Jamaal Clark infuses his creative ingenuity into both the fine arts and photography mediums. He is using his craft as a guide to motivate others (specifically people of color) to seek higher consciousness and become a better version of themselves. Get a deeper view of Jamaal and his astounding visuals in our discussion.
Me: Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?
Jamaal: It’s easy to tap into that because you’re providing a visual for an audience to come into a world that they probably can’t tap into. If it is a piece that deals with current events, activism, or things that are going on dealing with the times, it’s easy to get that understanding from an audience when an artist captures it. It becomes a discussion piece that might not have been able to happen if it was done with other mediums. It’s very inviting in a sense that it sparks a conversation that wouldn’t have come into existence any other way. I’ve seen that first-hand many times. It just allows you to build that bridge.
“If it is a piece that deals with current events, activism, or things that are going on dealing with the times, it’s easy to get that understanding from an audience when an artist captures it.”
Me: Definitely, and I completely agree. The reason why this question came up was because just looking at your IG and seeing that many of your pieces pretty much reflect those of the African diaspora, I wanted to know if you would like to touch more on those types of pieces.
Jamaal: The subject matter that I’ve been dealing with for awhile now is just seeing black people, and other people of color in a light that isn’t normally seen. I think on a larger scale they’re still not seeing us in that light. It’s a consistent flashback or a visual history lesson of where we were at that time. I’ve been displaying that view of us (black people, people of color, indigenous people) whatever you choose to refer to us as, it’s something I really have a passion for and reflect that in my art. I like to take it there and provoke thought and I think the younger generation really needs to see these depictions of history – of Africa and ancient Kemet. Even though there’s evidence of it, there’s still people who deny it, whitewash it, or just not accept it. I’ve even come across some black people who see my art as a threat or they’re scared of these images. I’ve been trying to portray images of these great men and women who have shaped civilization and created great things in history. Also, it relates to people just tapping into their higher self, realizing that connection they have to these people. I just try to reflect that content in my art and I’ll continue to do it. That’s just scratching the surface (laughing) but it’s something that took time for me to realize from when I was a kid. Growing up, it became deeper and I started realizing more of why I’m doing it. It became an awakening for myself to why I chose that subject matter and I’m just trying to get better at it (laughing).
Me: Yea I feel you! (laughing) That’s excellent! A great point that you mentioned, you want people to tap into themselves, that’s a path that I’ve been on as well just trying to find more knowledge about myself and my ancestors and develop a better understanding of the depth of who we are. Could you dive deeper into some specific pieces, tapping into ourselves and finding out more about who we are and our rich history as people of the African diaspora?
Jamaal: Ok, I don’t know if you came across it or not on IG but it’s this piece that I’ve done called Three Kings. It has that family essence to it, dealing with brotherhood. It also has an astrological meaning behind it. The piece features three pharaohs which represent me and my brothers. They’re all facing forward but the one in the middle has his eyes closed. The pharaohs on the right and the left have one eye open and one eye closed. I was just trying to display that power of three and symbolize my closeness with my brothers. We’re all Aries as well. Me being the only visual artist and the middle child is the reason why I’m in the middle with both eyes closed. It shows our connection and that we’re able to watch each others backs and coming together to make a triangle or a pyramid. Also, the red background represents Mars and Mars being the God of war, which is basically Aries, which all three of us are.
Jamaal: There’s also hieroglyphs I chose, I’m not a professional at Medu Neter so I don’t know if they’re 100 percent correct. I’m still learning how to read the symbols but at the time that I did the piece, I dug deep and it took me quite awhile to find the right glyphs to go with the piece. The glyphs basically represent the warrior’s spirit, kingship, and honesty. These are the principles and morals that go into being a person that’s considered a king or someone who’s very well respected. I feel like they played well into us because we’re all good men striving for greatness – just trying to be better men, better people, and achieve our higher selves. That’s one of my favorite pieces; it displays where I come from and incorporated two of my favorite people – my two brothers. I don’t even know if they realize they’re in it though (laughing). As far as facial features, they don’t resemble us. The reason why I didn’t make them look exactly like us is because I wanted melanated or black males to see themselves within the piece and be able to relate to it. Maybe I’ll do one like that in the future. Three Kings was originally called A Million Suns but the concept got watered down because I was thinking about too many things. It was supposed to be a whole bunch of pharaohs coming out of the sun but I had to simplify it to just the three because I was on a deadline.
“The reason why I didn’t make them look exactly like us is because I wanted melanated or black males to see themselves within the piece and be able to relate to it.”
Me: That’s a powerful piece! The way you described it, I didn’t know it was that in-depth.
Jamaal: Yea, I get a wide range of responses for it. Some people will say, “that’s nice” and then just walk away. Others will come up and will be real amazed with it but they won’t ask me questions. Then, I got a couple of brothers that will actually ask me questions and they’ll start going in on it. Sometimes it’s just interesting to watch and see how people react to it.
