Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Detroit Artist

 

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Back in the in the sixties and early seventies Detroit was a really beautiful place to live if you were a artist or a musician. Motown was in its heyday and Detroit was a Mecca for young  African American artist.  You had a lot of black owned galleries like Kumasi Mart owned by Henri King downtown on Adams, you had Zampty Art Imports on Woodward and Forest, then out on Six Mile Rd you had Ken Mosely and Gallery of Six even though he first started out on Woodward and Burlingame in a funky little hole in the wall. We would all hang out getting high and solving all the problems of the world in half an hour.

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I sold my first oil painting in 1966 at Zampty Art Imports. It was a small landscape. I started off doing landscapes but as I started hanging out with other older more serious artist I started doing more social conscious power to the people type of art work.

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“The Revolution 1972”

At the same time I fell in love with the grim streets of Detroit I saw beauty everywhere.

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“The Loner”

I wanted to capture the raging life that was being played out in the form of knife fights shootings, pimps, gangsters, factory workers. I wanted to tell their tale.  I took it all in. Detroit was considered to be the black art capital of the world even more so than New York which really surprised me.

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“Pretty Tony”

The year was 1970 and I had just gotten out of the army after doing a year in Asia. Like a lot of dudes just out of the army I didn’t fit in. But in the spirit of keeping it real I had never fit in. I was doing all types of art at that time. My main gig was pencil drawings, because they are so mobil and easy to travel with.

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“Woman of Letters”

And back then just like today the artist was expected to be some kind of social worker and do art that reflected positive images for the people.

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So that was my first big mistake which I would be destined to repeat throughout my life. I was a revolutionary artist, so even though I would do paintings and drawings that the middle class loved I would always do something that offended them.

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“Like Father like Son”

You can’t  alienate your market base right out the gate and think that you are going to be successful financially. I think my boy Roi wrote a poem titled “The Politics of Rich Painters”. In that poem he didn’t have to many nice things to say about the sellouts. I was into being a young angry black artist. It’s hard to be angry when you are living in mansions driving 60,000 dollars cars and living large.

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It was around this time that I made another big mistake I started working in a lot of different styles. At first I though I would get major play by being so diverse,

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“The WeeGees”

but serious galleries want for you to have a main style and over time this style can migrate into different periods but to just be hopping all over the place makes you look like a imposter. But that was who I really was. I’ve seen both artist and musicians blow up behind one style and then years later they are still playing the same thing because that is what their public demands. To me that is kind of like a slow death.

That is one of the things that I liked about Miles Davis he was able to keep growing and experimenting all his life without losing his public

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The cool think about being a young black artist in Detroit in the early seventies was that there were a lot of giants around. Bennie White and Wilbur Riser set the bar so high until even to this day I feel like I’m still standing in their shadow. When I google all of the different artist and musicians that I knew I mean these were guys that everybody knew were going to make it there is not a trace of them on the internet. Except for Bennie White who did a mural of Malice Green who was beaten to death by the Detroit police department. I couldn’t find a trace of anyone else.

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I recently did a series of mix media paintings which I called The Ferguson Riot Series but it is not anything new. Everyone in my neighborhood knew that if you ran from the police that they could shoot you in the back and they would never do a day in jail.

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“The Ferguson Riot Series”

We all knew that if you ran from the police and you got caught that you were going to get a beat down. That kind of changed when a lot of brothers started coming back from the Nam and they had broken down their M16s and mailed them home in parts. Snipers were a new addition to the Detroit underworld.

In 1971 I became the artist in resident at Concept East Theatre which at that time was the oldest black community theatre in the country. That was a pretty cool gig for a twenty one year old angry artist. It was where I developed doing a lot of socially  conscious artwork. I did a series of Black Christ. I also started developing iconic images which I could print and sell over and over again. This was a huge turning point for me.

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I think that it is much harder for a young artist to make it as a painter than a singer or a rapper. A rapper can have one hit blow up make millions of dollars and then retire. That ain’t never going to happen with a artist. Even though most people live in houses with walls it does not translate into black artist blowing up on the same level as their musical counterparts.

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But I didn’t care about none of that because I wasn’t in it for the money. Even though I had developed a really commercial style and I could always sell a painting a print or a drawing if I needed to cover expenses incurred in-route. I could always do a picture capturing childhood which would sell really well to the middle-class and down south niches. I used to love doing road trips all through the south and selling prints  and doing pencil portraits,the people where so warm.

