Tuesday, November 30, 2010


The latest installment of the Plantation series bounces back with another ad campaign for the Jim Crow (J. Crow) apparel line. The line is was inspired by the many 'celebrity' clothing lines that are targeted toward fans and their slice of demographics. I wondered why racists didn't have a mainstream clothing line and that led to the J. Crow apparel concept.

One of the more controversial practices that is fairly or unfairly (depending on your perspective) covered by the press is that of white celebrity parents adopting black babies. There are those that interpret the motivation as a deep seated guilt complex rather than an act of love, compassion and validation of the so-called 'post-racial' society. Many see it as a manipulation of the press considering that black celebrities who adopt black children are rarely given equal exposure. 

48" x 72"
Mixed media

Regardless of your take, there is no doubt the discomfort is rooted in the memory of slavery. In slavery days, black babies were a thriving business. Strong slave women and men were labeled 'breeding stock' and forced to conceive to produce superior offspring that were used as laborers. Some women produced up to twenty for this purpose. Slave life was particularly hard and to replace their losses, women were expected to start having babies as early as thirteen and produce at least five by the age of twenty. Plantation owners promised women their freedom once they had produced fifteen children. Many slave owners purposely impregnated their female chattel (it wasn't considered rape because slaves weren't considered 'people' with rights, but property). One particular Virginia slave trader boasted that he had sold as many as 6,000 slave children in one year!

I found a wonderful article online that delved into the issue of black adoption by Hollywood celebrities. Article: Black Babies: Hollywood's Hottest Accessory?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Art - Follow Me

The Plantation series rolls on with a screenshot of Harriett Tubman's Twitter homepage. The dots for this idea connected when a friend asked, via email, why I didn't have a Facebook account. "That way people could follow your art." Hmmmm. Followers. Isn't that what Twitter is for? And had it been available, who in slavery times would have needed a Twitter account? No one would would have had more followers than Harriett Tubman. From her own words, "I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves." 

And yes, I actually opened a Twitter account for Harriett Tubman and HurryIt_UpMan is her profile name. She has yet to tweet anyone but already has one follower.

"Follow Me"
56" x 42"
acrylic on birch panel

Biography of Harriet Tubman

Harriet Ross Tubman (1822-1913). Born into slavery on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Tubman gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, abolitionist, Civil War spy and nurse, suffragist, and humanitarian. After escaping from enslavement in 1849, Tubman dedicated herself to fighting for freedom, equality, and justice for the remainder of her long life, earning her the biblical name "Moses" and a place among the nation's most famous historical figures.

Originally named Araminta, or "Minty," Harriet Tubman was born in early 1822 on the plantation of Anthony Thompson, south of Madison in Dorchester County, Maryland. Tubman was the fifth of nine children of Harriet "Rit" Green and Benjamin Ross, both slaves. Edward Brodess, the stepson of Anthony Thompson, claimed ownership of Rit and her children through his mother Mary Pattison Brodess Thompson. Ben Ross, the slave of Anthony Thompson, was a timber inspector who supervised and managed a vast timbering operation on Thompson's land. The Ross's relatively stable family life on Thompson's plantation came to abrupt end sometime in late 1823 or early 1824 when Edward Brodess took Rit and her then five children, including Tubman, to his own farm in Bucktown, a small agricultural village ten miles to the east. Brodess often hired Tubman out to temporary masters, some who were cruel and negligent, while selling other members of her family illegally to out of state buyers, permanently fracturing her family.

Working as a field hand while a young teen, Tubman was nearly killed by a blow to her head from an iron weight, thrown by an angry overseer at another fleeing slave. The severe injury left her suffering from headaches, seizures and sleeping spells that plagued her for the rest of her life. During the late 1830s and early 1840s, Tubman worked for John T. Stewart, a Madison merchant and shipbuilder, bringing her back to the familial and social community near where her father lived and where she had been born. About 1844 she married a local free black named John Tubman, shedding her childhood name Minty in favor of Harriet.

