Surreal? Real? Perception is Reality.
What is your inspiration?
Life. From the moment I wake up, I'm inspired...if I can actually realize my eyes are actually open. (laughs). My inspiration comes from the understanding that everything actually matters.
How long have you been painting/creating?
It is what I did before I spoke. I didn't talk until I was 5, and I always just drew or acted out.
What is your favorite medium?
I prefer acrylic. Can't really take the smell of oil. As for on what I paint, nothing is safe around me. If it has a surface, watch out.
Based on your artwork in the "Gods and Goddesses" exhibition I understand that you are pretty well versed in ancient mythologies. What is your favorite, and what first got you interested in myth as a theme?
I think all myth links together. It you look at the history of mythology, there are similar names, occurrences. I did an exhibition before on Yoruba culture. The Yoruba mythology existed under Catholic icons after the slave trade from Nigeria and West Africa to the Caribbean countries, when it was illegal for the slaves to worship.
What got me interested in myth was my father. He read a lot to me when I was little, and from early on I was more interested in cultures and people and what is beyond what we see. I always want to know more, see more. I can see colors around people, their auras. I have premonitions in dreams. I dreamt about Hurricane Katrina one month before it happened, and I painted a picture of it. It's difficult, because I don't always understand what they mean, or what I am supposed to do with these premonitions, but I am just getting comfortable in recognizing them, and using the colors around people that I see.
What artists have influenced your work?
My father was my biggest inspiration. Dali. Kahlo. I love art in all forms, anything creative. I come from a family of musicians and my instrument is a paintbrush, my rhythm is color.
What is your favorite painting of the work you have done?
That's hard. Really hard. My heart and soul is in these paintings. It's really like a piece of your soul.
What advice would you give aspiring artists?
Don't worry about what anyone thinks. Do what you feel. Never give up. And don't pimp yourself out -- don't do anything to get a dollar.
How does African and jazz culture affect your art?
M y family were musicians, so jazz was a big part of my culture. And my father was Ethiopian, so it was all a big part of my life.
Explain some of your symbolism - broken spines, babies shaped like Africa, broken hearts over pictures of bottles.
I broke my spine in a car accident. I was crushed in a car. I used to have a really good job, and a nice house, and people would always come to Helene and after my injury there was no one. I lost my sense of material things, lost my way of making money, and I realized that it is the little things we do day to day that we take for granted. Artists are messengers and we deliver understanding, and through my symbols, through things I took for granted, I took to show how I felt when I had nothing.
Do you use a lot of other surfaces besides canvas? I noticed your use of wood in "Gods and Goddesses."
I paint on everything. Boots! Coats! Anything with a surface. Look at the table we're sitting at.
Any upcoming art shows?
On Friday, July 8th, 2011 at C'est Le Vin we're having a masks exhibit about masks. (Entitled "Everything You Ever or Never Imagined About Masks." There will be masks that are carnival, ceremonial, spiritual and those that represent societal appearances at Shockoe Wide Open from 6-10 p.m.). I have a current exhibition entitled "Music is Life" in Brooklyn. I want to do one called "Silent Screams" about domestic violence but it'll be really raw and I'd need to find the right venue. I might have a show coming up in Amsterdam called "The Resurrection of the Exquisite Corpse."
What are your plans for art in the future?
Well, my mind never rests. If I were a glass, the ideas would be overflowing. I always have plans. I would love to find a venue that wouldn't censor my work. Some places say I'm too raw. I could put all of my paintings in a time line of my life, but it's really raw.
Is there an overall message in your art? Or is it different with every painting/story?
Life is a continuous story in the form of a puzzle. And as we grow older the pieces start to fit, and you can't just force the pieces together because the colors match -- you have to find where they fit. And the picture's getting a lot clearer to me now. You can't judge others, because you haven't been them yet, and there is a reason for everything. I believe we all come back as other people we have judged.
And finally, how would you describe your art to people who haven't seen it?
(laughs). That's hard. I try to make visual the unseen. I try to make emotions seen. I try to create rhythm with the colors. It's difficult to describe. I'm considered as surrealist, but this is my reality and this is the way I see things.