Daryl Triplett believes God created him to create, and he declares that the scenery around him inspires him to keep going. “I get up in the morning and just know I’m here and that He gave me another day and allowed me to see all of these things and experience them.”
written by / STARLA GATSON
photography by / KELLY MOORE CLARK
The first sliver of sunlight peeks over the horizon and bits of yellow-orange light cut through the dark sky. After a night of sleep, the birds stretch out their wings to flit about and open their mouths to chirp and sing songs to one another.
For many, these symbols of a new day, while beautiful, are shrugged off or dismissed as one of life’s mundane occurrences. But Daryl Triplett sees things a bit differently. For him, these sights that often go unnoticed or unappreciated serve as reminders that he is still here for a purpose.
Triplett believes God created him to create, and he declares that the scenery around him inspires him to keep going. “I get up in the morning and just know I’m here and that He gave me another day and allowed me to see all of these things and experience them.”
The Uptown New Orleans native makes it fairly obvious that much of his inspiration comes from nature, or “the unexplainable scenery that God provides us with every day.” But, he says, his drawings and paintings also come from a desire to tell the stories of the people, places, and things that shaped his life. The concept of telling stories of his upbringing and Louisiana culture shows up in some of the Monroe resident’s most widely recognized work, including the game program for the twentieth annual Bayou Classic football game and a piece celebrating the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl victory.
“I can go back and work on a painting, and I remember skating on Christmas morning, riding bicycles with friends in the neighborhood, playing basketball, playing football, singing on the corner, dancing on the corner,” he explains. “All these things that we experienced, and they come out sometimes in my artwork. It actually becomes a nostalgic representation of my life and those who grew up around me.”
Triplett’s upbringing in Pigeon Town, a neighborhood in the Big Easy, not only gave him plenty to paint and draw about but makes the root of his passion for art abundantly clear. “The music, the culture as it related to Mardi Gras and parading was embedded in us; we saw it every day. And we heard it just about every day,” he says. The work he produces is heavily influenced by the sights and sounds of his childhood, from riding into the French Quarter on field trips with his elementary school to hearing the trumpets at Satchmo’s second-line memorial service blaring from a few blocks over.
Just as any large city does, growing up in New Orleans presented its own set of challenges, but Triplett explains culture held them together. “We always overcame whatever obstacles were in our way; we did that through art.”
The “we” to which he refers extends not only to his siblings, most of which are also artists or musicians, but also to the other residents of his neighborhood. “You had a lot of talented people in that neighborhood,” he recalls. “A few went to Hollywood, a few went to college on athletic scholarships, and some became artists. A lot of them became musicians.”
espite discovering his talent and love for drawing at an early age and receiving a quality art education at West Jefferson High School, Triplett wasn’t heading off to a prestigious art school post-graduation. Instead, he was in the camp of Pigeon Town residents who were on their way to college on athletic scholarships, and at age 17, he wound up at Highland Community College in northern Kansas to play football. After just one year at the institution, Triplett made the move to a junior college in the southern portion of the state to continue playing football, where he stayed until a serious injury sent him back to New Orleans after his sophomore year.
The injury that temporarily pulled him away from football, however, pushed him back to his first love: art. “That kind of hampered me for about a year as relates to my physical being,” Triplett says of his injury. “But I was still able to pick up a pencil and draw.” He was determined to create, he explains, and recalls, “I took an art class, and the art instructor told me that I probably need to drop the class because I couldn’t hold the pencil or brush in my right arm. I turned around and told him, ‘Well, I got another arm.’ I painted that whole semester with my left hand.” That post-injury determination taught Triplett a lesson he still carries today: “I can do something — we can all do something, for that matter — if we just try.”
Though Triplett’s injury effectively ended his Kansas football days, his athletic career was not yet over. Once healed, he took to the field again, only this time sporting the black and gold stripes of a Grambling State University Tiger. Spending the last two years of his college career at GSU would not only allow the then-marketing major the opportunity to play under the leadership of and learn from legendary coach Eddie Robinson, but it would also put him on a path that would lead straight to art.
“I started out in marketing, and I wasn’t quite sure if I really wanted to do that,” he remembers of his time in Grambling. “I did eventually change my mind and went back to what I knew best. That was art.”