Me: Yea, I’m sure. Just given the background of it and drawing the connection between ancient Kemet and representing your brothers, that’s incredible to be able to do that.
Jamaal: It’s been interesting (laughing). I have a lot of real good conversations as well as bad conversations coming from people with different religious backgrounds that’ll come with their perspective. I’m not one that’s trying to convert anyone or anything like that, I’m just trying to show you what’s already been here and we’ll take it from there. I’ve had some people attack me and really come at me hard. Unfortunately, these were some of my friends, people that I’ve had strong relationships with. We literally fell out because of the type of artwork I do. I had certain individuals come at me sideways and I just thought it was really unfair and backwards. I lost some really good friends related to the type of work I do and my personal beliefs. I told some of them that I don’t think a lot of people are ready to see some of these types of images or they’re not ready to accept them for whatever reason. I’ve been called all types of names and it’s not by white people (laughing)!
Jamaal: Years ago, I was live painting a large pharaoh in Miami and I had white women come up to me and ask me questions like, “Is that King Tut or you?” and “Have you had dreams or visions of being a pharaoh?” To get those kind of responses and the kind of responses that I was getting from my friends was a big contrast. It kind of messed me up, and it really threw me for a loop. It made me question myself on the type of work I was doing. It was strange that I’ve lost some really good friends because I’ve been doing this for a long time and art is supposed to be about expression. If it becomes a questionnaire before you get started, it dampens the work. It became an ongoing debate and I was just trying to open people’s eyes to apart of their history whether they know it or not. Then, it also drives me to think that maybe I’m doing the right thing.
Me: I think you are honestly, because when I was in college I took a class that really opened up my mind to discovering more and unlocking that key to the knowledge that has been hidden from us on purpose for years. Just to find out for myself the truth about my history, it ignited me to try to do more to awaken others and evolve.
Jamaal: Yea, and that’s what it’s about. I have a lot of people that do come up to me and say, “Thank you” as well. I do a lot of live painting and one of the recurring themes that I’ve been dealing with is the kings and queens aspect of strong black men and strong black women. It’s about them coming together and having a seed. To me, it’s the most powerful universal symbol of unification. Without one you can’t have the other. That’s another trinity in itself – man, woman, and child. It just goes back to people learning for themselves about their higher potential and what they are capable of. For the most part, I think the reception has been positive in setting the audience on their own journey to want to ask questions and do their own research and like you mentioned – evolve within themselves and get to a higher state of being. That definitely keeps me going. It’s all about elevation basically and putting positive images out there to help spark people’s minds.
“I do a lot of live painting and one of the recurring themes that I’ve been dealing with is the kings and queens aspect of strong black men and strong black women. It’s about them coming together and having a seed. To me, it’s the most powerful universal symbol of unification.”
Me: Yea, I completely agree. Describe your upbringing, where you’re originally from – when you started painting, family background, and education.
Jamaal: I was born in Philadelphia but I was raised in Willow Grove, which is a suburb that’s like five minutes right outside of the city. I got to throw that in there because people will be coming at my neck talking about, “you ain’t from Philly” (laughing). I started drawing when I was seven and got involved with many art programs when I was younger. I remember my Mother used to keep me enrolled in any art programs she could find. So, on Saturday mornings, I used to catch the bus to art classes down at Tyler School of Art at Temple University. My mother stayed on top of that. She nurtured it in anyway should could because she saw I was good at it. My pops nurtured it too but on a different perspective. Just being a kid I used to draw these pharaohs and I just thought they were cool. I started asking questions like, ‘who are these people?’ I would have grown-ups telling me that they were from Egypt and Egypt wasn’t in Africa. Then you find out that’s what they were taught in school. My mom told me that when she was growing up, the teachers would tell her that Egypt wasn’t in Africa. ‘They could do that and just flat out lie to y’all?,’ I said (laughing). When I was a junior in high school we had to do a final project for History, and we could do it on whatever subject we chose. I chose to do it on Egypt and the pyramids. I asked my teacher, ‘Can you give me some starting points?’ She said, “I don’t have anything, I don’t know anything about it.” I had to go to the neighborhood library and that’s where it all started for me. I started meeting more people and asking more questions. Cats around the neighborhood were walking around with all types of knowledge and I was just like ‘Wow.’ I read different books by scholars who have done the work. I just feel like it’s our duty to pass on what they did. They definitely laid a different type of foundation. They’re the elders. Then, I decided that I wanted to share these images with the world and hopefully they would walk away with knowledge. I know I got a lot more to learn.
“I read different books by scholars who have done the work. I just feel like it’s our duty to pass on what they did. They definitely laid a different type of foundation.”
