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Bill Russell was one of Rockmore’s favorite subjects from the early 60s until Bill’s death in 1992. He was also a friend, mentor, musical companion and fellow documenter of the French Quarter. Bill Russell was always game for an adventure and this time it is with his friend Noel Rockmore to The Melrose Plantation. Rockmore, who was not always up for an adventure outside the French Quarter, would do several sketches at Melrose Plantation. He puts the exact date on it and also uses ball point pen to do the classic Bill Russell wisp of hair.

What is the story about Rockmore & Bill Russell & Pretty Boy? Bill Russell is another favorite subject and friend of Noel Rockmore and one of the people instrumental in reviving jazz and preserving the culture. The following excerpts from Wikipedia will tell you some basic Bill Russell information and how important he is to Jazz music. He moved to New Orleans in 1956, settling in the French Quarter and opening a small record shop from which he also performed violin repairs. In 1958, Russell co-founded and became the first curator of The Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University. Russell collected a large amount of material related to the history of New Orleans, early jazz, ragtime, blues, and gospel music, which he kept in his French Quarter apartment. During his life he was always willing to share access to the material with serious researchers. At his death, August 9, 1992, he left the collection to The Historic New Orleans Collection , where it continues to be a valuable source for researchers. Every year the HNOC host its annual Bill Russell symposium featuring a tribute to jazz history. In his obituary, The Times noted: ” Russell was the single most influential figure in the revival of New Orleans jazz that began in the 1940s.” (Insert written by Noel Rockmore for 1973 unpublished Bryant Gallery Book draft). “ Bill Russell represents a bloodless blue-white walking conscience of others . Bloodless refers to both his coloring , which is essentially alabaster , but also suggestive of the idea that normal blood does not run through these veins. (He) Relates definitely more to birds than to people or who would prefer that people were more like birds and resents the fact that he is human himself and would rather be a bird. This is why I see him as a gliding marine bird rather than as a person. His 15-year relationship with his now deceased parakeet, Pretty Boy , was in many senses like the friendship of two equal personages. Russell’s niece, Jenny, also essentially bird-like, appears as a bird on his shoulder in one of the major portraits of him. This animal doesn’t leave a spoor (trace or trail). Attracted toward these qualities plus the configuration of his head and his hands; he (Bill Russell) is the Michelangelo feeple, the only true feeple with true dignity , the archetype of the feeple image retaining his true dignity no matter how mistreated by my attempts to emphasize his physical imperfections.” This particular Rockmore collage is RARE because it has both Bill Russell and Pretty Boy and it also has Rockmore’s experimentation with adding stick on stencils to a work. It appears that the stencil was added on top of the work and when removed some of the watercolor went with the stencil. Rockmore loved experimenting with new art tools and incorporating them as they came out including the following: stencils, poster paint, model paint, hot glue and more. This work was done from memory while Rockmore was in New York obviously missing Bill Russell and working with Victor Potamkin trying to make the BIG time. There are many stories about Pretty Boy which go back to the early 60s including one that Russell had taught Pretty Boy how to say his street address and then when Russell moved, Pretty Boy continued to say the old street address which gave everyone a laugh. Bill Russell certainly qualifies as one of Rockmore’s… (source)

oil of bill russell

Noel Davis was already famous in the early 60s when he escaped from New York, setup shop in New Orleans, and did something that tempts everyone at some point. He stepped into the mist of The French Quarter, changed his name, and started over. For the next 30 years Noel Rockmore owned the canvas in The Quarter capturing the remarkable quirky spirits who played jazz and saved jazz in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. “The Quarter” is evoked through architecture, creole cuisine, and a particular style of jazz but even more so by the people who live, party, and bask in its unique noire. Rockmore’s subject was people. Especially the people of The French Quarter—and Preservation Hall. Founders, caregivers, musicians. People like Alan Jaffe, Larry Borenstein, Mike Stark, and musicians like Bill Russell and Chicken Henry. These people inherited The Quarter in the 60s and under their tender loving care they saved a piece of American culture. In the Summer of ’77 we became friends with Mike Stark and during our stay at his place in The Quarter he introduced us to a few of these out-of-time spirits and arranged a private tour through the Hall attic where items were being stored for a future museum. Many of those items are now on display with several Rockmores at The Old US Mint Museum in The Quarter. Seeing them again after so many years made time stand still for the rest of the trip.Noel Rockmore used to setup at Preservation Hall where he’d feverishly paint the night in the dim halo of the Hall. Musicians were often invited to sit for a portrait the next day at Rockmore’s studio. A few of them are still in the Hall fixing the audience with an eerie stare. Rockmore was haunted by The French Quarter. It’s hard to say whether Rockmore captured The Quarter or whether The Quarter captured him. But they were meant for each other. 5 years ago 1400 Rockmores were discovered in a storage facility in New Orleans collected there by a loyal friend and patron over the course of 35 years. Possess one and you have an American Master. Rockmore’s people of The Quarter are all gone now. But that thing they did there will live forever. Source

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