In The Studio #90

 Photo is of Leroy Foster. The piece is called Martini Marti (Self Portrait), 1945. from the collection of Patrick Burton.

When I started this post, the studio was literally been abuzz with activity for weeks in preparation for the Mighty Real Queer Detroit show. I’ve spent long hours painting framing boxing and pumping out promo material to get everything ready. While Detroit has been ever present in my mind it has been work for this Bethlehem House Gallery show taking place mid-June, that’s really scaring me. I always try to stay ambitious in what I say I can do, preferring to bite off more than I can chew rather than be too cautious with my output. I’m not exactly sure if this is wise as I end up often with loads of inventory. I think I go after this approach because I have so many styles of work I create in, and I never want it to be said I didn’t have what someone was looking for. 

Here’s a beautiful billboard I saw recently in Old Town Philly while doing a promo event for the Black Music City Juneteenth Event.

I’ve been working on 5 distinct bodies of work these past few weeks. They include a two-piece painting set I call “Bensalem Post”, a 4-part series of pieces I’m calling “Iwin Igi”; and three landscape or botanical works, “Flowers by Chuck”, “Tyrone Goes to the Capital” and “Big Sky Valley”. All this work needs to be more-or-less done by the end of June. I’m insane to attempt all this, but the personal sacrifice will be worth it in the end. 

“Bensalem Post” is a set of two pieces that are meant as another re-tooling of an earlier series from the early 2000’s, much like my recent “Adjusted for Inflation” series. I made these works in reverse order. The second piece in the series came to me first the beginning of May, and I finished the first work mid-month. The original series, called “The Bensalem Set”, was my nerdy attempt to explore one of my favorite fictional works, Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis. In this story, Bacon has British sailors stumbling on this South Pacific Island that just so happens to house a lost tribe of Israel, the Bensalemites. These Bensalemites, show the sailors the amazing wonders of the island, as a way of demonstrating their heaven-on-earth perfection. This depiction of utopia is one of the first written in English and I used it as a source of inspiration to create a visual story detailing the wonders that might be found in Bensalem. The first two works in the Bensalem Set series sold some years ago, so in freshening up this series I wanted to focus on the prostrating ephemera and fiery energies I imagined on this Island. These adjusted works are displayed as postage stamps from Bensalem, thus the name. I wove bisecting lines throughout both pieces in keeping with the way that I create works these days, tape being such a critical element in my style today. 

“Iwin Igi” translate from the Yoruba to something like ghost or spirit tree. The series came to me about a month ago back when I was thinking what happens to the black spirits or souls left behind after a lynching. I thought it might be fun to imagine these spirits getting transformed by the loathsome act of being lynched into benevolent spirits or genies that grant wishes to the wise who do good in the world. I’ve made two works in this set and so far. They both feel like a teen gay boy channeling Lil’ Nas X, which I love as I never had a real teenage gay adolescence. I’m so excited that while in Detroit I discovered the work of Leroy Foster thanks to the curator of the Mighty Real Queer Detroit show, Patrick Burton. Patrick owns this beautiful photo of Foster in drag as Martini Marti which I plan to create a stencil drawing of for my next Iwin Igi work. I’m so excited to make that work now. I’m sure it will be the penultimate work of the 4-part set 

“Flowers by Chuck” and “Tyrone goes to the Capital” are two series that feel perpetually in neutral in my studio output. I think that really reflects where the energy is in my practice, and I’m okay with that. The “Capital” series only has one piece left in the set to complete, while the “Flowers” pieces are just in their under-drawing phase. The studio tells you sometimes where the energy needs to go, so I’m listening. Perhaps, on my residency I will have the time to focus on these works since it won’t take me long to pop them off.

The big landscape works I’m gearing up for in June are my two 40 x 40-inch commission works for clients out in Wisconsin. I feel so lucky that I got this commission from Integrated Art Group out of Madison Wisconsin. They’ve been so good to me over the years and I’m so thankful for their continued support. The pieces they asked me to create are just past the secret painting phase in my process and are ready for the under-drawing step, which I plan on doing in early June. The clients would like the finished work by the end of June, which I think is a doable but tall order. Originally, they wanted the works in August. It’s kind of thrilling to be under the gun like this but also scary because the nervousness often leads to procrastination. Fortunately, the other side of my fee is on the other side of two completed works which is a great motivator. The whole experience makes me feel like an undergrad.  What’s interesting about the two pieces compositionally for me is that they are essentially excuses to create dramatic sky paintings. I’ve in the past struggled or at least noticed that I have a predilection towards dramatic sky’s in my latest few works like in the “Sighting MLK” pieces for example. I many of my landscape I make sure that the pieces are at least half sky and half landscape. This division forces me to find something interesting and unique in the land portion of the paintings. With these commissioned works, which I’m calling “Big Sky Valley”, the pieces are like 70% sky. I make no real attempts to create a balanced work, which represents a big leap in confidence regarding the subject matter I represent. 

Here are the drawings I’m using for the Big Sky Valley duet of paintings

Artists often live with what I call a negative chorus in their heads. My negative chorus is very loud and insistent. I often find that I’m reacting more to my own projections than to a real situation. I’d like to think this represent a Libra-nature. I’m often balancing various considerations simultaneously, making my decisions very jerky. I lurch from one consideration to another after way too much plotting and contemplation. That’s why I love love love deadlines. I often tell people, give me a deadline so I can freak out, procrastinate, strategize, and execute a project, somewhat on a schedule. It’s not the kindest process to my metal stability, but it works and have led to the limited measure of success I’ve achieved lately so as they say if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’ve been all over the place musically this last month since I last posted, as per usual. I love that I have an eclectic appreciation. It really does filter down into the work too. I’ve been listening to a lot of dance music. I think it being Pride month has a lot to do with that. I also consumed the new Kendrick Lamar CD. I love this latest recording from Kendrick. Its very emotional and raw. I love it when black men feel free to express their emotional range. Black folk are often raised to suppress their pain and just bare it, I know that was my experience. This new CD is as I said very raw, and actually kind of uneven; but it still works and a compellation. I mentioned a few months back, how I really like records that function as traditional records did, working as a whole piece rather than a collection of hits. This CD does that with gusto. My favorite track and theme of the summer is “Count Me Out”. 

From the dance music zone, I’ve been listening to a lot of Teena Marie and especially Taana Gardner. I can listen to “When You Touch Me” all day repeatedly. I have my buddy Al Johnson, to thank for reintroducing me to Taana. She’s mostly famous for “Heartbeat”, but I think that’s not one of my favorites. Anyway, here are these two tracks as YouTube videos. 

When I began this post, I was in the middle of my preparations for the Mighty Real Queer Detroit show and as I end it now, I’m in the middle of said exhibit. It’s been a real roller coaster these past few weeks. I’ve meet so many excellent people and seen so much art. It’s been overwhelming and inspiring. My great take away from the experience has been that there is so much art out there and so many people hungry to support artists in their endeavors, especially here in Detroit. I’m so looking forward to the remainder of this show in Detroit and extremely eager to get back in the studio to do more work. Seeing excellent and dedicated artists fuels my creative competitive instincts, so over the next few weeks up till Vermont, I anticipate I will create at least a half dozen works in response to what I’ve seen lately. I’d like to speak on my experiences here In Detroit more completely in my next post. Until then do be well. 

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