Jamaal: After High School, I enrolled into the University of the Arts in downtown Philly. It features all types of art programs from visual arts, performing arts, and music. You had all different types of cats. We used to call it the school of the gifted like the X-Men. You would see people literally transform. Some started using drugs or on a positive note, they embraced their art side and took it to another level. It was an experience. I appreciate it more now than when I was going through it then because it was hard. It was like boot camp for the arts. Some weeks you had to choose between eating food and buying art supplies. It’s funny because I had one teacher who wouldn’t even greet us when we walked into his class. He was an old Jewish guy and you could tell he knew some shit. He would just sit there and hand out two sheets of paper – one was a description of the class and another was a list of art supplies you had to go buy. This was every class, he didn’t say hi or good morning or anything. He just handed you these papers and you would have to go to the store and buy them. You couldn’t just get red paint (the cheap paint) you had to get the Crimson Red paint that was like $20. They would call you out on it if you got the cheap paint. My first year, I actually commuted from Willow Grove.
Jamaal: My second and third year, I lived down in Center City off of Broad Street on 13th and Locust. That’s where they had the dorms. They took an old building and converted it into dorms. It was in a fucked up part of the city and I saw a lot of shit down there. It’s funny because growing up, my father always told us to never come to this part of the city at night. Now I know why. I went to the University of the Arts for three years and then my family migrated down to Florida. Then, I enrolled into The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. I finished my schooling there and I studied Game Art and Design. I had trials and tribulations on a whole different level than what I experienced in Philly. I went from a prestigious art school that had master teachers who had a very traditional high-ranking teaching system. Coming from that and going to the Art Institute down here was a big difference.
Me: What were some of the differences?
Jamaal: Just the way the classes were handled, they were more in tune with art at the University. At the Institute over the years I started realizing that it’s really a business. A lot of your financial advisors weren’t really too concerned about our well being or our education. They were more concerned about meeting their quotas and getting you enrolled into the school so that they could receive whatever they get on the backend. That affected the overall education process. I developed a lot of friendships with other people who were also going through the same thing. On top of that, the teachers really didn’t care about your education and you were paying for classes that you didn’t need. I would argue with teachers because they would have issues with me. I was given grades I didn’t deserve and I was fighting against them trying to get the grades that I deserved. I had one professor that taught landscape art. He decided to fail me. I lived in West Palm Beach at the time and I had to catch the train and a couple of buses to get to his class in the morning. Long story short, I was late a lot to his classes but I always turned the work in on time. I figured my lateness would affect my grade, but I would still pass. However, he decided to fail me because he said, “I have a reputation to keep, that’s why I failed you.” So, basically this professor would fail a certain amount of people every semester just to keep his reputation high as being a tough teacher. I was dealing with stuff like that and arguing with other professors. It was crazy. Despite all of that, I ended up graduating with my Bachelor’s degree.
Me: That’s what’s up man! I actually have a degree in business with a concentration in Marketing, I’m also an artist myself. I wanted to know did your degree benefit you in terms of your progression as an artist? You know a lot of people tend to question the value of an art degree especially older people.
Jamaal: I would say yes. It’s one of those things that, ‘if you didn’t go through the experience would you be the same person?’ I’m glad that I went through it. Some of the things I did learn were different techniques that I probably wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. I learned how to deal with different types of people and I developed friendships that were priceless to me. I’ve met some of the most interesting people that I’m still very close to till this day. It was a part of my journey. I was told though back then that I was going to be a starving artist.
“I learned how to deal with different types of people and I developed close friendships that were priceless to me.”
Me: That’s the exact thing I was thinking too, I wasn’t trying to major in art because I feared I wasn’t going to make any money. I originally majored in Computer Science and then I realized once I got to the math classes I couldn’t deal with all of the math! (laughing)
Jamaal: I hear you. Once I started going to the Art Institute down here, they pulled my mother in and started telling her, “your son has talent, he’ll be making big bucks designing video games.” He pitched it like a car salesman. He had my mom bought though because she just wanted me to be able to get a job when I get out and make money. Once I started taking the classes, I realized this was not for me. Game Art Design can be a dope profession but it’s so many aspects to it and they weren’t teaching it properly. That caused many problems. It was hell being a Game Art Design major and then realizing that wasn’t the right major but I couldn’t switch it. The head of the department wouldn’t let me. On the last day of school before I graduated, I had to do a presentation of my portfolio in front of a panel (I guess they were investors). My portfolio wasn’t aligned the way they told us to do it. I told them in the beginning I didn’t do what they recommended. They were mad but I just didn’t care at that point, I was just ready to get up out of that school. We were all just so stressed out and done with the program. Nobody in our class pursued Game Art Design after that day. So, you got a lot of people that went to college and just flat out didn’t do anything with their degree, it’s common practice. Some people would look at the whole college experience though and factor that into the value. That’s how I look at it.
Me: Yea I understand, I wouldn’t trade the experience either.
