Smoking and painting are two addictions that I’ve maintained for the last thirty years or so. I’ve been drawing since I can remember, but five years old is about when I started painting. Smoking came later.
Sometime around the beginning of 2019, I began to make major changes in my work. There were three aspects of my paintings I was seeking to deviate from, not abandon in any way, but to subvert these qualities of my work that I had been accustomed to using when approaching how to make an image.
The first major change was to make what I call “just a painting.” That is, an image that didn’t utilize my signature cutouts—pieces of watercolor paper painted and cut into the shapes of various figures, animals, and other objects that occupy the work’s surface. Using some of the foundational techniques I learned in art school, I started working from a “master painting.” Not an Old Master painting in the traditional sense, but instead chose Philip Guston’s painting Talking from 1979. Beyond its literal depiction of smoking and painting, the work contained everything I wanted to explore, and felt especially topical when coupled with his recent “canceling” for his depiction of hooded Klansmen. But besides that, I wanted to work on hands, as they are the hardest part of the body to render and were becoming a central theme in a lot of the paintings coming out of my studio at the time. Using the hand as a vehicle for my two addictions (smoking joints and swishing around a paint brush) I adopted Guston’s composition, substituting his pale, pinkish hand with my own.
With regard to the sculptures in the show, I want to share an origin story that will provide some context for their creation. My mother, Josephine Coleman, with her six sisters and three brothers, moved from Lake Charles, Louisiana, to Los Angeles—first to Watts, and then to Compton. She would eventually move out to the suburbs with my father, where I was born. My mother loves Christmas, and she collects all sorts of Christmas-themed ceramics to decorate her home. The problem was, there weren’t very many black figurines available, outside of some Jim Crow-era themed shit or a happy negro on a plantation. There were almost never any black Santas. So, my mother took matters into her own hands. She would buy up white Santas, angels, and carolers and turn them black using a jar of enamel paint. I’ve always thought about how this was my first brush with painting, and how it has had a major impact on my thinking and art practice. The sculptures in this show are shrines to my mother, the first real artist I ever encountered.