While traveling from one book signing to the next, Robert Dafford and Philip Gould chime in with emailed and cell-phoned responses to my questions. The two share driving time, lunch breaks and attended signings at all hours of the day and evening. Amid their hectic itinerary, both are able to contribute to this review over speakerphone. Gould even fulfills my request to snap a “selfie” of the duo with Robert at the wheel.
Dafford and Gould pull away from UL Lafayette in mid-November with boxes and boxes of The Public Art of Robert Dafford, photographed and written by Gould. They embark on 2,000 miles of road travel, attending book signings and interviews at venues between Louisiana and Ohio, meandering through West Virginia and Kentucky, and stopping in Vicksburg, Miss., before returning home to Lafayette.
One must keep in mind, though, that this book is no biography, and this is no biography tour; it is “a portrayal of the breadth and extent of [Dafford’s] work,” explains Gould.
Robert Dafford has been making murals for public and private spaces over the last four decades. Greater than 400 pieces exist and are maintained throughout the United States and Europe, some painted along walls of cities that line rivers while others dress intimate spaces of private homes. Gould included 200 of Dafford’s murals in this publication with complementary text. He makes a point to include the communities and spaces each of Dafford’s paintings inhabit, as the murals reflect Dafford’s vision of these environments.
One piece in this beautifully laid out collection, “Tourmelin Dream” (Gould 188), was painted in the home of Guy and Becky Owens of Lafayette. The viewer will find Clifton Chenier, Dewey and Will Balfa, and others paddling into ethereal light along a dense bayou and into the depths of fantastical facets. Dafford considers the revered musicians depicted in this painting “heroes,” musicians of the past and of the present.
Dafford isn’t alone in his mural painting, as a fortunate few have been closely involved with his process. Doug Dafford, Robert’s brother, worked on the murals for many years until his death eight years ago. Jason Brake, Brett Chigoy, Benny Graeff and Herb Roe are key painters who have given life to these montages of historical imagery that lean successfully toward the surreal.
Dafford is very passionate about community. “I am honored that UL Press selected me as an important Louisiana artist, as that identity is always foremost in my introductions and presence in a new community,” he says. “And particularly, I am proud of being from Lafayette. ... We often have the opportunity to cook for our hosts, bring Louisiana souvenirs and promote our home wherever we go.”
This collection serves as “something for my friends at home, especially,” clarifies Dafford. He wants to share a good sampling of close to half his murals to this day with those who may have missed a few (or more) of his 400 pieces. The Public Art of Robert Dafford is a testament to the magnificent work of the highly respected local painter/muralist and exceptional local photographer, Gould; it is the kind of book to hold on to, in anticipation of the next collection.
Dafford’s schedule is already filling for the next year, as he’s planning murals in Metairie, Abbeville and a few in Lafayette; others are in the works. There is also a documentary about Dafford’s floodwall mural project in Portsmouth, Ohio, Beyond These Walls: Building Community Through Public Art. It has shown on Ohio’s public broadcasting network and will be airing on our own LPB Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. during Winterfest, LPB’s membership campaign.
The Public Art of Robert Dafford by Philip Gould, $49.95, is available for purchase through the UL Press (webpage at www.ulpress.org) at these locations: UL Lafayette, Edith Garland Dupré Library, 3rd floor, Room 321; Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.