This week’s interview is with Elijah Minton. In just a few years of pursuing art professionally, Eli has amassed an impressive portfolio. His supreme work ethic along with his unwavering determination to manifest his vision, are the perfect traits that will continue to heighten his prosperity. Learn more about Eli and his creative endeavors in our conversation.
Me: Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?
Eli: Art is a form of activism for me. I started off real rebellious with it because I was almost like a conspiracy theorist when I was in college. So, I was aware of a lot things that were going on at the time. One of the first controversial pieces I did was for a non-violence show in Connecticut. It was a piece called 1999. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with uncle Sam behind him with a gun and he had his hands up. It was done at the time when black lives matter and hands up don’t shoot was coming about. I felt that made a big statement.
Eli: I said, ‘in 1999 Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated by the CIA’ and that piece illustrated that in a very graphic way. It’s one of those things that makes people think instantly because it’s so compelling and it’s something that they aren’t used to seeing. Art is a good way to create awareness by projecting images into someone’s mind and communicating in more than a thousand words with a picture.
“Art is a good way to create awareness by projecting images into someone’s mind and communicating in more than than a thousand words with a picture.”
Me: Definitely! I think the best type of art is supposed to spark those different types of dialogues and it evokes some type of emotions for the viewer.
Eli: Indeed! I’m actually going in the direction of using heavy context and symbolism. I feel like I have a lot to say but I haven’t quite felt like I had the skills to get it across the way I wanted until now. My paintings that I’m doing now are going to underline lessons that most people don’t learn from life because they are too absorbed with their egos.
“My paintings that I’m doing now are going to underline lessons that most people don’t learn from life because they are too absorbed with their egos.”
Me: Wow, yea that’s a great point that you mentioned. I know I get so caught up at times with the everyday trials and tribulations of life that make me forget that the world is much bigger than me and my issues.
Eli: I think people don’t realize how much influence the outside world really has on them because we’ve been raised to act a certain way and have a certain frame of thinking. For example, in high school there’s a popularity contest where everything is about materialism. Lack of money makes a lot of people think more negatively than they should, but there’s a lot to appreciate regardless of the amount of money you have.
Me: Yea, and it’s a shame though because a lot of us are bombarded with images of what the ideal life is supposed to look like. In reality, it’s not a one-size fits all, everybody has their own aspirations of what they want to achieve in their lives. Social media can definitely have an impact on the way people perceive their lives based on how others are portraying themselves on these platforms.
Eli: The funny thing about that is everybody’s busy projecting this reality on social media that they’re doing well, people put on a lot of facades. Yet, we forget that people really don’t put bad things about their lives on Facebook. For those who do, we tend to look at them like they’re bugging out. Did you know that the average person checks their Facebook about 17 times a day?
Me: Yea, that’s true and I believe that statistic (laughing)! I know I got to take breaks to maintain my sanity. At the same time you got to use it though because it’s essential for your brand, it’s a great platform especially for promoting your art.
Eli: Yea, you still have to play the game.
Me: I see another painting on IG you did recently called Purple Haze, could you tell me more about that piece? I’m trying to figure out what the word in the smoke says (laughing)!
Eli: (Laughing) It says Alchemy. A few letters I kind of put them on top of each other but it’s in smoke so you can see through them. Honestly, I think I forgot a letter (laughing). But, to some extent if you look at it a certain way it still makes sense. I did the lettering live so I think I was just so fixated in the moment I think I connected a line that wasn’t supposed to be connected. Nobody notices it though.
Me: Hey, it’s still dope either way!
Eli: Thank you!
Me: Would you like to dive deeper into that one?
Eli: That was me basically trying to learn how to use colors in different ways. I did a series of color studies and a collaboration with another artist from Miami. This piece was part of my March Art Madness thing and it was just something I threw in the mix. I was being very creative and I didn’t really put a lot of thought into the work I did in March. It was just me exploring and trying new things; preparing for some of the concepts that was going to take a lot more time. When I first began, I bought a set of markers and offered to draw models in order to get exposure. I drew this one model but it didn’t come out right so I drew it again. The first time it didn’t get much notice on my page but the second time it got more love (laughing).
