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Q & A with Gerome Meminger, Sr.
Gerome Meminger, Sr. is not your traditional, classically trained artist; this fusion painter and self-described abstract impressionist has a storied history beyond the canvas. Since starting his artistic journey in 2000, after retiring from the military, Gerome has been featured at the Sandler Center for Performing Arts, the Jazz Legacy Gala, the cover of The Health Journal, The Hampton Roads Show, and beyond.
His upcoming show, Hungry Jazz on Canvas, will find Gerome painting live on stage with acclaimed jazz musicians from across the nation. Gerome found time in his schedule to talk about his art, jazz, and what it's been like to be a Black abstract impressionist across his 17 year career.
Can you tell us about your artistic practice?
I didn’t start out to become an artist, actually. I started painting because I wanted certain colors in my house, but I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted to put on my walls. My wife and I kept going to galleries looking for that one piece that wasn’t there, so instead I went and bought paints and easels and I painted what I wanted. I got that first painting framed and hung it on the wall with my wife’s blessing. With the extra paint, I painted maybe ten other pieces that I just kept in the closet.
I consider myself an abstract impressionist artist. I like the style because it’s hard to pick apart and ten different people will see ten different things when they look at a painting. I could have painted faces and done realism, but I wanted to do something different that evokes conversation, so I started painting abstracts.
Some friends came down and saw my first piece, “Tiger”, and my wife encouraged me to show them the other pieces I had painted. They ooh-ed and ah-ed and asked to buy them, but I didn’t want to sell them because I thought it was a fluke.
After that I started painting more and entering shows.
I didn’t know how hard abstract was supposed to be. It’s one style where either you have it or you don’t and I didn’t realize that at first.
To me, abstract is a gift.
How did you first get started painting in front of a live audience?
I had an art gallery in downtown Hampton and every Saturday during the summer they would have a block party. I’d be in my gallery thinking people would come right in because everything was in front of my door, but they were outside enjoying the block party, so I decided to put my easel outside and just paint with the music.
One week they would have jazz, and another they’d have blues, country or western. I didn’t care what it was, if I could hear the notes and hear the music, I could paint. I became a part of the band and my instrument was a brush and a palette knife. It got to the point where right after I would sign my name on a piece, people would ask to buy them. People always seem to love those pieces because they can be a part of the art—they get to experience the art with the music. It is a memory for them. A story for people to have and tell for years to come.
Can you tell us about your experience of breaking into the art world as a Black artist whose work is steeped in Black music/culture?
When I first started to paint, I tried to get into different galleries, but some wouldn't even take a look at my work because, I guess, they figured it would cater to just one specific group. They would send me to other galleries they assumed would suit me, but my style is an international style. I don’t want to stay in one lane or use one style—I like being free.
I’m also not afraid to burn the midnight oil to get things done. Rejections never stop me.
When I got my first rejections, I decided to go to outdoor shows with some bookmarks of my work with poetry I'd written at the bottom. I only brought 20 the first time, but those bookmarks got so popular I used to joke that if people kept asking me about bookmarks I’d write a whole book. Lo and behold, people kept coming up to me asking for bookmarks, so I ended up producing a book with my poetry and art and got it into Barnes & Noble. I also wrote a children’s book that came from an idea I had while I was still in the military.
What brought you to your upcoming show Hungry Jazz on Canvas?
It’s a transition from the work I was doing painting with other artists during their sets. I wanted a space where I could paint without restrictions and have a theme that spoke to me.
Some of the more experimental things I wanted to do—like paint in darkness with fluorescent paint—you can’t do when you’re on someone else’s time and that’s why I set out to put Hungry Jazz on Canvas: The Gerome Project together. I wanted to create something that could be shown in New York and Vegas—something totally different. I selected eight top musicians and asked them to prepare a song in the style of Miles Davis. It's a two hour show with an intermission and I even booked the Ferguson Center for an extra hour after the show so people can relax and meet the artists.
I want it to be a big party.
People work hard for their money and if they invest it in an evening with me, I want them to think that it was worth every penny.
Finally, is there any advice you have for artists of color who want to start putting their work out into the world?
Don’t let people lump you in a group.
Just be an artist.
To see more of Gerome’s work, catch him at Hungry Jazz on Canvas: The Gerome Project August 5, 2017 at 7pm at the Ferguson Center for the Arts in Newport News, VA.