Tuesday, March 22, 2011

For those who missed the TU show

Curry Shark (10x8in acrylic on canvas, 2010)

Yo. Check this shark out, he loves curry somethin' serious! He and the other two paintings in this post were featured alongside the Research On Control series, Definitions of the Self, and another work, Urban Typographic Topography (who, due to a partially reflective surface, is hard to photograph and might not make it into the digital world), at the TU gallery show last month. The 's' doesn't stand for shark, and the white handwritten text denotes a few of the ingredients from an old shark curry recipe I found once.

The Prince (20x40in acrylic and aerosol on canvas, 2011)

The Prince (detail)

This work, entitled 'The Prince' (after Machiavelli's written work that was given to Lorenzo de Medici as advice on how to attain and maintain power), is a work that came together to represent a certain set of views on the concept of ambition. The painting is made up of symbols and references to stories about ambition, and contains a fair amount of text, all of which is written in Latin. The sword above the young stag's head is a reference to the Sword of Damocles, a tale from Cicero about a man named Damocles. He is a member of a certain king's court, and he admires and envies the king's power loudly. The king, to everyone's suprise, tells Damocles that he may take the throne. Damocles is of course overjoyed and accepts. Secretly, the king hangs a large sword above the throne by a single horse's hair, liable to snap at any moment, before Damocles ascends to power. When Damocles takes the throne and looks up, he realizes the king's lesson, and the moral of the story - "Heavy is the head who wears the crown", for power and success often make you a target, and to maintain it you must be ever vigilant, and true rest may not come easily. I for one don't take this as a warning against achieving success, but more advice getting one ready for the things that come with it. The crown floating just above the stag's head is a symbol of the power and success he chases - a young buck ready to fight for dominance of the herd and become the king, the trophy of the pack, and thus the target for every other stag in the herd, not to mention the hunters in the forest. As the stag gets closer to his goal, the crown, the danger of the sword becomes ever more relevant.

I chose to write the text in this work in Latin because I wanted to show how old of an idea this is, and also to some degree how esoteric. Like Latin these ruminations on ambition are ancient, and oft forgotten or mistranslated. On the sword is written 'mea maxima culpa', which translates literally to 'my greatest mistake'. This is what hangs over all of our heads, the one great mis-step we might make to send us tumbling down off of our achievements and rid us of our glories. Written all over the stag's body is 'vivat rex' which translates loosely to 'God save the king'. Between the stag's head and the crown is written the phrase 'ambitio virtute' which means the power or potential of ambition, the force drawing the young stag towards the crown, his audacious goal. The definition of himself that he carries written on his back is 'nemo tam ambitiosus', loosley 'no-one so ambitious'. This work means a lot to me, especially considering the struggles I have going on in my family life at the moment, thus the laborious explanation and somewhat tangled concept. It took a long time to paint - I had to brush up on some deer anatomy, and also partway through the piece I made a big mistake (a maxima culpa of sorts I guess) and had to restart from scratch, background included, which was pretty humbling. Actually, you'll get to see the whole process soon as the documentary that was filmed about me getting ready for the gallery show is almost done!

Military Intelligence (12x9in acrylic on canvas, 2010)

This is a painting I did late last year about war and is an attempt to express the cloudiness of boundaries, the fuzzy thinking and deceptive logic, and the confused and too often uninformed decisions that are made which cost millions of people their lives to the violence of war. I didn't mean this to be a condemnation of the military, which some people have taken it as, but as an attempt to illustrate the convoluted cycle of information and intelligence in war and its consequences, but I'm not sure I was successful - I think there are conceptual and compositional choices that could have been made more strongly, and the concept is perhaps too big for a painting that small, at least for me.

Poster and flyers for 5 Artists 1 Love show this year (never found out who designed them)

So, with the 5 artists 1 love show done, I've been keeping my focus on school, the documentary, and a couple side projects with friends, and getting ready for the next big event, which is Artwalk later this summer. I'm also thinking of applying to another local festival which is coming up called Nextfest, which could be a dope opportunity to show the work and try to communicate to a broader audience. Ok, well I'm out, so to once again take a page out of my homie Jarett's book, here's a link to your unrelated song of the day - right now life is giving me a couple lemons, and ain't nothin' make lemonade like some hiphop music, so peep this Atmosphere song.

