Rolland Golden’s 2007 opus, The Spirit Returns, echoes both the trauma and the resilience of New Orleans, perhaps the brightest and most culturally complicated city in the United States. By delineating the buoyant mood of a traditional second line in bold and exacting colors and marrying the characters thereof with the specter of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and aftermath, Golden succeeds in presenting a liminal visual text rife with the dichotomy of tragedy and recovery.
The Spirit Returns depicts a scene to which many New Orleanians, as well as those personally unaffected by Katrina, may relate. Joy radiates from many of the painting’s subjects as they strut to the music of the Olympia Brass Band, yet some figures appear introspective or downright pensive. Golden captured on a single canvas the range of moods and emotions present in survivors in the days and years following the storm, illustrating that—despite the positive messages scrawled on some of the umbrellas held by the revelers—healing is not complete.
Once-stalwart homes stand broken and defeated behind the second line, their shingles missing, windows knocked out like boxers’ teeth, muddied flood lines scarring wooden siding. They are roughed up, yet still they stand, a metaphor for the people of the Crescent City. Above the second line and the wreckage, ghostly figures of rescue efforts and stranded residents recall the chaos and misery of the time immediately following Katrina, yet the mood of the painting overall is one of hope and return. The eye lines created by the houses’ roofs and the concrete overpass compel the observer to double back to the jubilance of the second line—a rite that reinforces the spirit of an irrepressible people in an unsinkable city.
Citation 1: 
2007; acrylic on canvas
Citation 2: 
by Rolland Golden
Accession #: 
acquisition made possible by the Diana Helis Henry Art Fund of The Helis Foundation; joint ownership with the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Fund, 2008.0109.11
Heather Szafran, Reference Assistant