Jamaal: Also, during that time I started doing photography. When I was at the University of the Arts, I took a photography course where you had to buy your own camera and I still have it. By the time I got down here, digital was on the rise, I was working at best buy and going to school so I saved up and got a digital camera. It was a Canon Rebel. From there, it was on and popping! I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just taking pictures of everything, but over the years I developed more and started booking gigs. That camera took me to a lot of places where I never thought I would go. Some of it started getting a little overwhelming though. I started doing more photography that I didn’t really have an interest in and less of what I had an interest in. At that point, I started focusing on photography that I liked to do – approaching it the way I wanted to not the way people think you should be doing it. If you look at my photography catalog, every model that I photograph was handpicked by me. They were either friends of mine or people that I’ve met. I wanted to be able to tell a visual story with their images. That’s my approach to it right now. I got a couple of shoots that I’ve done recently that went very well and I’m still in the editing process. I hang around a lot of other photographers too and everybody’s doing their own thing. It’s cool to witness these young photographers really taking shape and doing what they love to do. A lot of them are going to be able to make a living off of it. To get to the point where you can share your experiences with others who are coming into it and go from teacher to student and vise-versa, is a nice cycle to be apart of.
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Me: That’s phenomenal man, the fact that you are going back and teaching the next generation the principles behind the photography. It really speaks volumes on the type of person and artist that you are. Kudos to you!
Jamaal: Thank you. I also teach an art class and right now I’m teaching the kids graffiti. I was fortunate enough to be able to write my own curriculum. I wanted to show them everything – from what I know and what I’ve been through and what I learned to what other writers have went through. I’m basically going to show them the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of graffiti and why it is an important art form that’s been denied by most of the higher ups. I had to teach the kids the history, the terminology, and finally I put the spray can in their hand. At the end of the day it’s important to me to tell them because it’s our history and if we don’t preserve it, it’s going to be told some other way. They already got rid of 5 Pointz in New York.
Me: What’s 5 Pointz?
Jamaal: It’s basically this huge warehouse in Queens where all of these graffiti writers came together and turned it into a museum for graffiti writers by graffiti writers. It would feature different artists around the world. It was so massive and everything was touched from the outside to the inside. When I went to see it I was just bumping into old graffiti writers, dudes that were in their fifties and sixties. They let me interview them too. They were even showing their kids how to write graffiti. Fortunately, I got to see it before they tore it down like six months later. So, if things aren’t handled the right way they can be taken away, literally.
Me: Wow! That’s what I love about doing these interviews too because these stories fuel me along my creative journey too, they enrich you as a person.
Jamaal: Yea, definitely. Even at my job as an art framer, people come in with their images from artwork to old family photos and jerseys. A lot of it is dope and I’m interested in that stuff so I ask questions. They’ll share their stories with me. Two weeks ago this girl came in and she was telling me that she just got back from Nepal. She was staying with the monks in a village out there. They didn’t have things that we are accustomed to like hot water and electricity. As she was explaining her experience and the artwork that she brought in, she started crying. So, my point is that everybody has a story to tell and I get to hear about them through these images whether it’d be artwork or photography which happen to be things that I’m into anyway.
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Me: Yea definitely! Stories are what impact people the most. Describe how you approach your creative process; what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range of creativity?
Jamaal: A lot of the paintings that I do come together in my home. My creative process lately consists of working on two to three paintings at once. I’ll set them up on easels and get the colors in line. Even after I do that, I go to the beach a lot and just meditate. If I need to clear my head or get some inspiration for the pieces I’m about to work on, it’s usually at the beach. After that, then I’ll dive in on the canvases. That’s usually the process as far as the painting goes. Sometimes, it might just come random, I’ll do smaller canvases and it’ll just come out of nowhere. I’ll just wake up and start working on them. I wouldn’t really have any solid ideas backing them, just free flowing.
“If I need to clear my head or get some inspiration for the pieces I’m about to work on, it’s usually at the beach.”
Jamaal: As far as the photography process goes, it might take awhile sometimes. I try not to think about it too much. The main elements that go into that are – who I’m shooting and where I’m shooting. The great thing about photography that alot of people may not realize is that you can turn any environment into a useful, interesting setting. If you have a subject that isn’t necessarily the most interesting in real life, you can portray them as interesting by just sticking them in the right environment.
Jamaal: You got to have that creative eye, not everybody has that. That’s what’s going to separate a good photographer from a great photographer. I want to explore different mediums in the future, but for right now, the creative processes are just about getting my mind right whether it be through meditating or taking in a good scene which is usually at the beach. I never painted or sketched out there, I just go and zone out. I also go to the park, there’s a lot of good parks and beaches down here as well. As far as getting down to painting, I use different types of paint – spray-paint, acrylic, and oil paint. I also use a variety of markers. I take notes too on different elements I want to include in the pieces. Like I mentioned earlier, sometimes I want those levels to be there and I have to plan them out. Oh yea, I’m also in my car a lot, my brother says that’s my “think tank”. I spend a lot of time in my car driving down I-95. I’ll accumulate a lot of my ideas and concepts while I’m in my car. So, that’s part of my creative process as well.
