HOW HAS YOUR BACKGROUND AFFECTED YOUR LIFE/ WORK?
My background has certainly affected me in countless ways, but I feel that one of the most important things about my background that enabled me to become an artist and to do the kind of work that I do is the fact that I had two parents who respected, understood and nurtured the creative impulse that they recognized in me at a very early age (3 years old).
My mother was raised Catholic and my father was raised Baptist, but neither were very religious and neither attended church in their adulthood, although my father started later in life and continues to do so. Instead they would occasionally speak of “God”, but were careful to never define the concept of a “higher being” in narrow terms. My sister and I would occasionally attend church with our paternal and maternal grandmothers, but were never forced to go. As a result I developed an open mind and an acceptance of different religions as I was growing up.
Because of that early freedom to question and explore, I was very receptive to African and African-influenced Diasporic religious belief systems as I started to encounter them though objects I’d seen in museums, travel or books that I’d come across. The things I’ve seen, experienced and read about have continued to inspire many bodies of work over the past several years.
A few years ago I realized that part of the reason that I have been able to stay relatively sane through the political and social upheavals of the past several years that have culminated in a man who openly embraces hate being elected president, is that the spiritual beliefs of my ancestors have provided the grounding I need to be self-propelled and to not get caught up in how others perceive me or try to define who I am trough their perceptions. I know who I am and what I come from and that firm sense of identity helps me to stay focused as I navigate this theatre of the absurd that this country has become. I see myself reflected in the spirits that carried my ancestors and in that I find strength and purpose.
In thinking about my personal relationship African Diasporic spiritual beliefs and how they have enriched my work and my basic sense of well being, I often wonder what would happen in black communities if there were a sudden shift away from the Euro-Christian beliefs to spiritual belief systems where we are seen as beautiful and powerful.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU (UPCOMING PROJECTS)?
Recently, I was challenged by a well-known abstract painter to create a body of abstract paintings after he saw some abstract qualities in my realism-based paintings. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I accepted, so currently I am in my studio battling it out with my work. This is not an easy challenge as painting abstractly is more difficult than people think it is. Each day after I get done painting I feel like I’ve been beaten up, but the next day I turn on the music and go back in as the process of trying to work out of my comfort zone as been rewarding. The way see it, even if I end up falling flat on my face I will have learned a great deal more about my relationship to paint and the way I approach a painting will be forever changed. This project is making me grow and evolve. The paintings will be shown n the artist’s Chelsea studio towards the end of May.
Photo by: José Manuel Girona