“I was being very creative and I didn’t really put a lot of thought into the work I did in March. It was just me exploring and trying new things; preparing for some of the concepts that was going to take a lot more time.”
Me: That’s cool. What’s the live painting experience like for you?
Eli: When I first started, I was only painting for four months. I got asked to do a live painting at a show and it was about six other artists painting live so it wasn’t that much stress on me. It was just something I started doing and I got asked to do it a lot more. It was very mentally challenging because you had to deal with your thoughts of what other people think or if anybody likes it; basically all of those insecurities while your painting. Then, these feelings get multiplied if you make any mistakes. But, I realized I was just looking at it the wrong way. The first summer I did about seven live paintings and three of them were at this really big show in Harlem, New York called hARTlem on 145th street. I just kept pushing the limits. I would come not really knowing what I was going to do and I would buy a bigger canvas every time and take really big risks publicly.
Eli: As I progressed I started going to this place called The Delancey in Manhattan which had weekly live painting shows. Once I started going there I really got better. They featured about 10 to 30 artists painting live in this little underground 90s Hip-Hop scene. It had a really cool vibe to do art. There would be people break-dancing too. I’ve done a lot of shows since then. I painted live at this organization called New Era Detroit. They bought me a bus ticket to go to Detroit and paint at their educational program held at a college. After that I linked up with a radio host and she recorded me and posted it on Facebook. So, they definitely took care of me while I was up there. I’ve also done live paintings in Miami. I’ve done so many that’s it’s hard to keep track (laughing)! I was looking at it as a marketing tactic because I wasn’t quite sure of how to sell live paintings but I started auctioning them off, then it progressed from there. At first, I was spending a lot of money trying to go to cities outside of New Jersey. I haven’t had a car since I started doing art.
Eli: Before I started doing art I had four different motorcycles, and a car. I was doing pretty well. But, then I just took that leap of faith and sacrificed everything to have the opportunity not to work a 9 to 5 for the rest of my life. I think this will be the year I finally make it for sure.
“But, then I just took that leap of faith and sacrificed everything to have the opportunity not to work a 9 to 5 for the rest of my life.”
Me: That’s right, claim it brother!
Eli: Definitely. I’m really starting to live the artist life now. The whole business side of art is very time consuming compared to just painting. You have to structure contracts, questionnaires, and sizing charts. These are things that many artists don’t think about. That’s been a major shift in thinking for me just looking at art as a marketing job as opposed to a creative job. That gives a way different perspective in what you’re doing.
Eli: I didn’t want to be in this category but art is a luxury expense. So, as an artist a lot of us do it for the love and we get caught up with trying to please people about prices or with our content. There’s a lot of different traps that artists get into where they’ll leave them unhappy within their craft. That definitely happened to me with my commission work. Because of my stubbornness and unwillingness to go back to work, I was always doing commission work. Yea, it was enough to pay the bills but it was very time consuming, it was almost like I was in art school.
“The whole business side of art is very time consuming compared to just painting. You have to structure contracts, questionnaires, and sizing charts. These are things that many artists don’t think about.”
Me: Wow, brother you just dropped some major gems! One takeaway I got was to just go full-force with your passions, that’s what I’m learning for myself. At first I wasn’t sure about this blog. I wasn’t sure if these artists were going to respond back to me because I’m not a major, well-known media outlet. But then I was like ‘you know what I’m going to just give it a shot and see what happens.’ If one artist says no or just doesn’t respond back to me, then I just move on until someone does respond. I give you mad props though because that’s brave to just leave behind that cushy lifestyle you were living from that 9 to 5. I know it’s not easy.
Eli: Thank you. I think a lot of us try to think our way into success where we ask all of these questions. But, at the end of the day, your thoughts stem from your heart. When you believe in something it projects a different type of thought pattern in your mind. You’ll have successful thoughts if you believe that you’ll be successful. The funniest thing about it is that a lot of people were taught to look at things backwards. Instead, we’re taught to find out how it’s going to work first before we believe that it’s going to happen.
“When you believe in something it projects a different type of thought pattern in your mind. You’ll have successful thoughts if you believe that you’ll be successful.”
Me: Wow, I never thought of it that way. I think we tend to over-think things and lose ourselves in our thoughts as well instead of just being proactive. Describe Your upbringing where you’re originally from, when you started painting, you’re family background, and your education?