Me: That’s dope man, what’s currently on your playlist in terms of getting those creative juices flowing? Are there any songs that you prefer to listen to when you’re painting?
Jamaal: Right now to be honest I’m listening to a lot of old R&B like Troop. I also listen to a lot of Killah Priest, and Sade. I listen to the new J. Cole album and new Common album. There’s this one Hip-Hop group that I found online called Jewelz Infinite. They’re on some type of esoteric knowledge type of stuff. I’ve been listening to their album for a couple of years now. I’m a huge Wu-Tang fan though, I always got them playing. They played a vital part in my whole upbringing.
Me: In what way?
Jamaal: I remember the first time I heard Wu-Tang. My cousin came over from the city to visit one day and he ran upstairs saying, “Y’all ever heard of Method Man?” We were like, “who the hell is that?” (laughing) I don’t think we heard it at that point after he said it because he had the single cassette tape. The next day, Protect Ya Neck video was playing on Urban-Xpressions in Philly. Pretty much from there I was hooked. Then, years went by and I was in Junior High School and we were doing an art project in the cafeteria. The project was to paint iconic things of the 90s and I got picked to paint something but I never turned in what I was going to paint because I didn’t know. One day I was in there looking at the wall and I was like, ‘I’m going to paint the W for the Wu, everybody knows what that is.’ After I painted it the teacher was pissed. Everybody else loved it though. I ended up getting kicked out of his art class too. I painted the W on my wall in my bedroom too and I had all of their albums and knew all the lyrics. I even bought the Wu-Tang manuals. They were like the soundtrack to my life. I got to meet Ghostface down here and I talked to Ol’ Dirty Bastard once on the phone. Their music got me through a lot of hard times, they opened up me up to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have probably found out about before.
Me: That’s dope man! If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece who would it be and why?
Jamaal: There’s this artist named Brian (IG: @bktheartist) and his style resembles Dali a little bit. He’s really abstract and he’s sick with it. He does these pieces where you might see one figure at first and the longer you look at it you might see several more figures. I think it’ll be a dope contrast of style. It’ll be interesting just to see how it flows in the end. Even my man JaFleu (IG: @jafleu), I’d like to do a collab with him because our styles are so different. I think it’ll be interesting to see how that would come together.
Me: Wow, yea I definitely have to look up BK too. Since you mentioned collaborating with JaFleu, when I was doing my interview with Jamaul Johnson, he said that you guys ran an art exhibit together. Can you tell me more about it?
Jamaal: Sure, it’s called Exhibit Treal and it’s actually a nonprofit. JaFleu’s actually the founder, I’m the co-founder and it’s also a third member, Tracy (IG: @guiteauart). It came into existence basically because we felt the art scene around here wasn’t where it should be at the time. We felt the only reasonable way to fix it was to create our own shows and get our fellow artists who either couldn’t get into an art show, didn’t know how to get into one, or was still new to it and just wanted to get their art seen. JaFleu already had the basis of the group established so we just rolled it out and had our first show a few years ago. People came through, art was sold, and the artists were united. We got some press as well. In a way it felt effortless because we were all doing it from a positive place. That’s where that one piece, Three Kings I was talking to you about earlier came into existence. It was a live painting that I started at an Exhibit Treal show. JaFleu has an incredible work ethic, he was like the spearhead. From that point on, we started doing shows every other week and eventually every week. We even did a couple book drives, spelling bees, and a toy drive last Christmas. I taught a couple of classes showing the kids and the elders how to paint. It became a part of us as a collective and it was great. It was all about the art. We did a couple gallery shows in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and a September 11th show that featured some controversial pieces. We were able to bring in other artists and photographers. All of this was accomplished within the last year and a half. We just went hard with it. We couldn’t have done it without each other and everybody being on the same page.
Artists Showcase of the Palm Beaches present 's Exhibit Treal: "I TOO, America" Group Exhibition Artists: Belina Wright Ashley Dias Visualist Luz Pla Angel Mc Kinson Guiteau Art Orealjinal Desijns KYTA BEEZ MEDIA Mesha Murray CHIRE Reagans JaFleu Live Performances by: Antoni Zoetry Channie Wright King Mob JaFleu The opening reception was Sunday, September 11 from 4pm to 8pm The Exhibition will run through Sept and many community events will take place. Please take the time not to just donate but to visit our GoFundMe page to read and see why we believe the journey to open our own space is a worthy goal for you to invest in. https://www.gofundme.com/exhibittreal Exhibit Treal is an 501c3 Non Profit in partnership with Palm Beach Multicultural Organization | West-Palm Beach-Carnival that focuses on providing opportunities for minority artists in Palm Beach County and beyond by curating our own art exhibits and shows as well as artist development. The central focus for Exhibit Treal is to use the arts, be it visual, musical, writing or more to give back to the community and get others involved. #art #artexhibit #artismyweapon #speakup #blacklivesmatter #palmbeach #westpalmbeach #soflo #thearts #blackart #minorityart #urbanart #dearamerica #artthatmatters #artmatters #wpbarts
Me: Wow, that’s really dope man! You saw a need and you created a platform to serve that need and to also create an impact on others. That’s what I’m also trying to do with this project as well. It’s also taking me more outside of my shell too because I’m naturally more of an introvert. I’m just trying to expand more outside of my comfort zone and open up myself more. I understand that it’s vital to your survival as an artist especially because you have to be able to discuss your art to various types of people.