On March 7, 1849, Edward Brodess died on his farm at Bucktown at the age of 47, leaving Tubman and her family at risk of being sold to settle Brodess's debts. In the late fall of 1849 Tubman took her own liberty. She tapped into an Underground Railroad that was already functioning well on the Eastern Shore: traveling by night, using the North Star and instructions from white and black helpers, she found her way to Philadelphia. She sought work as a domestic, saving her money to help the rest of her family escape. From 1850 to 1860, Tubman conducted between eleven and thirteen escape missions, bringing away approximately seventy individuals, including her brothers, parents, and other family and friends, while also giving instructions to approximately fifty more who found their way to freedom independently.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 left most refugee slaves vulnerable to recapture, and many fled to the safety and protection of Canada. Indeed, Tubman brought many of her charges to St. Catharines, Ontario, where they settled into a growing community of freedom seekers. Her dangerous missions won the admiration of black and white abolitionists throughout the North who provided her with funds to continue her activities. In 1858, Tubman met with the legendary freedom fighter, John Brown, in her North Street home in St. Catharines. Impressed by his passion for ending slavery, she committed herself to helping him recruit former slaves to join him on his planned raid at Harper's Ferry, Va. Though she hoped to be at his side when the raid took place in October 1859, illness may have prevented her from joining him. In 1859, William Henry Seward, Lincoln's future Secretary of State, sold Tubman a home on the outskirts of Auburn, New York, where she eventually settled her aged parents and other family members. On her way to Boston in April 1860, Tubman became the heroine of the day when she helped rescue a fugitive slave, Charles Nalle, from the custody of United States Marshals charged with returning him to his Virginia master.

In early 1862, Tubman joined Northern abolitionists in support of Union activities at Port Royal, South Carolina. Throughout the Civil War she provided badly needed nursing care to black soldiers and hundreds of newly liberated slaves who crowded Union camps. Tubman's military service expanded to include spying and scouting behind Confederate lines. In early June 1863, she became the first woman to command an armed military raid when she guided Col. James Montgomery and his 2nd South Carolina black regiment up the Combahee River, routing out Confederate outposts, destroying stockpiles of cotton, food and weapons, and liberating over 700 slaves.

After the war, Tubman returned to Auburn, New York. There she began another career as a community activist, humanitarian, and suffragist. In 1869, Sarah Bradford published a short biography of Tubman called "Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman," bringing brief fame and financial relief to Tubman and her family. She married Nelson Davis, a veteran, that same year; her husband John Tubman had been killed in 1867 in Dorchester County, Maryland. She struggled financially the rest of her life, however. Denied her own military pension, she eventually received a widow's pension as the wife of Nelson Davis, and, later, a Civil War nurse's pension.

Her humanitarian work triumphed with the opening of the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged, located on land abutting her own property in Auburn, which she successfully purchased by mortgage and then transferred to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in 1903. Active in the suffrage movement since 1860, Tubman continued to appear at local and national suffrage conventions until the early 1900s. She died at the age of 91 on March 10, 1913 in Auburn, New York.

Monday, November 15, 2010

New Art - FledX

One more step towards the goal of completing 20 new pieces of art in the 'Plantation' series. FledX is a pure commercial parody that started out as UPS parody. The escaped slave in the box is named Henry Brown and since the UPS slogan is 'what can brown do for you' the obvious choice was UPS. But, I couldn't resist the synchronicity of Fled X seeing that Henry was fleeing slavery and the 'X' in the confederate flag is so prominent. This was a no-brainer.

acrylic and gel transfer on canvas
48" x 53"
Henry Brown's story:Henry was born into slavery in 1815 in Louisa County, Virginia. In 1830 he was sent to Richmond, Virginia to work in a tobacco factory where he met and married another slave, Nancy, and the couple had three children. Brown used his wages to pay Nancy's master for the time she spent caring for them. However, in 1848, his wife and children were sold to a slave trader and sent to North Carolina.

With the help of James C. A. Smith, and a sympathetic white storekeeper named Samuel Smith, Brown devised a plan to have himself shipped to a free state by Adams Express. Brown paid $86 (out of his savings of $166) to Smith, who contacted Philadelphia abolitionist James Miller McKim, who agreed to receive the box. Brown burned his hand with Oil of vitriol as an excuse for missing work.

