IT BEGAN WITH THE NEED TO EXPERIMENT
All of the subjects in this collection represent the success that comes from giving yourself the freedom to experiment with your talents to express your vision. The heights than can be achieved when you are able to freely express your vision unlimited. I sought to honor the influence that these subjects have had on the world by experimenting with my own talent to express my vision. With each experimentation I take a step in their footsteps, growing closer to successfully expressing my vision.
Experimenting with a new medium
I often get asked how I thought to use thumbtacks as a medium. Well, it all began with Froot Loops. Seriously. I originally sat in my apt/studio looking for materials that had vibrant colors and considered cereal as my medium. Luckily I moved away from Toucan Sam when I found a mixed color pack of thumbtacks.
Experimenting with my canvases
Using thumbtacks as a medium also forced me to transform the way I used my canvases. The challenge was keeping the tacks in place on the canvas. The solution came when I bought ALL of the hardware store's expanding foam to spray the back of the canvas.
Experimenting with scale
It’s All About the Benjamins is a massive piece because it needed to be. Not because it had to scale for a bill, but because you have to take a moment to absorb it all. Who is that? Why is he black? What does the "slaves" refer to? There are 3 canvas stitched together to make this large canvas, then a wrapped another sheet of canvas above it. Two of the pieces are blank but one is a piece of president Obama that I ultimately scrapped. Not purposefully but fatefully enough there is a piece of history built on top of another.
WHY “BRUISED THUMBS”
This one is pretty literal here. Physically it took a toll. I am now an expert on thimbles and own a thumb specific ice pack. I had to ice my thumbs and elbow every night so I could continue pushing pins.
WHY COLOR IS SO IMPORTANT
Although the subjects of my work are always black, I do not limit myself to a certain color palette. I've always been drawn to using color to bring a certain level of energy to my work and vibrancy to my portrayal of black culture. So when I decided to attempt a piece made of thumbtacks I had to understand what my options were. That's when the search began for all the colors that I would need…in bulk. I quickly realized that "orange" was the holy grail of thumbtacks. After a scavenger hunt in Staples, Office Deport, and Googling for hours I stumbled upon the treasure trove of thumbtacks, JAM PAPER. Shout out to my thumbtack hookup, Mike Jacobs, for the wide array of colors that made this all possible.
For The Jimi Hendrix piece I used purple, pink and blues, which are colors that aren't typically combined in our current color landscape to create an electric shock. This piece is meant to feel all together vibrant, trippy and a bit psychedelic.
By the time I got to the Obama piece I felt it was appropriate to stick with the most realistic palette because color is so important to what makes this icon special and I believe that no color is a boring color. Yet I made sure to include colors like gold, silver and bronze that have the shimmer and brilliance that marks the caliber of a United States president.
For "It’s All About the Benjamins" the gloss of the tacks and the bill are meant to clash with the grit of the history of America.
The line from "Already" is just one example of why I chose Jay Z as the first subject for this collection:
"I'm in the hall already, on the wall already
I'm a work of art, I'm a Warhol already
On another level, on another plane already"
I chose Jimi Hendrix as the next icon in the collection because during his time he was bit of an outlier within the black community. He looked like "us" but sounded like "them". He was revolutionizing an art form while polarizing himself from what was deemed "black music". He had the courage to see his vision through. We should always reward those that who create new patterns within the world, especially while looking like "us."
The versatility that Kanye demonstrates as an artist from the artwork on his album covers, his shows, his clothes, to his musical style is what these thumbtacks represent for me. Hip hop can be very one dimensional at times, but Kanye has consistently forced the Hip Hop generation to think creatively and independently. This creates a condition of raised expectations and a pursuit of excellence when expressing your vision. I've heard people say, "I wouldn't put a big Kanye piece in my house," and to that I'd say "why not?" I proudly have him in my house as a symbol in pursuit of that achievement from someone who looks like me.
President Barack Obama
The Obama presidency means many different things to many different people, but despite varying opinions the numbers will always ring true: 44th and 1st. The #44 will always be associated with the 1st black president. Obama's presidency has coated the minds of young black America. Young defined by a generation that has been primed with the reality that a black man can be president. Once there is a first there becomes space for a second. The audacity it takes for a black child to say "I'm going to be president" can now be met with hope because of him. Hope never dies because it remains the sign of changing possibility. This is my tribute to maintaining possibilities.
Although I'd like most of the interpretation to come from the viewer's perspective, I would like it known that the man in the middle is a black man, not just any black man but Benjamin Banneker. Most people are familiar with the other Benjamin, but as I got to know this Benjamin the piece became even more important. Knowledge is the most important currency and Banneker's mission was to prove value of the black mind. With this piece I hope to encourage everyone to abandon some of the importance of the other Benjamin and trade in for the currency of thought and history that black people represent. Only when we chase intellectual excellence and creative freedom will money begin to chase you, creating something more powerful.
I treat each thumbtack as a pixel. Every 'pixel' is a lesson in spacing, light, and color to create my visions. The rest is tack-by-tack, trial and error. For the Jimi Hendrix piece specifically the pattern was set was starting at a baseline and then moving up to a five thumbtack range, then back down to one. This pattern is repeated throughout the piece as homage to the digital visualizer. It is meant to oscillate just like the vibrations that come out of an amp. It also serves as an evolution of my style in the patterns I've used to denote the black hair experience.
After being so excited with the Jay Z piece I realized the natural progression was Kanye. The timing for Watch the Throne was purely coincidental. Because I had improved my technique by this point I was forced to go back and tighten up the Jay Z piece. I believe this might have a real life correlation to their relationship as demonstrated by the Watch the Throne album. They say “iron sharpens iron.”
Because I believe that art is for everyone I always strive to make my art accessible to to anyone who would like to enjoy it. This is why I offer canvas print replicas of my thumbtack pieces. In my search to provide high quality reprints I tested a vendor who didn’t produce a high enough quality print. The test piece was of Michael Jackson and was repurposed into the Kanye West piece for this collection. It seems fitting that the artist that pushed boundaries on so many levels is behind someone that I believe is creating a new musical experience for a generation.
It's All About the Benjamins was the largest piece I had done to date. It was a painstakingly long piece to create with over 23,000 tacks placed the resemble a hundred dollar bill. It was ambitious but I really believe in the premise so it was a labor of love. Moving this piece around my apt was a task within itself. Where do you hide an unfinished 9 ft canvas of work in a NY apt? Also where do you work on it... well we had to get creative the entire time. From rearranging the living room over the course of weekends, blocking the closet for two weeks and laying it across the bed whenever I got the chance.
Behind The Art
More on the collection in my own words:
This collection lead me to my first solo exhibition in New York City at Frontrunner Gallery. Here are a couple of clips from the show: