This week’s interview is with Corey Cooper, a veteran professional artist. His artwork left me astounded when I first spotted it on Instagram. I was enthralled by his detailed afrocentric visuals juxtaposed with a variety of shapes, and fluorescent colors. It’s truly a fulfilling experience to witness Corey’s supreme ability to illustrate vivid narratives with his craft. Read our discussion to get a more thorough perspective of Corey as an individual and his artistry.
Me: Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?
Corey: I think it provides a back door for people to understand certain subjects, it’s not as confrontational as it can be with words sometimes. Art allows people to come to their own conclusions and see certain things they probably wouldn’t be able to accept in another form.
“Art allows people to come to their own conclusions and see certain things they probably wouldn’t be able to accept in another form.”
Me: Definitely, you mentioned a good point too that art does allow people to break down barriers and it’s thought-provoking. It provides that avenue for people to actually open up and start that dialogue.
Corey: Yea, it does allow you to do that. I grew up when certain conversations were limited because they were considered too controversial like sex and religion. I think the art allows that to happen.
Me: Would you like to touch upon any specific pieces that touch on the activism question?
Corey: A lot of my pieces deals with breaking down certain barriers as far as pushing us to understand our own consciousness. The piece I’m doing now deals with social media and how certain people get caught up thinking it’s all about the likes and the virtual world. We have this sense of belonging and we want to be a part of something greater than ourselves. I think people can lose themselves on social media depending on how strong of a sense of self they really have.
Corey: I chose to use the theme of The Wizard of Oz or The Wiz to show how people can get swept up in this whirlwind and before you know it they get plopped down into this whole new world. They think they’re somebody because they get a certain amount of likes and their head starts to explode. The scarecrow in the piece represents our intellect and how that plays a part in our understanding of this social media world. Additionally, the tin man represents how numb you become to the world around you because you get caught up with all of these likes. In reality you still haven’t achieved what you presented yourself to be. You’re still living in the projects or whatever the situation may be. I like to use words a lot too to try to hone in what I was trying to bring across.
“The scarecrow in the piece represents our intellect and how that plays a part in our understanding of this social media world.”
Me: Indeed. Social media is definitely a double-edged sword. It can be awesome especially in promoting your work as an artist and attract different people.
Corey: Exactly. It can cross different cultures, state-lines, and countries but at the same time if you don’t have a certain sense of self going into it, then you can get lost. I think that needs to be addressed so that more people can become conscious of their actions.
Another finished Painting and sold.. Feeling BLESSED! 🙏🌸💜🎨💜🌸🙏 The Miracle of LIFE flowing like the Essence of a TREE, Breathing is a exchange of Elements to benefit everyone to allow Spiritual FREEDOM.. Elevating your Wisdom by following your intuition, exploring new Dimensions using your 3rd Eye to navigate around wickedness.. We must detach from attachments, unfold like a Lotus spreading ESOTERIC fragrance to experience True MAGYK.. Thank U @three_sisters_farm For buying this painting 🙏🌸💜🎨💜🌸🙏 Thank U everyone for taking the Time to be Present in my ARTISTIC Evolution, its a Gift and I Hope its continuous.. Peace and Blessings!!
Me: Definitely! That’s why I take breaks too, it’s a form of therapy.
Corey: Right. Right. In that respect it’s kind of like life. People think they always have to be engaged with something in order to truly live their lives. But, we have to take a break to recharge, especially in today’s age where we have so much information at our fingertips. You just have to find that balance.
“People think they always have to be engaged with something in order to truly live their lives.”
Me: Absolutely! I see another piece that you did too with a guy and his hair is in flames. It looks like a phoenix is rising from the flames. Can you dive deeper into that one?
Corey: That particular piece like most of my pieces are random, it’s a whole organic process. Very early on I don’t have a theme or some type of direction to go in I just let it all manifest on its own. That piece basically is expressing that we are divine beings and we are here to come forth and wash away any past karma. The man in the piece became awakened to who he was. Through that, he was able to manifest through his hand which ties into the fish which also washes away all of the negativity and past mistakes. It also nourishes the things that are coming into fruition. In my early twenties I used to read a lot of books on Buddhism and Hinduism because I was so disenchanted with Christianity in general. It wasn’t giving me what I thought I needed. Back then, I was blessed to come across certain brothers that would put me on books like the Metu Neter.
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Me: Wow! It’s an exceptional piece, I got to give you your props!
Corey: Thank you!
Me: Describe your upbringing, where you’re originally from – when you started painting, family background, and education?
Corey: I was born in Paterson, New Jersey. My first home was the projects and it was very chaotic. Through that, I was blessed to have a grandmother who was stable in her own right. She was very entrepreneurial, she went from door to door selling clothes. She was from a small town in South Carolina, and came up here. Just hearing about her life and everything that she went through made me think my life was extraordinary. I remember my father would tell me growing up that ever since I could hold a pen in my hand, I was always drawing. Nobody ever thought in my family though that becoming an artist was a real job. When I got to high school I told my family I wanted to be an artist but nobody was trying to hear that.
“When I got to high school I told my family I wanted to be an artist but nobody was trying to hear that.”
Corey: Once I graduated, I got accepted into Parsons School of Design in New York City. I was pumped about that coming home, but my family didn’t support me with that. It was pretty devastating that they were telling me I needed to buckle down and get a real job. The fact that my family wasn’t supportive didn’t allow me to push myself and blossom as an artist as much as I could have. So, my art took a backseat and I ended up getting caught up with certain negative people who saw my light and thought that I was good to have around, but they weren’t going to promote me to be all that I could be. They knew I would leave them if I did. It wasn’t until I got in my thirties that I thought I needed to take my art to another level. I’m thankful that I eventually chose the right path and evolved into what I’m doing now. I don’t really get to collect enough of my work to do a gallery show. I’m blessed enough to sell the paintings as I do them thank GOD (laughing). The fact that I still got to this point makes me feel like I did something great you know?
“It wasn’t until I got in my thirties that I thought I needed to take my art to another level.”
Me: Excellent! I’m glad you picked your craft back up. When did you sell your first piece?
Corey: It’s hard to say because I’ve always been drawing and doodling and certain people would ask me to draw them something so it was just random. I was always like ‘wow someone actually appreciates me, even when my own family said that I wasn’t going to make it as an artist.’ There would be times when I would go to the city since I lived so close and I would be in the Starbucks and someone would notice me drawing and they’d ask me if I could draw them something. These situations really helped me to further my development as an artist, so I can’t really recall the first time I actually sold a piece. I’m just blessed that I’ve been able to sell most of my pieces.
Me: I got you, especially coming from that background where you didn’t have any support for your craft from your family.
Corey: I have a three year old daughter now who was born a day after me and I’m just trying to really encourage her to express herself. I want her to feel that she can do anything and just be, because I didn’t have that when I was growing up.
“I have a three year old daughter now who was born a day after me and I’m just trying to really encourage her to express herself.”
Me: Kudos to you for allowing your daughter to express her full range of creativity in every capacity. That’s gold right there (laughing)!
Corey: (Laughing)! Thank you!
Me: No problem! Describe how you approach your creative process, what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range of creativity?
Corey: I don’t really have a pre-conceived notion at least not consciously unless I’m doing something specific for a client. Usually I just let my creativity go wherever it needs to and allow it to further develop from there. As far as the environment’s concern, I love listening to Jazz because the lack of words really allows my mind to formulate its own thoughts. I think a lot of people don’t take into consideration that listening to music with words actually directs your thoughts. I like to listen to guys like Miles Davis, Coltrane, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington. When I’m painting now, I’m learning to just allow my creativity to take me on a journey and not have a certain plan or a map. The best environment is not to have too many distractions, but since I have a three year old daughter, distractions are pretty constant (laughing). So, I usually get up early in the morning or stay up late and during times when she’s sleeping to paint.
Me: Indeed! What types of mediums do you use and what do you prefer to use?
Corey: I always used to do a lot of stuff in ink and black and white, but I graduated to doing a lot more colors and using copic markers and paints. At this point in time I like to use spray paint and acrylic paints. With the blank canvas, I usually spray paint it at first with a quick coat or I might throw some tape on it then do some different shapes. Then, I’ll take the tape off and do another layer of shapes and I’ll keep going back and forth with the spray paint until I start to see some things that start to speak to me. It’s a very organic process. Sometimes I can look at wood grains or marvel and pull out certain images from there. After I do the spray paint then I go over it with the acrylic and start to build up the layers from there.