During the trip, which began on March 23, 1849, Brown's box traveled by wagon, railroad, steamboat, wagon again, railroad, ferry, railroad, and finally delivery wagon. Several times during the 206 mile, 27-hour journey, carriers placed the box upside-down or handled it roughly, but Brown was able to remain still enough to avoid detection. The box containing Brown was received by McKim, and other members of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee. When Brown was released, one of those present remembered his first words as "How do you do, gentlemen?" He then sang a Psalm he had previously selected for his moment of freedom.

Brown became a well-known speaker for the Anti-Slavery Society. He was bestowed the nickname of "Box" at a Boston antislavery convention in May 1849, and thereafter used the name Henry Box Brown. He published two versions of his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown; first in Boston in 1849 and the second in England in 1851. Brown exhibited a moving panorama titled "Mirror of Slavery" in the northeastern United States until he was forced to move to England after the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Brown toured Britain with his antislavery panorama for the next 10 years, performing several hundred times a year and visiting virtually every town and city over that period. Brown stayed on the British show circuit for twenty-five years, until 1875. In the 1860s, he began performing as a mesmerist, and some time after that as a conjuror, under the show names Prof. H. Box Brown and the African Prince. Leaving his first wife and children in slavery (though he had the means to purchase their freedom); he married a second time, to a white British woman, and began a new family. In 1875, he returned to the U.S. with a family magic act. There is also a later report of the Brown Family Jubilee Singers. The cause and date of his death are unknown.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Orlando Jones and Mad Tv

The work of any decent artist is the amalgamation of their life experiences. Those experiences are unique to each and when combined, influences greatly the path the artist will choose (or was chosen by providence for them) that they will follow. The older one gets, the clearer one sees when and where the dots connected. A major dot was connected with a phone call in 1988.

The greatest peripheral influence on my art (I use the word peripheral in this case because the help came from outside the normal artistic realm), was from Orlando Jones. I met Orlando shortly after leaving the Navy in 1987. I was hired to do a photo shoot with one of his roommates, called to make an appointment and Orlando answered. Though complete strangers, we talked for nearly an hour as though old friends and when I called again, the same thing happened. We formally met a few weeks later at a house party he was throwing and a month after that, we were roommates and have been best friends since. Brothers really.

Orlando was still in college but would soon depart for Hollywood to become a writer for 'A Different World', 'Sinbad', 'Roc' and 'Martin'. His on air break came with Fox's 'Sound FX' before joining the initial cast of MadTv. We always stayed in touch and during the first season of MadTv, I authored a few sketches for him that made it to air, with the first being 'Racism vs. Spam', based on one of my paintings. I had no desire to become a comedy writer. While painting I would simply have ideas run through my head that I would pass along to Orlando. He would ask me to write them up, then tweak and pitch them.

In 1996 after yet another censored exhibition, I grew tired of art (and the annoying people around it), and decided to quit before yielding. Orlando told the Exec. Producers and Head Writer about my writing contributions to the show to date, and after an exhaustive process, I was hired as an apprentice writer. I had no writing experience whatsoever outside of the few sketches written for him. I was dubious, but he flew me out to Los Angeles, provided lodging, money, a car and a laptop and told me point blank, 'There's a writer in you, you just don't know it. Write, and I will correct." Little did I know how that act of selfless generosity on his part, along with blind faith on mine, would forever change and shape the art that I had just vowed to quit.

Artists by nature are nomads. We usually operate on a singular creative level - from head to hand to canvas with nothing betwixt or between. It's up to us to shape the process and the resultant product as we see fit. On day one, I learned that television does not work on that creative schedule. It is by definition, a collaborative medium. Ideas that were once my own now belonged to the cruel and heartless room of writers (15-20) sitting around the conference table during a Monday morning pitch session, all there for one reason - to get their ideas and jokes on air and justify their jobs. It was brutal. You pitch an idea that you may have thought was complete and funny, only to have it make its way around the room. By the time it was filtered by the many voices and made its way back to you, it was unrecognizable, but somehow better, streamlined, funnier and edgier than your original pitch. It was also assigned to someone else who contributed more to it that you did, to write the first draft.

