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  • I believe there is beauty

  • in hearing the voices of people who haven't been heard.

  • ["Drawing the Blinds," 2014]

  • ["The Jerome Project (Asphalt and Chalk) III," 2014]

  • [Beneath an Unforgiving Sun (From A Tropical Space)," 2020]

  • That's a complex idea,

  • because the things that must be said are not always lovely.

  • But somehow,

  • if they're reflective of truth,

  • I think, fundamentally, that makes them beautiful.

  • (Music)

  • There's the aesthetic beauty of the work

  • that in some cases functions as more of a Trojan horse.

  • It allows one to open their hearts to difficult conversations.

  • Maybe you feel attracted to the beauty,

  • and while compelled by the technique,

  • the color,

  • the form or composition,

  • maybe the difficult conversation sneaks up.

  • ["Billy Lee and Ona Judge Portraits in Tar," 2016]

  • I really taught myself how to paint

  • by spending time at museums

  • and looking at the people that --

  • the artists, rather -- that I was told were the masters.

  • Looking at the Rembrandts ["The Night Watch"],

  • Renoir ["Luncheon of the Boating Party"],

  • Manet ["Luncheon on the Grass"],

  • it becomes quite obvious

  • that if I'm going to learn how to paint a self-portrait

  • by studying those people,

  • I'm going to be challenged

  • when it comes to mixing my skin

  • or mixing the skin of those people in my family.

  • There's literally formulas written down historically

  • to tell me how to paint white skin --

  • what colors I should use for the underpainting,

  • what colors I should use for the impasto highlights --

  • that doesn't really exist for dark skin.

  • It's not a thing.

  • It's not a thing

  • because the reality is, our skin wasn't considered beautiful.

  • The picture, the world that is represented in the history of paintings

  • doesn't reflect me.

  • It doesn't reflect the things that I value in that way,

  • and that's the conflict that I struggle with so frequently,

  • is, I love the technique of these paintings,

  • I have learned from the technique of these paintings,

  • and yet I know that they have no concern for me.

  • And so there are so many of us who are amending this history

  • in order to simply say we were there.

  • Because you couldn't see doesn't mean we weren't there.

  • We have been there.

  • We have been here.

  • We've continued to be seen as not beautiful,

  • but we are,

  • and we are here.

  • So many of the things that I make

  • end up as maybe futile attempts to reinforce that idea.

  • ["Drawing the Blinds," 2014]

  • ["Seeing Through Time," 2018]

  • Even though I've had the Western training,

  • my eye is still drawn to the folks who look like me.

  • And so sometimes in my work,

  • I have used strategies like whiting out the rest of the composition

  • in order to focus on the character who may go unseen otherwise.

  • I have cut out other figures from the painting,

  • one, to either emphasize their absence,

  • or two, to get you to focus on the other folks in the composition.

  • ["Intravenous (From a Tropical Space)," 2020]

  • So "The Jerome Project," aesthetically, draws on hundreds of years

  • of religious icon painting,

  • ["The Jerome Project (My Loss)," 2014]

  • a kind of aesthetic structure that was reserved for the church,

  • reserved for saints.

  • ["Madonna and Child"]

  • ["Leaf from a Greek Psalter and New Testament"]

  • ["Christ Pantocrator"]

  • It's a project that is an exploration of the criminal justice system,

  • not asking the question "Are these people innocent or guilty?",

  • but more, "Is this the way that we should deal with our citizens?"

  • I started a body of work,

  • because after being separated from my father

  • for almost 15 years,

  • I reconnected with my father, and ...

  • I really didn't know how to make a place for him in my life.

  • As with most things I don't understand,

  • I work them out in the studio.

  • And so I just started making these portraits of mug shots,

  • starting because I did a Google search for my father,

  • just wondering what had happened over this 15-year period.

  • Where had he gone?

  • And I found his mug shot, which of course was of no surprise.

  • But I found in that first search 97 other Black men

  • with exactly the same first and last name,

  • and I found their mug shots, and that -- that was a surprise.

  • And not knowing what to do,

  • I just started painting them.

  • Initially, the tar was a formula that allowed me to figure out

  • how much of these men's life had been lost to incarceration.

  • But I gave up that,

  • and the tar became far more symbolic

  • as I continued,

  • because what I realized is

  • the amount of time that you spend incarcerated is just the beginning

  • of how long it's going to impact the rest of your life.

  • So in terms of beauty within that context,

  • I know from my friend's family

  • who have been incarcerated,

  • who are currently incarcerated,

  • folks want to be remembered.

  • Folks want to be seen.

  • We put people away for a long time,

  • in some cases,

  • for that one worst thing that they've done.

  • So to a degree,

  • it's a way of just saying,

  • "I see you.

  • We see you."

  • And I think that, as a gesture,

  • is beautiful.

  • In the painting "Behind the Myth of Benevolence,"

  • there's almost this curtain of Thomas Jefferson

  • painted and pulled back to reveal a Black woman who's hidden.

  • This Black woman is at once Sally Hemings,

  • but she's also every other Black woman

  • who was on that plantation Monticello

  • and all the rest of them.

  • The one thing we do know about Thomas Jefferson

  • is that he believed in liberty,

  • maybe more strongly than anyone who's ever written about it.

  • And if we know that to be true, if we believe that to be true,

  • then the only benevolent thing to do in that context

  • would be to extend that liberty.

  • And so in this body of work,

  • I use two separate paintings

  • that are forced together on top of one another

  • to emphasize this tumultuous relationship between Black and white

  • in these compositions.

  • And so, that --

  • that contradiction,

  • that devastating reality that's always behind the curtain,

  • what is happening in race relations in this country --

  • that's what this painting is about.

  • The painting is called "Another Fight for Remembrance."

  • The title speaks to repetition.

  • The title speaks to the kind of violence against Black people

  • by the police

  • that has happened and continues to happen,

  • and we are now seeing it happen again.

  • The painting is sort of editorialized as a painting about Ferguson.

  • It's not not about Ferguson,

  • but it's also not not about Detroit,

  • it's also not not about Minneapolis.

  • The painting was started because

  • on a trip to New York

  • to see some of my own art with my brother,

  • as we spent hours walking in and out of galleries,

  • we ended the day by being stopped by an undercover police car

  • in the middle of the street.

  • These two police officers with their hands on their gun

  • told us to stop.

  • They put us up against the wall.

  • They accused me of stealing art

  • out of a gallery space where I was actually exhibiting art.

  • And as they stood there with their hands on their weapons,

  • I asked the police officer what was different about my citizenship

  • than that of all of the other people

  • who were not being disturbed in that moment.

  • He informed me that they had been following us for two hours

  • and that they had been getting complaints about Black men,

  • two Black men walking in and out of galleries.

  • That painting is about the reality,

  • that it's not a question

  • of if this is going to happen again,