Eli: I grew up in West Orange, New Jersey. I went to college at Montclair State University for Finance but then I dropped out twice (laughing). The reason why I dropped out the first time was because my feet became paralyzed for a month and a half. The doctors basically told me that they don’t know what’s wrong with me and were going to hook me up to an IV about four days a week. So, I dropped out, stopped going to to the doctor and started eating a plant-based diet. Then my toes started moving again. During that time I had been doing a lot of reading on finance and became more aware of the world. I also had a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep making like $41,000 a year. So, once I went back to school the second time I was wondering why school was so important when I can clearly just get a job? So, I ended up dropping out for the second time and never went back.
Eli: It’s crazy though because at this time being a pharmaceutical sales rep, I was riding my motorcycle instead of a car because my territory was New York City and Long Island. I was actually the top rep in the country because I was able to park between the cars and go to all of these doctors’ offices in New York because they were right next to each other. It was a really easy and fun job but once it started getting cold I wasn’t trying to get a car and actually drive around selling products anymore. Then, I had a spiritual awakening one day and I started seeing all of these colors and I started drawing again. So, I ended up just quitting my job and started pursuing art professionally.
“…I had a spiritual awakening one day and I started seeing all of these colors and I started drawing again.”
Me: Wow! Man, that’s quite a story (laughing)! You did a complete 180!
Eli: Definitely! When my feet problems began, I was actually a part of a motorcycle gang. The perception of me before I did art was that I was bad to the bone, then suddenly I became this spiritual artist (laughing)! I had a complete switch of friends and situations.
Me: Kudos to you! When did you actually start creating art?
Eli: I’ve been doing it since I was little. I was really good with pencil and colored pencils. I would say around 1st grade was the first time where I was recognized for my talent. There was this fair at school and I drew a tractor trailer outside and everybody liked it. Then, I kind of knew from that point on I was a little better than average. In high school, there were so many other things I did besides art like playing the flute, football, lacrosse, and track. So, I had a lot of options but art seemed like the best route for me to make money.
Me: That’s great that you had a lot of different interests though, they made you a more well-rounded person. Were your parents really supportive of you pursuing art professionally?
Eli: At first they wanted me to get a job but then they came around eventually. They would lend me their car if I needed it. There’s no bad blood. My Dad actually started drawing again since I started doing it. He’s pretty good too.
Me: Nice! Did you ever collaborate with your Dad on art projects?
Eli: No, I think it would be cool though. He likes to draw portraits his own way, I was the same way too. The only difference is that I just do it for like 10 hours a day. I just don’t sleep that much, I have trouble sleeping more than five hours. I usually fast twice a day, have one to two meals, drink a lot of water, and go to sleep on an empty stomach. It’s a lot easier to wake up doing that. We’re conditioned to eat three meals a day because it keeps our stomach digesting, therefore, taking energy away from our ability to process thought and keeping us away from thinking about how to end the corrupt system that we’re living in today. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to eat right. I eat raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, and drink plenty of water. The less I eat, the more aware I am.
“If you want to be successful, you’ve got to eat right.”
Me: Wow, that’s an interesting perspective! Does the rest of your family eat that way too?
Eli: My little brother actually started eating like that before I did. My Mom and Dad just do their own thing but they definitely eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
Me: That’s great man, I’m going to get to that lifestyle one day! (laughing) Describe how you approach your creative process, what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range of creativity?
Eli: To begin the process, I have to sketch first and then I color. I need to have some good music while I’m creating. I prefer to be outside creating when the weather’s warm. When I was living in Florida, I had a studio outside next to a bunch of palm trees so I’m used to warm weather and nice vibes. I also like to freestyle when I draw. My process has been pretty public since I do live videos often on Facebook.
Me: True. What types of music do you listen to get your creative vibes flowing?
Eli: I like to listen to a lot of Jazz, instrumentals, and R&B. Every genre works as long as it catches my ear but those are the main ones. I listen to SoundCloud more than anything though.
Me: Cool. If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece, who would it be and why?