Jamaal: That’s true. When I first started getting my art out there I had to realize simple things like – it’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen if you stand in one spot, and you’re going to be in some uncomfortable situations. It’s gotten easier for me to talk to people about my work.
Me: That’s great man, kudos to you!
Jamaal: Thank you, I appreciate that! I found myself talking to people I didn’t think I would ever have anything in common with. There was this one dude in particular I met at Art Basel two years ago and he was the security guard for our event. He was a big white dude with a big beard. He looked like an asshole (laughing)! That was my first impression of him before we even talked. Then one day I was coming into the building and he spoke. We started talking and I was saying, ‘you’re nothing like I thought you’d be!’ He said, “yea you either, I thought you’d be an asshole!” Then we started joking around and I found out he was an artist too. He had a couple of pieces in the show but he was also working security. It was weird because I’d never seen that before. Then, I was at another show in another city and he was there with all of his work. I walked by him and I saw his stuff and it was ill. After we were talking, it turned out we had a lot in common. So, I’m talking to this big white dude with a big beard and he’s talking to me – this slim black dude with a beard. If it weren’t for art I probably wouldn’t have been talking to him. Art can bridge some huge gaps.
“Art can bridge some huge gaps.”
Me: Yea that’s the beautiful thing about art; you can have those conversations with anybody.
Jamaal: Yea, even talking to the kids and getting their interpretation versus talking to the adults, your family, or friends; you can’t really determine how far the conversation can go with art. It’s no limits to it. On my IG, I posted a quote that says, “Art is eternal and vision is infinite.” That’s related to my nickname I chose for myself (The Visualist). It’s based on the concept of your left and your right eye forming your third eye or your mental picture. You’re forming a picture in your own mind with your third eye.
Me: Wow, that’s a powerful message right there!
Jamaal: Yea, I chose that name for a reason to keep you thinking! (laughing) The name itself came from AZ the rapper. I’m a big fan of AZ and he went by the name of AZ The Visualizer. In college we had to come up with a company name for a class project and I was going by my tag name Visualizer at the time. But, I didn’t want to bite off of AZ. So, I was just studying and researching and came up with Visualist and I just stuck with that. However, I thought it was still shallow. So, I kept adding on to it and wrote five pages of definitions for it. I was even interviewing my friends and getting their input. Finally, I came up with a summary behind the name – being able to develop these mental pictures in your mind and bring them to light as well as turn a negative into a positive. The concepts got deeper though because I was reading a lot of different books at the time.
Me: What were some of the books you were reading?
Jamaal: Some of the books I was reading were – Cosmic Codes, Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, Children of the Sun, Nile Valley Contributions, They Came Before Columbus, Stairway To Heaven, From Babylon to Timbuktu, and Behold The Pale Horse. Right now I’m reading The Alchemist, The Emerald Tablets, and Striking Thoughts by Bruce Lee.
Me: Wow, that’s great man! I read The Alchemist and They Came Before Columbus but I haven’t read the others yet. I got to add those to the collection!
Jamaal: Yea man, back in college we would have these book lists and whoever had books on that list, you would bring them and trade with someone else. That’s how I met a lot of my friends in college. They would borrow a book that I had and they would highlight everything that stood out to them and then pass it on to someone else. Eventually, I would get it back and the whole damn book would be highlighted! (laughing)
Me: That’s so dope! You all were just spreading the knowledge!
Jamaal: Yea, and we would have ciphers and sometimes on the weekends a bunch of us would get together. It was dope though because you had people from all over at these gatherings. You had me from Philly, a couple cats from Jersey, a cat from New York, a Rastafarian cat from Trinidad, a cat from the Bahamas, and a cat from down here in Fort Lauderdale. So you had all these black dudes that were all different shades (laughing) and some with accents talking about real issues. Everybody was bringing something to the table. I’ll never forget this one time when we were at my boy’s house from Trinidad and he had a video playing about Halle Selassie. At that time I didn’t know who he was. I’m just like, ‘who is this?’ Like an hour went by and we were just silent watching the movie. Once it was done, then we started discussing it and who he was. I was blown away. I knew about the Five-Percent Nation of Gods and Earths so I brought that to the table with Clarence 13X. That’s how we got down in college.
Me: Wow, that’s incredible man!
Jamaal: Yea, recently I’ve been going to certain functions down here that’s reminiscent to what we were doing in college so it’s a good thing. I’d still like to see it happening more.
Me: I hear that, it’s needed. Just having that type of dialogue within our community, that’s how you get to resolve some of these issues and progress as a culture.