“At this point in time I like to use spray paint and acrylic paints. With the blank canvas I usually spray paint it at first with a quick coat or I might throw some tape on it then do some different shapes.”
Me: I noticed that you mentioned a couple of times that it’s an organic process which is definitely reflective in your pieces. Your style is very fluid and it’s not formulaic. I think that’s when you’re at your best when your thoughts are allowed to roam freely and have that full expression.
Corey: Thank you! Exactly, and it’s crazy how that works too. It’s that fine line of doing what you want to do, but at the same time getting noticed for doing what you want to do. Some artists tend to think if they’re not doing what everyone else is doing then they’re doing something wrong. My answer to that is, ‘no you’re not.’
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Me: That’s the beauty of art too, the fact that you can have so many different perspectives on a piece. If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece who would it be and why?
Corey: I would love the opportunity to work with Jean Basquiat and just sit down and have a conversation. I would like to paint something about different topics that move me especially in regards to spirituality. Just the way I’ve been going forth with my painting with the random brush strokes and the spray painting would allow things to roll organically between us. I was able to see some of his stuff in person down in the lower West-Side and it was just really raw and I could see myself painting over that and bringing out certain images. I would definitely take his stuff to another level if we did a collaboration piece.
“Just the way I’ve been going forth with my painting with the random brush strokes and the spray painting would allow things to roll organically between us.”
Me: Excellent! It’s so interesting about Basquiat because when you look at his paintings it’s not very in-depth and it could be considered elementary. But hey, that was just his creative vibes at play and he interpreted things through his own view of the world. That’s what made people gravitate towards it because he showed his truth within the art.
Corey: Exactly! It wasn’t so much his technique, it was the fact that he was just so passionate about putting forth his creativity.
Me: Definitely! In your opinion, what do you think young black visual artists can do to create more opportunities for themselves?
Corey: It’s funny that you mentioned that question because right now, I’m actually using the medium of social media to expand my artistic avenues and different perspectives to sustain myself. I think just becoming more technologically savvy will help young black artists going into the future. I’ve seen a lot of people not only doing painting but doing digital art as well. It’s a whole new world where people can express themselves visually. It’s a beautiful thing but at the same time it’s a scary thing when you don’t truly understand the possibilities of it.
Me: Very true! You got some years on me so I wanted to get your perspective on whether digital has enhanced the art world?
Corey: Personally, I think it has enhanced it because it’s just another medium. The people who are younger and are actually engaging with it have another pathway to touch other souls. I don’t think digital art is above or below, I think it’s just what it is now – the freshest thing that’s out for people who are born in this time and space to appreciate. It’s definitely up to the individual. I think certain people see it as a problem because they want to hold on to a certain mind state.
“The people who are younger and are actually engaging with it have another pathway to touch other souls.”
Me: I agree. I’m on here scrolling away on your IG and I’m wondering what led you to arrive at this higher level of consciousness especially black consciousness?
Corey: Well, it all started back in high school when a friend of mine gave me a book dealing with black slavery. Before then, I was all kumbaya and thinking that the world was fine. Once I read that book, it just gave me a whole different perspective. It led me to understanding what life is from an African point of view. The music at that time was also pushing me further beyond what was considered the norm like artists such as Public Enemy, X-Clan, and Brand Nubian. The fact that I was born melanin dominant, I now treasure that I was blessed to have that understanding that it’s a gift to be able to see the world through these eyes.
Me: Wow, phenomenal words, got to let that marinate for a bit (laughing)! Are there any other artists in your family?
Corey: Nobody in my family actually pursued art besides my uncle who took it in a whole other direction. He was one of those artists that could look at something and replicate it, but he chose to do counterfeiting instead. I think if he tried to pursue art the way I’m pursuing it now, he would of been further along. But, at the same time that wall that I was living in allowed me to be able to climb up. There is no time limit to when you can choose to create and express yourself fully to the world. One of the things I always come across on social media is that you have to be young and wild and do Coachella in order to fulfill your creative dreams.
“There is no time limit to when you can choose to create and express yourself fully to the world.”