Friday, March 18, 2011

ROC 5 detail

Research On Control #5 (detail)

Research On Control #5 (20x30in aerosol, acrylic and Krink, 2011)

Whattup? Here's a detail shot of ROC 5 and then the whole work for reference. This is the newest installment of the ROC series and I was happy to get the chance to show it at the TU gallery last month. One thing thats been inspiring me lately is a quote from Gary Busey, I saw it on that show Entourage one time. He says "Art is only research, it is not the final form." Brilliant.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Definitions of the Self

Definitions of the Self (12x12in acrylic on canvas, 2011)

Yo! I'm back this week to show and explain the concept behind one of the works I showed at the TU gallery last month, 'Definitions of the Self' (click the photo to see it big). I'm proud of this piece because it communicates, which is what I've been striving for. When I found out that I had been invited to be part of the 5 Artists 1 Love show, the only restriction on content put forth by the curator, Darren W Jordan, was that each featured artist submit one 12x12 piece inspired by the words 'Black People', since the show was in February, which is Black History Month. To me, the phrase 'Black People' is a complicated one - it is used all the time in media and pop culture to describe a specific group of people, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't know exactly who that group was. Which is more relevant to membership within the group, the darkness of one's skin or how quickly someone can trace their ancestry to Africa or the Caribbean? Are albinos born in Africa still considered black? And importantly, who gets to decide what's 'Black' and what's not?

It seems to me that there are a lot of people attempting to define the group called 'Black People', and since I am counted within this group, I am especially curious about how it is defined in popular media, as these popular views are reflected on me, and have powerful impact on how others perceive me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how potent this topic was. The work I created for the event was based on these ideas. I chose to use strong symbols because I believe they have a gravity that is appropriate for the weighty nature of the message. In the background, I first scrawled some racial slurs specific to Black people, then covered it over with white paint. These were and are used by some to define Black people, but where I'm from, these phrases have mostly been left to the past, although subtler and sometimes more dangerous forms of racism definitely still exist.

I then carefully scrawled the Oxford English Dictionary (6th Edition) definition of the word 'Black' onto the background. Dictionaries are usually seen as the official source for the definition of a word, and thus hold a lot of power in their ability to decide the semantics of, or 'shape of meaning' of any given word. Malcom X, a very important figure in the ongoing battle to define the qualities of Black people as a group, read the dictionary while he was incarcerated because he wanted to get educated. He came across the definition of the word 'Black' and was shocked when he realized the depth and power of the semantics involved. 'Black' is a word identified, according to the O.E.D. 6th Edition, as being associated in some form or another with 'distress', 'despair', 'anger or hatred', as well as being used to describe a specific group of people. Some may attempt to explain this away by saying these different definitions are not associated because they are used separately in different contexts, but Malcom X knew that this ambiguous definition had much impact on the perception (and self-perception) of Black people, and that these separate definitions had a subtle way of bleeding into one another. I tried to illustrate this through the way the letters connect to each other, pulling each other around the page, creating pockets of seemingly unrelated text, and making the definitions increasingly difficult to read as separate articles. I made a few small changes as well – I reversed the order of two of the articles in the definition for emphasis, and I changed the spelling of the word 'Coffee' to 'Coffy' in order to reference the movie I took the Pam Grier image from.

The final layer I painted, the two figures in the foreground facing off with shotguns, is a heated battle to define 'Black People' as a group. On the left is Pam Grier, famed Hollywood actress who first made her name by doing a series of influential Blaxpoitation movies. Blaxpoitation as a genre is important because it was really the first time in mainstream media where movies were being made largely by Black actors, directors, and producers for Black audiences, and thus had a huge influence on the popular perceptions of Black people, both within and outside the group. Black people were, for the first time, being cast as people in positions of power – taking control of their situations, defeating whatever oppressor was cast, and often dealing out heavy doses of social justice along the way, 'Coffy' being one example. Pam was primarily cast as a strong female lead throughout her career, and had a lot to do with defining Black women in the popular eye.

On the right, the other character with a shotgun is pulled from an old Warner Brothers cartoon called 'All That and Rabbit Stew', which apparently has been discontinued and largely covered up by Warner Brothers, although finding a clip from the cartoon is as easy as visiting Youtube. This character is an example of 'Sambo' style depictions of Black people - they have pale palms and their lips are light and massively oversized. This cartooning style has been used in the past to ridicule and denigrate Black people in popular media, and thus also played an important role in the definition of this group. After doing some research, I chose this particular example of Sambo caricature to add another layer of meaning because I found out that this character was inspired by Stepin Fetchit. This was the stage name of Lincoln Perry, who happened to be the first Black actor to get screen credit, as well as the first to make a million dollars, all from playing stereotypical roles of servitude and ineptitude to a largely white audience. There is some argument about whether he played these roles over-the-top with ironic intent, which complicates the symbol in an interesting way.

In the end, I'm trying with this piece to show that any group, not just Black people, has forces from the outside and within all struggling with one another for the power to define the group for themselves, and not have another's definition imposed upon them, because this definition of self is the basis of how we interact with one another and with society as a greater whole. 'Nah mean? Word. Thanks for stickin around, and hopefully I wasn't too long winded with this one - it's a complicated issue, and I'm still working on getting it figured out myself. Check back soon for the next unrevealed pieces from the TU gallery show!! Addendum: Peep this poignant song/video on a similar topic - it's called Brothers by Canadian rapper Shad, who is a genius.