless mornings on the beach, sitting in the sand with a cup of coffee as I watched the sun rise over the Gulf. My favorite evening activity was to bicycle down the beach road at sunset, luxuriating in the cool breeze coming off the sound. I could not paint enough local landscapes, or stand to stay away from my studio for long.

In the aftermath of the storm which ripped our lives apart, I did none of those things. Instead, I swept the slab where my home used to stand. I picked among the rubble of splintered wood and rusted metal where my studio rested amidst a beautiful grove of bamboo. I looked for signs of life in what used to be my community, and I waited. I waited for the insurance adjusters to come and I waited for the county to allow me to go back home and I waited for some sign that things were really getting better. I waited for the moments of anger, sorrow and fear to pass. I waited for nights in which I could sleep, and for the cessation of troubled dreams which I didn’t understand. I waited for the clock of our lives to start ticking again.

I know that I was not alone. We all experienced the agony of waiting for our lives to get better, and the frustration of not being able to control that process. In the months since the storm, I have not talked to anyone who can make sense of what happened. There are some situations in which reasoning is not adequate; intellectualization simply does not do the job. My only response has been visceral, and the expression of that has been through my work.

Five weeks after the storm, I started sifting through the rubble of my life and began creating something new from the mounds of debris that cover my property. My canvases are now composed of twisted, rusty pieces of metal and battered pieces of plywood. I have found treasures in the form of clocks which stopped at the moment that destruction rained down upon Clermont Harbor. Broken dolls which washed up on my lot have been transformed into visual stories of shattered lives. Plaster angels have found new halos of dartboard wire, and fragments of paintings which I plucked from tree limbs like damaged fruit have been reborn in new forms.

Some of these new works are multifaceted; among the physical layers of the piece are also layers of meaning. Stories of the storm can be found within the elements of the collages. Blue Heron is one of the most complex pieces in the series, both visually and metaphorically. A powerful digital image of a ruined structure on the beach is surrounded by an ornate frame, indicating that the house was once lovely and extravagant. The support for the work is a piece of very twisted and rusty metal which indicates the wrath and destructive power of the storm, but a “tree” with green leaves is bursting through the image of the ruined house, signifying rebirth and growth. Pieces of an antique dresser act as vertical structure for the piece, and a blue heron sits off to the side, as if waiting to return to the coast. Salvaged portions of a recovered painting and some twisted cloth from an oak limb complete the piece.

Others are much simpler and direct, having to do more with powerful visual imagery than with layers of meaning. House of Katrina is one such piece. I was immediately drawn to the elegant shape of the chair fragment, with its strong Asian feel. The curved knife salvaged from the ruins of my kitchen added to the oriental cast, and the painted fabric that is reminiscent of water, as well as the fossilized ammonite, anchor the piece solidly in time and space.

As each element of a piece has found its perfect place with another, I have been feeling something akin to hope. After weeks of shoveling stinking mud, wet insulation and crumbling sheetrock, I am now in my new “studio”, playing among my treasures. Instead of standing in endless lines to fill out yet more forms, I am making something out of nothing. The waiting has been replaced with creating. I feel like I have been blessed beyond belief.

I have always known how important my work was to my happiness and wellbeing. I never felt that I had a choice as to whether or not I did my art; it is simply what I am about. The five weeks in which Katrina robbed me of that part of myself is a period of time in which I was not complete. It is only since I have begun to work again that I have been able to begin the healing process. In a very small and personal way, I have been able to make time start again. As I savor the relief that comes with moving forward, I am rediscovering the possibility of joy.

Shortly after the hurricane, a friend told me that it was the responsibility of artists to begin creating as soon as possible. It was our job, she said, to help us all understand what had happened to our lives. I don’t know if my work can do that for anyone else. What I do know is that each of us, in our own unique fashion, has to find a way to believe again, to dare hope for our future.

Lori Gordon
October 2005

Published in Art Gulf Coast, fall/winter 2005 issue

To see a twenty minute film about my work, click on the screen towards the top of this blog. You can also log on to http://lorikgordon.blogspot.com/. To view MSNBC's slideshow and hear an audio tape, please go to http://risingfromruin.msnbc.com/. NPR's story on All Things Considered can be accessed at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5620537. My good friend Ellis Anderson has written some very moving accounts of the situation; her "Katrina Chronicles" may be read at http://katrinapatina.blogspot.com/. Please feel free to email me at lorikgordon@gmail.com for any information on prices and availability of pieces from The Katrina Collection, or on upcoming shows and workshops in your area.

Lori K. Gordon
I made this piece at the request of my friends Wendy McDonald and David Walker of Habitat for Humanity Bay-Waveland Area. They asked me to create a piece for President and First Lady Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter in appreciation for their efforts rebuilding the Gulf Coast. They asked that the piece not only be composed of hurricane debris from the storm, but include personal mementos from the 10 families that received new homes during the Carter Work Project. Thousands of volunteers from around the world joined the Carters in coastal Mississippi during the third week of May. I was honored to join the Carters for lunch, and present them with this piece of art. Needless to say, it was quite a thrill.

Lori with Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, May 15, 2008, in Diamondhead, MS
Mayor Les Fillingame with Endurance, Lori Gordon, Mississippi Arts Commission Executive Director Malcolm White.  Photo courtesy Ellis Anderson.
Endurance is a piece I made as a gift to my beautiful town, Bay St. Louis. Along with its sister city Waveland, Bay St. Louis was ground zero for Hurricane Katrina. I wanted to give something back to the city I still call home. Mayor Les Fillingame was present at the reception to accept the piece, and sent me a lovely letter of thanks afterwards. His letter read, in part, "Thank you for your most generous gift to the City of Bay St. Louis...giving us a permanent reminder of ...a time and place that was endearing and enduring.  It was our pleasure to host the reception for your exhibit which recognized the 5th anniversary of that tragic event. Just like your artwork, we have taken what was found and combined it with new discoveries and what is emerging is a Bay St. Louis with pre-Katrina strength and post-Katrina optimism. We are proud to call you one of our own and know that your artistic endeavors will continue to bring blessings to both you and the community."

Thank you, Mr. Mayor.
Robin's Angel.  I did this piece for Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, in collaboration with my friend Joel Brown of Brown's Fine Art in Jackson, Mississippi. Robin raised a whole lot of money and gave the Mississippi Gulf Coast much needed press attention in the period following Katrina. I researched her life, and put a lot of thought in to creating a piece that I hoped would be meaningful to her. The angel was fashioned from a table leg and several other fragments of furniture. Her "halo" is a tarnished metal plate, and she is surrounded by coins with the "Katrina Patina."  She is framed by a window guard and two scrap pieces of plywood. Text collaged on to the boards points to her rich past.

Faith's Angel came about as a commission from the American Red Cross. The good folks there asked me to create a piece for Faith Hill, a Mississippi native. Faith and her husband Tim McGraw contributed an immense amount for Katrina survivors. I began the piece with fragments of a smashed guitar which I pulled from a ditch in Clermont Harbor shortly after the storm. I paired the guitar with a ceramic head which once graced the body of a mardi gras doll, purchased resin wings, some fragments of stained glass which came from my friend Anita's lampshade, and a wood and metal window guard with a symbolic red cross. SOLD

"Northeast Quadra nt" from The Katrina Collection The Katrina Collection is a series of mixed media assemblages which incorpor...