Me: It’s good that you mentioned that too because as younger generations we’re bombarded with these perceptions that you have to do everything right and get your life completely together by the time you reach your thirties. Just because you didn’t reach a certain goal by the time you’re in your a certain age doesn’t mean that you’re a failure, it simply just wasn’t your time yet. I know I got to tell myself at times to just relax and I’ll be good.
Corey: Exactly! If people didn’t get so caught up in what corporate media said and express their divine right to be themselves and believe in our their own self-worth, that would transform the world. I grew up in a family telling me that I would never be able to make a living from doing art but here I am doing it. It’s all because I told myself that I could create anything that I want to. One of the things that artwork can do for people is allow them to truly believe in themselves and appreciate who they are.
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Me: Wow! Break it down brother, break it down (laughing)! What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?
Corey: Every piece I do I try to do something I’ve never done before, so I guess in that way each one is challenging. Due to the world that we live in we come across info that we have the opportunity to go beyond what other artists have done. I didn’t have any formal training so whatever came through all depends on what I was trying to portray and in this way every piece was difficult in its own respect which I think is the same with life itself. So, I’m lucky that every piece is challenging.
“Every piece I do I try to do something I’ve never done before, so I guess in that way each one is challenging.”
Me: I definitely wasn’t expecting that answer (laughing)! You brought up a totally different perspective that every piece is a challenge within itself just like life gives you a different set of challenges every step of the journey.
Corey: (Laughing) Good! Yea, life is constantly pushing you to expand and it forces you the opportunity to grow and go beyond what you thought was standard to your everyday life.
Me: Indeed! Going back to you being an art entrepreneur, what has been some of the lessons you’ve learned just navigating through this journey and how has profiting off of your passion impacted your craft overall?
Corey: I think me personally I try to put my art in the framework where I can get some understanding of it but at the same time put my own personal perspective into it. It has to be relevant to the time and space we live in. I learned that sometimes you have to get payment beforehand. You have to value your time and space and the energy that you put into your projects. Even if someone doesn’t like it or they don’t appreciate my work for their own brand, at the same time I still created something that was beautiful regardless.
“Even if someone doesn’t like it or they don’t appreciate my work for their own brand, at the same time I still created something that was beautiful regardless.”
Me: I feel you on that. Have you ever had a moment where you created this piece that was so brilliant, you didn’t want to let it go?
Corey: Yea and those where the ones that sell quick (laughing)! Those are the ones where I realized I went beyond myself to really touch on something that spoke to a broader audience to truly understand where I was coming from. That in itself is fulfilling. Here’s this person that works an x-amount of hours to achieve this level of wealth to buy this artwork from me, a person they’ve never met. Most of the stuff I sell is to people who have never met me or had any type of connection with me. Yet, here they are buying something that’s truly intimate to who I am and I’m grateful for that.
Me: Wow, that’s very powerful! I can tell from your statements that you’re not willing to conform to a certain standard of what the masses perceives true art to be.
Corey: Right, because a lot of people get caught up in social media going along with whatever everybody else thinks art is instead of going with what art does for them.
Me: Describe a time when you experienced a creative block and how did you overcome it?
Corey: It depends on what time and space I’m in. Now I can see a creative block as being a time to absorb new information and take in different elements to further develop myself in a future sense. I used to be all tense about it but now I just let them go and run their course. Growing up in the environment where my family wasn’t supportive with my art, I could have easily just took that information and didn’t go any further with my art.
“Now I can see a creative block as being a time to absorb new information and take in different elements to further develop myself in a future sense.”
Corey: The fact that I made the decision to keep pursuing my art, I’ve allowed the opportunity for my daughter to do the same. That’s one of the things that really pushes me forward to truly understand my place as an artist in this world. I want her to see that you can actually make a living by doing what you love and you don’t have to subject yourself to going to work for someone else.
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Me: That’s excellent nuggets of wisdom you’re instilling within your daughter. I think she’ll be thankful for that when she gets older. It’s important because you have some people who may be in this corporate position and making good money but their souls are crumbling because they’re not doing what they love. Judging from your captions, I see you’re also a writer, did you start writing at the same time you started drawing?
Corey: I think so. It’s just another avenue for me to express myself, just being able to articulate what was transpiring on the canvas or whatever medium. I think a lot of people don’t take the chance to apply art to their own lives.
