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.
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.
“The Revolution 1972”
At the same time I fell in love with the grim streets of Detroit I saw beauty everywhere.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
“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.
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,
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
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.