Canvas of Controversy: Officer's paintings reflect city's problems

Updated: Feb. 10, 2017 at 7:56 PM CST
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FOX 8 Photo
FOX 8 Photo
Portrait of Telly Hankton (FOX 8 Photo)
Portrait of Telly Hankton (FOX 8 Photo)
Portrait on panhandling sign (FOX 8 Photo)
Portrait on panhandling sign (FOX 8 Photo)

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - NOPD Detective Charlie Hoffacker works with a team of investigators tackling high-profile crimes. They have a front row seat to the gory side of New Orleans.

But away from work…

"I can literally paint all day," he said. "Easily."

He works in solitude, channeling stress from work into art with each stroke of his paint brush. He creates thought-provoking art pieces on the city's social ills – problems he sees daily on the job. His goal is to spur dialogue to help produce resolutions.

"In my opinion, we need to get angry about the violence in our city," Hoffacker said. "We need to get passionate about it and dealing with it in different ways."

Charlie's art tackles controversial subjects but with unconventional artistic methods. Take this commentary on the tragedy of the young lives lost to New Orleans' violent crime. He took their picture from social media posts and recreated them using gun powder, brass and copper.

Then there are the series of paintings of AK-47s. It's the weapon of choice in many New Orleans killings, except here they're strung with Mardi Gras beads. It's his artistic commentary on the city's duality: a culture of violence alongside a culture of celebration.

"We have a very unique culture here, and it poses a unique set of problems," Hoffacker said. "The idea for me is to make people think about social issues specifically New Orleans."

"Forgetting about it and moving on and just having a beer and crawfish is not going to fix violence on the streets or the education problem or some of the economic problems our city is facing," Hoffacker said.

Another piece is his mugshot portrait of convicted New Orleans murderer and gang leader Telly Hankton. In keeping with his cutting-edge approach, Hoffacker composed the work using symbolic elements associated with Hankton's criminal history.

It took more than 14,000 bullet casings to create this mosaic.
"Telly Hankton chose to use the medium of violence - bullets and bullet casings being the by-products of that," Hoffacker said.

In the French Quarter, locals and visitors to the city also have an opportunity to check out Charlie's art. At the Graphite Gallery is one of his most provocative creations - the AK-47 with the Mardi Gras beads.

The gallery's owner describes them as beautiful and controversial. He said they trigger conversations on important issues that he wants tourists to think about while here.

"I want them to understand New Orleans on a deeper level than just Bourbon Street and crooked houses," gallery owner Taylor Lyon said.

In Mid-City at the Treo Bar and Gallery two of Hoffacker's pieces are prominently displayed. Some customers say his art embodies the contradictory nature of New Orleans.

"When I see the Mardi Gras beads, I think positive things," said customer Penny Curran. "When I see the AK47 – it's a part of being in New Orleans.

"I think we need more art like that for leaders of the city to face the facts on what's going on and do something about it," said customer Richard Baumy.

Back at his studio, Hoffacker's newest works include a portrait of NOPD Officer Natasha Hunter who died on the job last year, and a print from his painting of a skeleton police officer.

His works are similar to those of military veterans that give a raw perspective on war and the issues surrounding it. But it's Hoffacker's artistic approach that make his work provocative.

"This is a guy I'd see every day at Magnolia and Clio," Hoffacker said.

The faces on these crumpled cardboard pieces are those of some of the city's homeless. Hoffacker paid them $5 and $10 for each of their panhandling signs. He then painted the placards with their faces and presented the pieces last year at a local art show. Hoffacker donated some of the proceeds to services for the homeless.

"If people looked at that show and they saw all these faces staring back at them of homeless people in the city and that changed something in them, they got a little more compassion, maybe the volume of work spoke to them, then I would say that began to change people. And that was more my intent," Hoffacker said.

For this officer, it's part of his dual crime-fighting role. Except away from work, he hopes with each brush stroke that he can ignite change through his art and help stimulate solutions to the problems plaguing New Orleans.

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