Why Black Art Matters

Black art matters. Each stroke of a paintbrush on canvas, sculpting of clay on a potter’s wheel, piece of stone that is chiseled, carved, and filed away from a larger block of stone for a sculpture, print that is drawn, etched or cut by a printmaker, have implications that go beyond the act of simply creating a product to be viewed or sold. Black artists and their art literally and metaphorically question a history of visibility, or rather, a history of invisibility. Black art removes the veil of invisibility that was placed on it due its possession of Blackness and reasserts itself as something that is worthy not only of visibility, but also meaning, acknowledgement, acceptance, and praise.

The existence and creation of Black art makes room for additional forms of representation. When Tamara Natalie Madden uses deep blues, blacks and purples to paint rich and dark-complexioned subjects in a way that conveys an inherent regality and beauty, those looking at the paintings, especially those with dark skin, are able to situate themselves within the paintings and find that they possess those same traits. Charlotte Riley-Webb’s abstract masterpieces highlight the intentionality, technicality, and talent that rest within Black hands. Lobyn Hamilton’s vinyl creations show that one’s frustration can lead to something that is both meaningful and valuable.

Black art also gives those who engage with it insight into the complexities of Black experiences, cultures, and history. Sean Haynes’ acrylic on wood piece titled Making Moves, for example, presents the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in an interesting way. While one might look at it and only notice the silhouettes and appreciate Haynes’ use of bright colors, they might not realize that Haynes is actually using his art to speak about the displacement of thousands of people because of the hurricane. Although Making Moves is an aesthetically beautiful piece, Haynes uses his position as an artist to highlight and allow room for the discussion of the larger issue of displacement that unfortunately hasn’t received the attention it deserves. Similarly, in his Negro Spirituals series of paintings, Aaron Henderson invites viewers to reflect on the violent history of slavery, racism, and white supremacy and the ways that they informed the Negro Spirituals that were sung centuries ago and still remain with us today. Artists like Haynes and Henderson effortlessly situate us in the past as a means of helping us to better understand and navigate through our present. The events, experiences, and histories that are interwoven into Black art provide viewers with a unique opportunity to learn more about Blackness, Black cultures, and Black history.

There is a certain level of diversity attached to the work of Black artists that allows us to reimagine the possibilities of fine art. If we are going to praise Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackson Pollack for their contribution to fine art, then we must also recognize, appreciate and praise Black artists like Aaron Henderson, Jerry Lynn, Charly Palmer, Georgette Baker, and E. Richard Clark.

We are constantly encouraging those who come to ZuCot to buy something that means something. Black art means something, and just like Black lives, Black art matters.

In Hopes Their Legacy Lives On: Behind ‘Future Hendrix’ Created by Lobyn

Future HendrixThis summer at Zucot Gallery we are featuring a number of artists in our Spring Palette Cleanse including Indianapolis based artist Lobyn Hamilton. Known as “The Vinyl Record Artist”, Lobyn is famous for his portrayals of black women or artists from shards of broken records. Images of popular artists, such as Lauryn Hill, Billy Holiday, and Marvin Gaye have been immortalized in Lobyn’s art with the medium being their own music. One of the more unique pieces we have, Future Hendrix, pays homage to two music artists at the same time. As one can guess by the title the two subjects of the work are the iconic singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jimi Hendrix and the more recent, yet also iconic trap rapper Future; the portrait emulating a classic photo of Hendrix while the medium contains shards of Future’s third album Dirty Sprite 2.

Due to Future and Jimi Hendrix’s division in era, genre, and audience it is rare to see them together in any context which adds to the anomaly of the piece. Lobyn’s hint to both of their drug usages in the purple color adds just enough history and ingenuity to complete the parallel between the two artists. One of Hendrix’s singles from 1967, “Purple Haze” was described as “a potpourri of ideas” by biographer Keith Shadwick[1], however, it never directly mentions or clearly alludes to drugs. Though, as pointed out by Harry Shapiro[2], it would have been “professional suicide” to do so in 1967 so the speculations that Purple Haze is influenced by Hendrix’s drug use can be credited to his audience. But with lines like “Excuse me while I kiss the sky” and “Don’t know if I’m coming up or down” can we blame them?

Future’s music tells a much less cryptic story. With the progression and development of music from 1967 to 2015, censorship in the American media has become significantly more lenient, artists’ content has become more explicit, and the public has acquired a taste for more “real” lyricism. For example, the album that Lobyn used to create Future Hendrix is called Dirty Sprite 2, which is as direct of a title Future could have used to reference the narcotic lean without titling the album “Lean: a concoction of promethazine, codeine cough syrup, Sprite, and occasionally Jolly Ranchers”. Commonly, lean is purple because it is made with Codeine. This is where the nick name “purple drank” comes from and what makes the deep purple color of Future Hendrix so appropriate.

It may seem like a stretch to compare the late rock n’ roll legend to a recent artist of such a new genre as Trap, but Lobyn was not the first to make the comparison. “Future Hendrix” is actually a term that has been around for the past couple of years ever since a meme appeared on the internet proposing the idea that trap trio Migos may be better than the Beatles. This prompted Off-set, a member of the Migos, to ask “Why wouldn’t [Y.R.N] be better that The Beatles?” in a Rolling Stone Interview[3]. This developed into the Migos being dubbed “The New Beatles” by fans who thought that they were. Around this same time trap fans began to juxtapose other trap artists to rock legends and, in result, Future’s career was compared to Jimi Hendrix’s. Hence: Future Hendrix, a name Future has openly accepted.

With a combination of Lobyn’s masterful use of a non-traditional medium, the legendary status of Future and Jimi Hendrix; and the deep, velvety purple color of the piece, Future Hendrix would be a unique addition to anyone’s art collection—or a great start to one! We encourage Lobyn Hamilton fans, Future fans, Jimi Hendrix fans, vinyl record enthusiasts, DJ’s and producers, or even collectors of African American to come into the gallery to see the magnificence of this piece and other Lobyn pieces in person.

  • Written by Camille Ragland 

[1] Shadwick, Keith (2003). Jimi Hendrix: Musician. Backbeat Books. ISBN 0-87930-764-1.

[2] Shapiro, Harry; Glebbeek, Cesar (1990). Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy. St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 0-312-05861-6.

[3] Murray, Nick. (2016) “Migos Prep New LP: ‘Why Wouldn’t It Be Better Than The Beatles'” Rolling Stone.