At first, the process demoralized and depressed me. I was working with smarter, funnier, well traveled and more informed people that seemed to have an indispensable fountain of comedic and pop references at their disposal. With an hour show to write and tape on a weekly basis, the speed of the game was extraordinary and I struggled mightily to keep pace. It was Orlando Jones that coached but never coddled me. After all, 'This is the business. This is what we do." Our relationship evolved and resembled that of Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins in 'Bull Durham', and I could hear him telling me on a daily basis, "Quit thinking Meat and just throw the ball. You have the talent or you wouldn't be here."

One immutable fact registered with authority. The audience, or in other words...ratings. It's about them - so write for them. Unlike art, this was no longer about satisfying my impulses, it was about reaching and sustaining audience. The average sketch is 6 pages long, three minutes of air time. That's all you had. Establish the joke, deliver the joke, get the hell out while they were still laughing. In other words, 'come to the party late and leave early.' I remember pitching a sketch idea to Orlando that I thought was hilarious only to have him stare at me like an idiot before asking, "Are you going to knock on every door and peddle that sketch to the audience with a manual? Simplify, son, simplify!"

Over the coming months, I never really got comfortable, but started learning how to shape and filter ideas. I began to hear the voices of the other writers (primarily Orlando's) in my head, challenging, questioning and streamlining my pitches. The result was the beginning of understanding how to structure and work out a specific process to find the 'joke'. How many times had Orlando asked me, "So, what's the joke?" The joke - the spine of the idea on which the comedy is hung. What's this sketch really all about? Boil it down to it's most basic, realistic, and essential elements then rebuild it comedically. Quit writing comedy and start writing reality - a strange idea for a comedy show. Not really. Anything can be made funny, but first it must make sense. The greatest and most successful comedies are at their heart based on realistic premises. Find the joke and the rudest and most savage of thoughts could not only be delivered effortlessly, but accepted by the audience using comedy as the delivery device.

Between 1996 and 2006, I had gone on to write for 6 comedy series, 4 of which involved Orlando directly. The teaching and learning has never stopped. By the time I made the decision to return to art, the filtering process had taken hold and to this day shapes the way I approach all of my ideas about art. ALL OF THEM. Before my stint as a writer began, there was an oppressive element of anger about my art that was correctly translated as offense to the audience. It was my trademark and eventually led to my demise in 1996. Not only is that element still there, it's admittedly worse. The difference is that because of what I learned as a writer, I now employ a creative process that takes the same difficult topic, reduces it to its core element to 'find the joke', rebuilds it with an emphasis on identifying and embracing an audience, then infuses it with humor to dull the senses until the laughter stops and reality sets in. In a phrase, 'It's all fun and games until I poke you in the eye.' A statement from the latest review of my exhibition 'Subjective Perception' by Mary Bentz Gilkerson sums it up:

                 "This is precisely what makes his work so challenging not only to the average viewer,
                   but to many art insiders as well. His imagery is very accessible, luring the viewer into
                   a dialogue that then turns their preconceptions upside down. Images that are
                   associated with comfort and ease are turned around to force a sense of unease."

Because of the process, it's become somewhat easier to produce the product. I admittedly still struggle with ideas - but that's the challenge offered by the need to push further with each new painting. Once that stops, you're done. I've been blessed to have people like Orlando Jones in my life and write this as a 'thank you' to a debt I can only repay by continuing to honor the knowledge given by applying it and urging others to take the time to find and recognize the roots of their creative process. It is an unconquerable force that once you humble yourself to its power, let go and trust it, it will take you on a frustrating and at times, rewarding journey. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Urban League Silent Auction

For all those that always ask about purchasing a piece of my art - here is a great opportunity. My friend Sandra Campbell asked me to contribute a piece of art for the Urban League auction tomorrow night, so I created a smaller version of the slave 'Resume'. Though a quarter the size of the large piece, it is a great piece of art and best of all, NOT A PRINT but an distinctive piece unto itself. Contact Sandra at sandcampb@aol.com or call her cell 813-8168 to bid on the piece. I did not set a minimum price so good luck!

(select to enlarge)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Native Magazine Interview

Kurt Walker of Native Magazine interviewed me while I was working on the UNC School of Government 'Service' mural. Thanks, Kurt. You did a great job of editing out the parts where I sound like the idiot I really am.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Benedict Exhibition Review

This has been a trying but rewarding week. I absolutely love engaging college students. They can be trifling at times but if you can appeal to them on issues that are important to them, they open up and embrace you wholeheartedly. 