Eli: There’s this artist that I did my first show with, he goes by Dune Dean (IG: @dune_art). I really like his style and I think it compliments mine. He paints in black and white but he has a depth in concepts that make me want to buy his work. I’m actually doing a collab with an abstract painter named Julian Kerr (IG: @juliankerrart).
Me: Awesome! Going back to your business, are there any other products or services that you offer in addition to your artwork?
Eli: I also teach paint and sip classes, I do body and face painting, and I’m in the process of doing t-shirts and helping my friend to open a new cafe/open mic spot. I’m trying to explore every direction right now.
Me: That’s incredible! In your opinion, what do you think young black visual artists can do to create more opportunities for themselves?
Eli: Do things that have never been done. If you want to create opportunities for yourself, you have to think outside of the box. If you want to paint a picture then you have to paint a masterpiece with your business as well, so you should set it up in a way that it adds value to your brand and differentiates you from others.
“If you want to paint a picture then you have to paint a masterpiece with your business as well, so you should set it up in a way that it adds value to your brand and differentiates you from others.”
Me: That’s a great point, especially determining your value proposition and figure out what separates you from other businesses. What’s your favorite piece you’ve created so far?
Eli: I’d say it’s the Biggie Smalls piece because I had a really good concept behind it and he was definitely one of my favorites growing up. The piece is actually called Brokelyn or Broke at 30 and basically it was illustrating one of his lyrics, “being broke at 30 gives a nigga the chills.” So, I had him sitting outside of the liquor store in Bedstuy.” He’s a big baby with his grown face at 30 sitting in the snow, cold and broke in the position from the album cover of Ready to Die. It’s really a play on the words – ‘broke,’ ’30,’ and ‘chills.’ Then I put Brokelyn instead of Brooklyn on his hat to make people think or wonder. It’s a really good conversation piece, people have a hard time figuring the concept out but once they actually hear the song then they get it.
Me: Yea that’s a dope piece too, great job!
Eli: Thank you!
Me: Are there any other artists in your family other than you and your Dad?
Me: Okay, and did your Dad pursue art as a career at one point?
Eli: No, he’s actually a musician. He was a music producer and that’s how he met my Mom.
Me: Word? That’s cool. So, that’s where you get your music talent from. I saw you free-styling on Facebook (laughing)!
Eli: (Laughing) Yea, that’s just something I do when I paint.
Me: What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?
Eli: There’s a black and white oil painting I did of a bar with bottles and cups. It was a lot of focus. I don’t paint by trying to recreate the shape of the bottles, I’m more so focused on recreating patterns that I see. When it got to tone sequence it was hard to keep my eyes on the right spec of grey or white that I was painting.
Me: Yea, I could see how that would be difficult. What’s the biggest canvas you’ve ever worked on?
Eli: The biggest I’ve ever painted was a mural which was on Six – 8 ft by 4 ft panels. It took about a month and a half to finish.
Me: Wow, that’s huge! Describe a time when you experienced a creative block and how did you overcome it?
Eli: What I did was I went to a state where Marijuana is legal and there goes the creative block (laughing)! Other than that I meditate or if I had a creative block then it would mean that I had to deal with something else in my life to be at peace.
Me: (Laughing) How has your artwork shaped you as a person?
Eli: I would say that my art has made me reflect on my observations more deeply.
Me: Cool. What is your most proud achievement so far as an artist?
Eli: I don’t really have any proud achievements, I didn’t really set any high goals for myself, I was just painting. Now I’m looking to achieve a situation where I can travel across the country. I want to get a new van and have my art on the side to help me make money in addition to running other businesses.
“Now I’m looking to achieve a situation where I can travel across the country.”
Me: Well, you’ve only been doing it professionally for a few years but you’ve done a lot of things within that short time-span so I can only imagine how much more is in store for the future. Would you like to share any upcoming projects/exhibitions?
Eli: As far as events go, I don’t have anything coming up right now but I will be launching my new website soon. I’m trying to finish up my commission work from last month (laughing)!
Me: (Laughing) I feel you. What’s your vision for the future in terms of your artistry?
Eli: My vision for the future is to be internationally known and open doors for other people coming up after me.
Me: Nice! Well Eli it was a pleasure speaking with you brother, I really appreciate your time.
Eli: Thank you! It was nice talking to you too. Just keep doing what you’re doing!