Then I used to do abstract art for the sophisticated players in the city these were people who were into jazz. And the. For my gangster friends in the underworld I used a kind of classical style. I really enjoyed doing art for this niche demographic because they were so under served.

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Oil Painting

I remember once I was having a one man show at De-Sace playhouse up on The Grand blvd and 12th street. As usual I had mixed all my different styles so I had this one painting of a autumn landscape and these two doctor’s wives were looking at it and paying me some nice compliments. A few painting down I had a painting that I had done for a pimp, it was a tiger being raped by a dragon.

The dragon had burnt off all the hair on the tiger’s back the  tigers eyes were crossed and her tongue was hanging out dragging on the ground. I had done it in exquisite detail, but the pimp had turned it down saying that has mother and his sister comes by every Sunday for dinner and he couldn’t have something like that on the wall. So I did him a autumn scene instead and he was happy with that. But on the night that I speak of there was another pimp with two of his ladies of the evening looking at my picture of the unfortunate tiger. At which point he turned to me and said “goddam son you a mutha fucker”. It was genuine and from the heart and to this day it is the highest compliment anyone has ever given me. The two doctor’s left and the pimp brought the unfortunate tiger.

In 1973 I moved to California and a few years later I brought my first Sailboat. After which the boat became by studio, my house and my transportation.

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Tribute to Black Women

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You re the breath of a drop of rain
Grain of seasand in the wind
Or sweet vibrations flowing
Through the groaning years

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Black woman mother of the world
And daughter of the universe
For too long I have abandoned you
To the keeping of beast
And for to long I have surrendered
My throne to the keeping of animals.

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And now it is for your return to glory that I wage my war
It is the cold flame that fires the forges
And in the  crystal tears of your lonely despair
I temper my sword
For the new dawn is depended upon us both

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Woyengi Mother Earth goddess
Spoke to the creatures she had just created saying
There are lakes for you to swim in
And there are Forest for you to run through
I have placed one river in the sky
So that it may fall down upon the land when you are parched
The other river I have place upon the earth
So that it may run to the sea in multiple streams
You shall know the pain of birth
The terror of death and the happiness of love

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Thank you for the love you gave
So willing and so fine
Thank for the guidance to a man who was so blind
P is for the privilege of having loved someone so true
Thank you for the dawn of life I found in loving  you

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A woman is more beautiful than anything
You cannot buy a woman in the market place
Even if you have all of the gold
And most of the silver
The woman you buy is but a slave
A woman is more precious than rare coral
Only ones woman can give one joy

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Today we are a breath on the lips of life
Tomorrow we are a silent secret deep within the bosom of the earth
The tree’s roots that suck the body’s elements do not
Reveal the mystery of the grave
Just as the branches do not withhold from
We the living the fruit of the offering

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I see her at the edge of the darkness and
then
She comes on the storm and she’s gone with the
wind

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For she’s a king’s daughter
For all the world to
see
Her vision is her loveliness
And pride her
vanity
But would she run away
And beg from door to
door
Just for the bliss of a wander’s kiss
Down by the stony
seashore

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Greedy is his heart for her heavenly song
Blinded are his eyes by her dazzling light
Burned is his face by ten thousand passionate notes
Lost is he who hears the siren’s sing
Desolate is he whose heart does not respond

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When the mist rises on the riverside
and autumn come falling lightly down
under distance grey october skies
be nice and think of as my boat drifts
against the jagged shore
oh my dark and sultry love

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Woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice — and her mind.
Always sweet,
Pretty face,
In tears or in laughter, — she is always charming.
Always miserable
Is he who trusts her,
He who confides in her — his unwary heart!
Yet one never feels
Fully happy
Who on that bosom — he does not linger!

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The Ferguson Riot Series

In  Memory of Michael Brown

Tears don’t stop spears and the dead don’t cry so sorrow not for his fate for he is but a  passer by but there will come a time when the dead shall live and the living die. Mothers teach their sons that all cops carry guns with triggers that blood will spill and flesh grow cold, killed resisting reality in the form of a 9mm automatic held in

the hands of the arresting officer. In a grim industrial complex some where in Mid Western American across the street from the Bar-Q Joint.

 

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