I have been at Benedict for the past two days. Yesterday I had a talk with an Art Appreciation class that started off a little flat but ended on a high note. After that I spent a few hours with some students in other classes and the gallery before the big talk in the auditorium followed by the reception. I didn't get out of there until 9. 

Today was more of the same. Met with three classes and the art department majors and had a workshop on creativity where we interacted and talked at length about creativity. Great talk. After that I visited a couple galleries and artists in the area as well as the Columbia Museum of Art.

Tomorrow, I have a session two-hour session with another class then I head home to sweet sleep and another painting that's been racking my head to get out. There is still a few rumblings on the campus about the exhibit but the tide has turned and the show is doing what Tyrone intended it to do - create dialogue.

Issue #23.44 :: 11/03/2010 - 11/09/2010
Quashie Offers Witty But Unflinching Racial Commentary

A review of Colin Quashie: Subjective Perceptions, on view at Benedict College’s Ponder Gallery through Dec. 10.

By Mary Bentz Gilkerson

Colin Quashie’s work is some of the most socially and politically engaged in the state, if not the region. The artist’s unflinching examination of the lingering influence of racism in contemporary American culture is witty and ironic, but definitely far from subtle in the message it conveys. While this might make his work too strong for some, it is work that needs to be made and needs to be seen.

The directness of Quashie’s approach and content makes the artist’s work controversial at times, so much so that getting a chance to see his work can be difficult. Subjective Perceptions, the first solo exhibition of Quashie’s work in Columbia, is on view at Benedict’s Ponder Fine Arts Gallery through Dec. 10. A reception will be held Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Quashie lives in Charleston but is hardly a typical “Charleston artist.” The artist was born in London in 1963 and raised in the West Indies. His family immigrated to the United States when he was 6, and he grew up in Florida. After attending college for a short time, he joined the Navy working on submarines. He began actively pursuing his art career after his discharge in 1987. The challenging content of his work led to the censorship of an exhibition in 1995. Dropping art for two years, Quashie moved to the West Coast and started writing comedy for Mad TV. He began making art again but has continued writing for the film and television industry.

His interest in social and political engagement ties him to a long line of artists ranging from William Hogarth and Charles Daumier in the 19th century to contemporary painter Kara Walker. Like Walker, there is a sense of urgency to his social commentary that seems driven by the increased ease of image-powered communication today.

Like many contemporary artists, Quashie pulls imagery from pop culture in a way that goes directly back to Andy Warhol. Advertisements, package designs, billboards and coloring books all provide images as well as formats for works that use the language syntax of the media to address issues of race, gender and social equality — or, rather, inequality.

While his manipulation of the formal elements and the painting medium is similar to Warhol, Quashie’s conceptual framework is for the most part very different. Quashie takes Warhol’s examination of the impact of the media on our cultural mythology a step further, using media-based methods to dissect and deconstruct stereotypical views of cultural relationships.

This is precisely what makes his work so challenging not only to the average viewer, but to many art insiders as well. His imagery is very accessible, luring the viewer into a dialogue that then turns their preconceptions upside down. Images that are associated with comfort and ease are turned around to force a sense of unease.

His series of Coloring Book paintings use the innocent, child-like motif of the coloring book to make very strong social statements. In Whack, the viewer is presented with the typical outlined forms with colored marks scribbled across their surfaces, as if a small child has been happily coloring away. The images appears neutral, almost innocent, until the viewer looks closer and realizes that the painting addresses intra-racial as well as inter-racial violence. The piece makes it clear that Quashie is going to reveal and ridicule inequities wherever he finds them.

Cultural inconsistencies, especially in political correctness, unfortunately provide an almost unlimited array of topics for the artist to address. In BLACKBORED – Racialgebra the artist questions the sort of political correctness that led to the firing of a radio host for using the “N” word on air, but let the police in one urban area shoot three African-American suspects more than fifty times — without consequences.

The controversy Quashie’s work sometimes causes is not limited to predominately white institutions. The questions raised by his work challenge deeply held concepts of race and identity across racial divides. His work invites viewers to engage in necessary conversations rather than politely and unquestioningly sustaining the status quo.