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The most vivid memory New Orleans artist-illustrator Alan Gerson has of his three years as a practicing lawyer is lying in the bathtub each morning with a washcloth over his face, summoning the strength to face the coming day. He says he would lie there wishing that the few minutes in the tub would turn into hours so he wouldn’t have to don his Brooks Brothers suit, adjust his necktie, and go forth into the legal world. That told him practicing law was not for him. “When you become a lawyer, you think you’re going to be the boss of your life,” says Gerson, who was scheduled to speak at the Miami International Book Fair earlier this month. “But it ends up everybody has a slice of your life,” he says in an interview with the Miami Daily Business Review. Instead of staying in law and getting more depressed, Gerson found inspiration for his art, a lifelong passion. He began working on watercolor illustrations satirizing lawyers, judges, jurors and the overall legal experience. His work was recently published in a book, “Habeas Circus” (NewSouth Books). His paintings depict the legal system as a crazy stick-figure circus, with lawyers and judges as beady-eyed, grimacing clowns wielding fountain pens like weapons and wearing robes and ties that look like armor. Gerson enrolled in Tulane University Law School in 1986 at the relatively late age of 36, when, he says, he was “old enough to know better.” At the time he was making a living selling oil and acrylic paintings and working as an arts administrator. He attributes his decision to go from artist to attorney to early mid-life crisis and peer pressure. “Everybody I knew said I should go to law school,” says Gerson, now 49. Gerson found the law a good fit at first, working his way to the top quarter of his law class. After graduation, in 1989, he joined a prominent New Orleans law firm and began practicing labor law. But he found law a very quotidian business, in contrast to his grand vision of fighting for justice and challenging the establishment. “If anyone is interested in being a lawyer, my advice is to go to a law firm and actually see what lawyers do,” Gerson says. “It’s definitely not ‘LA Law’.” When he left practice in 1992, Gerson began painting the watercolors of “Habeas Circus.” He was encouraged when former colleagues and lawyer friends began buying his pieces. In fact, Tulane purchased 10 originals, which now hang on the walls of the law school. Some of the originals of the paintings in his book, which are small in scale, are displayed at the LeMieux Gallery in New Orleans, where they sell for around $600. He continues to work on his more serious oil and acrylic panels, which have been shown in galleries in New York. His watercolors have a simplistic quality, a cross between Gary Larson’s “The Far Side” cartoons and the drawings of a gifted, hyperactive child. He portrays a wicked-looking Jack-in-the-box dressed in a power suit and dangling on a spring, briefcase in hand. There’s a helmet-haired litigator clenching her teeth and slicing a table with stiletto fingernails. In other pieces, Satan takes the witness stand, Santa Claus testifies before a jury of elves, and a judge laughs viciously in chambers beneath his collection of mounted attorneys’ heads. In a painting titled “Attorney Client Relationship,” a delirious-looking fat lady rides piggyback on a hunched attorney. Gerson describes his work as having a “primitive and magical surrealist” quality, with a bite of sarcasm. As influences, he cites New Yorker magazine illustrator Saul Steinberg and 19th century French satirist Honore Daumier. “There are rules and ways of doing things in the legal world that don’t always follow common sense logic,” Gerson says. “It’s almost like a legal wonderland.”

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