Me: Nice! How has your artwork shaped you as a person?
Corey: My art allowed me to truly evaluate what is beautiful to me. I can remember a time when I wasn’t focused on making the individuals in my art black people, I was just painting. But after reading that book I told you I got from my friend in high school, it put in my mind that I needed to make my art afrocentric. If we look at the world as a whole, there are more people who are melanin dominant than those who are melanin deficient. It was necessary for me to come to that conclusion and my art definitely propelled me to have a greater appreciation for black people.
“My art allowed me to truly evaluate what is beautiful to me.”
Me: That’s an incredible and necessary realization for us to have especially for upcoming generations to have a sense of self-worth and appreciation for their culture contrary to the dissemination of negative portrayals of us in the media. You’re laying that groundwork for their empowerment.
Me: The images that you paint, I know your daughter will be appreciative of them as she grows up because they’re made in her image. As children, just seeing those types of images has such a profound impact on their psyche.
Corey: Especially at a young age, where they’re genetically engineered to suck in so much information like there’s no tomorrow!
Me: What is your most proud achievement so far as an artist?
Corey: My most proud achievement is to be able to express who I truly am with my art and allow people to have the dialogue and further expand their own consciousness. As you get older than you’re afforded the opportunity to look back upon your own life as well as whatever else is going on around you in order to re-evaluate and grow. You’re able to go forth and truly appreciate your time and space. Here we are connecting on certain topics even though we were born at a different time and space. There’s certain things that transcend time and space that we both gravitate towards.
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Me: That’s phenomenal brother! Would you like to share any upcoming projects/exhibitions?
Corey: I don’t have any upcoming shows, I’ve been able to sell everything as I create them fortunately. I’ve been lucky to be in the right time and space.
Me: That’s what’s up! I see one more piece that I’d like you to dive deeper into, it’s called A Tribute to Obatala. I’m looking at it in awe, it’s magnificent!
Corey: Thank you! That was a commission piece done for a guy that was actually living right across the street from me. He wasn’t one of those cats that really bought art but he appreciated what I painted so he told me that he wanted me to paint a god called Obatala. When I did some more research, I found out that Obatala is actually an African deity which relates back to Yoruba spiritual traditions. The guy was Puerto Rican and he was talking about slavery and his understanding of it.
“When I did some more research, I found out that Obatala is actually an African deity which relates back to Yoruba spiritual traditions.”
Corey: When he told me that, I just internalized it and I decided to create this particular piece where it was this whole new beginning from Africa to the whole Caribbean understanding of the heritage. When I went to the canvas I created this separation of time and space. Each layer I did on that canvas was a representation of where Obatala was and how he came about. I also added the birds because I was reading about how Europeans taught us to think that the color white symbolized purity and black was evil. Even though I grew up trying to put myself in an afrocentric point of view I still added that into it according to who I was relaying this painting to. I understood where he was as a light-skinned Puerto Rican, he has a certain understanding about white being pure. I interpreted that in my own way but I still held true to painting Obatala as a melanin dominant individual. While I was creating the piece, the guy didn’t really have any set expectations for it so I was allowed to create whoever I thought Obatala was. It was a fun project!
Me: Yea, I know that must be the best types of commissions right, where the customer just let’s you do your own thing! (laughing)
Corey: (Laughing) Yes indeed!
Me: What’s your vision for the future in terms of your artistry?
Corey: I really see myself going beyond painting. I want to express myself through any means possible, whether it’s through music, or cinematography. So many times I would listen to songs and determine what I want to extract from them not just what the artist or what the writer decided to put through. I see myself truly being an artist that translates a deeper understanding. Living in North Jersey, I’m constantly in New York so I see many different people of African descent who do amazing things whether it’s with food, movies, art, or dance. I just think our limitations are based upon on what we perceive life to be. There’s certain things that are totally possible if we believe that we are here to go beyond.
“I just think our limitations are based upon on what we perceive life to be. There’s certain things that are totally possible if we believe that we are here to go beyond.”
Me: Phenomenal! Well, Corey it was a pleasure being able to speak with you. I wish you an abundance of success in however you define it!
Corey: Thank you brother, you as well!