Jamaal: Definitely. My boy’s wife suggested that we have discussions at their house too once a week. We had like four or five gatherings, and then they stopped. They might start back up though because people are starting realize certain things for obvious reasons.
Me: Yea, especially with this election.
Jamaal: Awww man. I remember getting into a deep discussion with this young bull and I gave him my perspective on the election a little while back. He was angry and I was telling him It’s going to be crucial how we deal with it. They want a reaction out of us so they can apply their next move. But, if we show unity and positivity and basically move in the opposite direction that they’re expecting us to move in, then we can get ahead of this. If you stay positive, keep doing it and just stay aware of the foolishness that you’re going to see. Like with you, keep doing these interviews.
Me: Yea, I’m trying to spread light wherever I can.
Jamaal: Yea, that’s what it’s about, bringing that light. It’s so needed.
Me: Definitely. In your opinion, what do you think young black visual artists can do to create more opportunities for themselves?
Jamaal: It’s kind of like what we touched on earlier. I think they just got to hit the pavement and put themselves out there. Start networking with other artists, and those who are trying to set up those outlets like you – providing a platform so that our voices can be heard. Also, learn how to clarify their thoughts and express themselves better. It’s something I face everyday. In doing so, sometimes you have to create new relationships and work with new people. You just have to be ambitious and take that risk. If there isn’t a platform already there, you may have to create it. These days it’s easier to do that but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to put in the work. That may be another misconception for upcoming artists to think that they can get ahead without putting in the work. Take advantage of your resources and utilize these different digital outlets.
“You just have to be ambitious and take that risk. If there isn’t a platform already there, you may have to create it.”
Me: Those are some great points you mentioned! Are there any other artists in your family?
Jamaal: My older sister and my older brother used to draw when we were younger but they never stuck with it. They were good though, they kept me sharp! (laughing)
Me: That’s what’s up! What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?
Jamaal: There was a piece that I did called The Edge of Tomorrow and it’s actually a reworked piece. The original was done for a friend that commissioned me to do it. I painted it for her and her boyfriend. She liked it and they hung it up in their house. Unfortunately, she passed away and I had to come to her crib and take it home. I told her before that I didn’t feel like the piece was completed. So, about a year after she passed I finally went back to it and finished it. It felt weird giving someone a piece then having to take it back. So, it was a hard piece on different levels emotionally as well as creatively because I redid the piece. I think she would have liked it. It stuck with the original piece, I just actualized it.
Me: I’m sorry for the loss man. I can only imagine how that process was going back to try to finish the piece.
Jamaal: Thank you.
Me: Describe a time when you experienced a creative block?
Jamaal: I think the only time I had a creative block was not too long after a fallout I had with a fellow artist and a close friend of mine. It was a time where I wasn’t doing anything – drawing, painting, or taking pictures for an extended period of time. I was contemplating on what to do as far as work and my life. I just wasn’t in a good place creatively. Different things started to creep in that just weren’t beneficial to me as an artist. I wasn’t feeling like I accomplished anything. I was out of work at the time as well. I was just trying to make sense of everything. I eventually bounced out of it and took a different creative route. I still don’t have it figured out completely but I feel like I’m at a better place right now. It’s crazy because it’s no map for this you know?
Me: Yea, I feel you. I stopped drawing for a long time. When I was in college I didn’t really draw too much at all. Then, once I got out of school I picked it back up for awhile then I put it back down so it’s been different periods where I stopped doing it and then I would pick it back up. The biggest challenge for me is staying consistent. That’s what I admire about you too, that you’re just going full-force with it! You’re doing your thing and I got mad respect for that.
Jamaal: Thank you I appreciate that. It means a lot!
Me: No problem. How has your artwork shaped you as a person?
Jamaal: It’s shaped me in ways I’m still not even ready for. With painting pharaohs, all of them weren’t considered kings but they were looked at as rulers and leaders in Ancient Egypt. Recently, I came across another meaning for Pharaoh. It basically mentioned that the word pharaoh means “that which you’ll become.” With me painting these types of things a lot of people ask me while I’m doing live paintings, “do you consider yourself a pharaoh?” I’ve never answered yes because I thought it was something conceited to say. So, I never really looked at it that way. Then, not too long ago I was talking to this Rastafarian cat at a show that I had with Three Kings showing. He mentioned that the pharaohs were chosen by the people, they couldn’t choose themselves. A couple of other times people told me that I looked like a pharaoh or that I have the demeanor of one. In that sense, I try to strive to be a better person and I try to reflect what my work is about. I seek to reach my higher self and accomplish positive things in life. So, yea I think my artwork does reflect me in that regard trying to live better and be a positive influence to those around me. If you see a piece of me in the paintings so be it. I hope you do, and I hope you see yourself in them too.
“I think my artwork does reflect me in that regard trying to live better and be a positive influence to those around me.”
