Say oui! Twist artist Simon stars in a new book

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO)- For a man who doesn't consider himself an "artist," Simon Hardeveld is a very good one- and very much in demand.  Now the popular local artist, with a growing national following, is the subject of a new book, "Simon of New Orleans."

Written by Yvonne Perret, photographed by Paul Perret, and published by River Road Press, the book is the biography of a man who has endeared himself to New Orleans with his colorful and cheerful paintings.  It's the story of an accidental artist who came to the city in 1996 as a classically-trained French chef, only to discover that the hand-painted signs he made to advertise the daily specials were more popular with customers than his food.

Twenty years later, Simon still can't  bring himself to say that what he creates, is art. "I do what sells," he says simply, " I use what people want."   True, Simon will dig around in trash cans to find the kind of junk his fans want,  but what he does with that junk is remarkable.

Green Heineken beer caps strung together become a twisting snake.  The spokes of a bicycle wheel become the hands of a clock, under the words: "It must be 5 o'clock somewhere."   Even a five foot- tall oil can is transformed -- with white enamel paint, an orange nose, and a top hat-- into a rare Louisiana snowman.

But it's Simon's signs, with whimsical messages for every occasion, that are the most popular pieces he makes.  So many requests for signs pour in daily that Simon regretfully admits that a commission he receives today, may take more than a year to fulfill.  Restaurants, bars, law offices, marketing companies-- and yes, WGNO's "News With a Twist" studio, are adorned with Simon's crazy melange of French, English, and the local "who dat" vernacular.

"Neaux Parking" reads the sign in a local driveway; "Dat Way" points restaurant customers to the front door;  and  "Namaste Y'all" is framed in a Magazine Street coffee shop.

Of all his commissioned work, Simon credits "News With a Twist" for most of his success so far.  In 2010, WGNO-TV Vice President and General Manager John Cruse commissioned Simon to "twist" a simple wooden bar and small stage area into a funky neighborhood hangout.   When viewers saw the finished studio and the billboards promoting the show around town, Simon says they began to call him, "asking to buy the Twist bar!" The new book devotes an entire chapter to Simon's ongoing work with "News With a Twist."

Simon says he's happy about the book-- happy he laughs, "for the people who've bought (his) art over the last 20 years," because now they'll know "they didn't waste their money."

And the future?

" I really don't know," he shrugs.  "I live for today.  I paint for today.  So I can sell tomorrow. That's it."

To which we say, way to geaux Simon!