When he walked across the stage on graduation day in 1986, Triplett received a Bachelor’s degree in art education and two years later earned a Master of Humanities degree. Immediately after graduation, he began his teaching career in a GSU classroom, but his employment there was short-lived, lasting only a semester. When a position as a talented art instructor opened in the Monroe City school system, Triplett headed down I-20 and made himself at home in Ouachita parish.
Triplett’s more than 30 years teaching in Monroe’s schools — plus the hours he put in as an instructor at Louisiana Delta Community College from 2007 until his retirement — were, of course, spent sharing his knowledge with the world’s future artists and art educators, but just as any good teacher does, he admits he learned a lesson or two from his students, too. “I was amazed at the things they could create, especially the younger kids,” he says. “As a teacher, it’s amazing to see some of the creativity coming from these young people. We take some of that stuff with us when we go back to our canvas. They influenced me in many different ways. It’s the younger generation that’s going to keep this thing going anyway.”
Per the advice one of his supervisors gave him at the beginning of his career — to always work on his skills — Triplett’s time outside of the classroom was spent sharpening his craft. He says his retirement from teaching in 2019 plus the COVID-19-induced quarantine period the following year gave him even more time to learn and grow as an artist. And though he no longer does so from a classroom, Triplett continues to teach, working with children as often as he can and mentoring former students that have gone on to pursue art careers of their own. And, of course, he creates his own pieces because as long as he experiences nature at work, he will be, too, he says.
Besides nature and the culture and events he experienced personally, Triplett is influenced by stories of those of the people who came before him. He often reaches into the past to pull out a piece of history that may have previously been forgotten but is significant nonetheless, and tells its story on a canvas in his own words. “When I traveled over to Europe two years ago and I studied master artists in seven different countries, I realized that every artist that I studied and observed painted or drew their history in the forms that they were taught,” he says. “And I do that from time to time. A lot of times, it’s not being taught in schools because sometimes people just don’t want to know the truth. But artists, we’re going to tell it anyway.”
Triplett’s current project, a series on Buffalo Soldiers — the black soldiers who fought and died for the United States in the Civil War — echoes his sentiment of “telling it anyway” and aligns with the idea of telling a story that, though not personal to the artist, is still impactful. But, Triplett says, “telling it anyway” doesn’t just apply when an artist is depicting a piece of history; it’s vital any time one wants to create a piece that conveys a message, whether the painting is politically charged or simply informative. “Art has always been the means by which artists tell their stories,” he explains. “And they express their feelings and emotions through art. Art is what sustains us on a daily basis. That’s why states and nations all over the planet promote art and culture: because that’s life.”
Art speaks, he says, and it’s up to the artist to decide how the message is conveyed. “What we hear and see has an impact on us, whether that’s negative or positive. And it’s up to an artist like myself to ask, ‘how am I going to approach whatever subject matter is out there?’”
The New Orleans-raised artist says he hopes to educate, enlighten, and encourage daily. “My prayer every day is to put a smile on somebody’s face, to make the world better,” he says. “When you talk to anybody, you want to talk to them in terms of ‘I am helping you, and it should never become about me.’ I’m just Daryl Triplett; I’m a vessel.”
The vessel says his only real goal is to positively impact humanity. Any others, he says, can quickly become nothing more than limits. “When you’re reaching for a goal, it limits the possibilities where you can go,” says Triplett. “For example, I was watching the national championship basketball game with Baylor, and I’m sure that coach for Baylor said, ‘We’re going to win a national championship.’ That was the goal. So, my question to him is, ‘What do you do?” You quit now? You accomplish your goal — you won a championship in 2021 — is that it? No!”
From this artist’s perspective, goals can be limiting, but that doesn’t mean Triplett wanders around painting and drawing aimlessly. He instead chooses to focus on purpose. “My purpose every day is to just get better. To be the best artist that I can be. Every day is a challenge; every day, you should be shooting for something better,” he says.
And shoot for the better he does as he continues developing his craft everyday. And that’s what he will keep doing, so long as the songs of the birds and the sights of the blooming flowers keep reminding him to create.