Jamaal: One thing I ask some people is, ‘if there was no money involved would you still be doing it?’ At this point, I’ve seen all different aspects to artists. Some people were in no shape or form motivated by money and I’ve seen others who were only motivated by money. You learn what’s important to you and you start seeing where your morals are at. You also start learning who is a moralistic person. It’s the same with any business but I think what separates the art world from others is that you’re dealing with people who are expressing themselves only in ways that they know how to. Sometimes it’s very heartfelt and there’s a lot of passion behind it. At the same time, it can be a skill where there’s no connection to it. For some artists it’s very hard for them to put a price on their work or to work in a timely fashion to sell to people that they don’t know or have a connection with. I think it’s a beautiful thing to make money off something that you love to do, but when greed starts outweighing everything else and starts affecting your judgment, I would advise that person to just take a step back and re-analyze why they’re doing art. In my experience I dealt with people who were hurting others in pursuit of that greed. I actually had to end a relationship with someone who was considered family over art because of his greed.
“For some artists it’s very hard for them to put a price on their work or to work in a timely fashion to sell to people that they don’t know or have a connection with.”
Me: Wow, you dropped a lot of wisdom right there! Just getting into art for the wrong reasons and it matters about the type of connections that you make in terms of the longevity of your career as a professional artist. Even in terms of your artistry how much are you willing to sacrifice and are you willing to just put anything out there even if it’s not reflective of who you are just to satisfy a certain type of audience? It can help other artists coming up in the game.
Jamaal: Exactly! That was a lesson that had me question whether I should keep pursuing art as a career or just let it go.
Me: Sorry you had to go through that too, that’s rough.
Jamaal: Thanks man. I try to keep it one hundred; I just want people to learn from my experiences. Me and that individual knew each other since second grade and we still don’t talk till this very day since that incident.
.. Actions have reactions, don't be quick to judge
You may not know the hardships people don't speak of
It's best to step back, and observe with couth
For we all must meet our moment of truth
Sometimes you gotta dig deep, when problems come near
Don't fear things get severe for everybody everywhere
Why do bad things happen, to good people?
Seems that life is just a constant war between good and evil
The situation that I'm facin, is mad amazin
To think such problems can arise from minor confrontations
Now I'm contemplatin in my bedroom pacin
Dark clouds over my head, my heart's racin
Suicide? nah, I'm not a foolish guy
Don't even feel like drinking, or even gettin high
Cause all that's gonna do really, is accelerate
The anxieties that I wish I could alleviate
But wait, I've been through a whole lot of other shit, before
So I oughta be able, to withstand some more
But I'm sweating though, my eyes are turning red and yo
I'm ready to lose my mind but instead I use my mind
I put down the knife, and take the bullets out my nine
My only crime, was that I'm too damn kind
And now some scandalous motherfuckers wanna take what's mine
But they can't take the respect, that I've earned in my lifetime
And you know they'll never stop the furious force of my rhymes
So like they say, every dog has its day
And like they say, God works in a mysterious way
So I pray, remembering the days of my youth
As I prepare to meet my moment of truth. – Guru, Moment of Truth On display & for sale at The Milargo Center In Delray #visualistart #guru #gangstarr #ripguru
Me: What is your most proud achievement so far as an artist?
Jamaal: I’m just thankful to be where I’m at now. Being able to give back to my community and these young kids is my proudest achievement at this point.
“Being able to give back to my community and these young kids is my proudest achievement at this point.”
Me: That’s great man to be able to give back while doing something that you’re passionate about. Would you like to share any upcoming projects/exhibitions?
Jamaal: I got my first solo event – it’s a pop up shop coming up in Fort Lauderdale on the 25th. It’s hosted by Angela Guy from Dezignation. It’s out of her space. From what I understand it’s going to be a tattoo artist out there doing tattoos. It’s also going to be spoken word. It’s going to consist of existing work that I have; I’ll be selling prints and a couple of new paintings that I’m working on as well. It’ll be an open discussion in which I’ll be explaining my pieces.
Me: Congrats man!
Jamaal: Thank you, appreciate that! My new paintings I’ve got going on are taken from recent photo shoots I’ve done. I’m just trying some new stuff.
Me: Nice! What’s your vision for the future in terms of your artistry?
Jamaal: I want to branch out and paint other ancient civilizations and touch other parts of the world. I just want the work to be timeless. One hundred years from now I want my work to still hold that same type of light. I would like to see The Visualist name still being used in a proper manner. If my name doesn’t last, I hope whatever I do with The Visualist, my artwork will come right beside it. I want to open up a school dedicated to visual and martial arts. I study Tae Kwon Do and I’m passionate about that as well. I want that to coincide with the artwork and The Visualist name.
Me: Wow, that’s incredible! Well Jamaal, I really appreciate your time and this conversation! I wish you much success in your future!
Jamaal: No doubt man, I appreciate the opportunity! It was good to talk to you and be able to look back at some of those pieces.