Renowned New Orleans artist Henry Casselli created the official Mardi Gras proclamation for the 2023 Rex Parade. The Rex poster is a beautiful addition to Casselli’s portfolio of portraits, which includes a U.S. President, Marines in combat, a boxing legend, astronauts and ordinary people.
capturing the essence of a person
“It’s not just painting the surface. It’s going real deep inside the person,” Casselli explains. He takes his watercolor portraits beyond the anatomy of a figure. Casselli tells me he’s more interested in the emotion that’s in a portrait.
Henry casselli’s rex creation featured on tv
Henry casselli’s rex portrait of a horse
The theme of the 2023 Rex parade is Palio di Siena, a carnival-like horse race through the streets of the Italian city of Siena. Casselli created a number of sketches of horses and their riders. His favorite, and the image he painted with watercolors for the proclamation, shows a single horse draped with a Rex blanket. “What I wanted was a dramatic image,” Casselli explained. The poster is available for sale in limited quantities by the Rex organization. Click here to purchase.
called to serve
Casselli grew up in the racially-mixed Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans. And his watercolors reflect the neighbors he met growing up. From a young girl he called “Crow”, to a man he watched sit on his porch and listen to Dodger baseball games on the radio.
Casselli recalls that as he was celebrating his 19th birthday, he saw a picture in Life Magazine that changed his life. “There was a photo of a Marine,” Casselli explained. “And the caption was Marine spends 19th birthday in the jungles of Vietnam.” And that image pushed Casselli to enlist in the Marine Corps as a combat artist. “I’m here having fun and he’s there. I’ve gotta do something to record this.” He ended up on the front lines in Vietnam creating combat sketches of his fellow Marines in 1968.
from the white house to shuttle launches
Casselli painted the official White House portrait of President Ronald Reagan. He recalls spending several days with the President in the Oval Office, “I asked his Chief of Staff to please ask the President not to speak with me while I’m sketching today, because I have to listen to him and answer and it breaks my concentration.” The request didn’t stop President Reagan from chatting, Casselli said. “It was very, very informal. It was just really, really wonderful.”
Casselli’s work as a Marine combat artist got the attention of NASA during the Space Shuttle program. He spent time at the Cape Kennedy Space Center as astronauts made their final preparations for launch. One of his paintings was an emotional portrait of astronaut John Glenn before his second journey into space at the age of 77. Glenn appears with his head bowed and eyes closed in the painting. “I saw it as the old general right before the battle with his head in prayer, thinking about what was ahead,” Casselli explained.
View more of Henry Casselli’s art on his website: Henry Casselli Homepage
Loved the article/segment about the talented kid from the 9th ward. And I absolutely love the Rex proclamation. Thank You!!
Claudia Arceneaux Jaggers
Congratulations to Henry Casselli, with whom I was a classmate and friend at the John McCrady Art School. Disappointed I didn’t get to see Henry when I was with Gary Goodwin, founder of The McCrady Project on Facebook, when I was in NOLA last spring. I do miss the city, especially since I live in Northern Pennsylvania now. When I play my CD of Satchmo singing, “Don’t you know what it means to miss New Orleans” I become homesick and nostalgia makes me misty-eyed. It was a good article, Dave McNamara, and I look forward to reading more that you’ve written. or will write.