“There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow”

Ad Reinhardt

For the past year I have been working on a collection of drawings for my own solo exhibition this spring. The official publications will follow sometime after this post but I thought a sentimental explanation of the concept would be fun.

While working on my comic series Cypress Tales in July, I developed a fondness for the India ink I’d been using for the illustrations. The contrast between the white of the mixed media paper and the black pigment in this ink was striking to me. Intimidating to an extent. I finished the first installment of the comic and was left with the India ink, some sharpies, and micron pens. My wheels turned over a way that I could use these black materials together. What would it mean to work black on black? I eventually expanded the idea to encompass not only mark making tools but the surfaces I could use that were black, and what it could mean conceptually; to use a black material to make a black mark on a black surface. An endless void of blackness.

In “Black as Symbol and Concept,” Ad Reinhardt  said, “There is a black which is old and a black which is fresh. Lustrous black and dull black, black in sunlight and black in shadow”. I think of this when look at the work in this exhibition, the idea of ‘blackness as a symbol and a concept’ on display in MOMA, Guggenheim, and other museums around the globe. I thought of the many shades on shelves labeled ‘black’, all singular variations of the same semiotic referent. Impressive how five symbols carry such loaded meaning, narrative, and policy. Blackness has been policed globally for centuries, so much that many black communities now police themselves, holding each other to behavioral guidelines that carry more weight than many can bear.

“…Because there are unspoken guidelines to your Blackness; there are penalties and consequences for stepping outside of the regulations preset long ago by elders who were finding their way between busing and lynchings, pork fat grease, ham hocks, and cotton bale finger pricks. To defy these laws is to defy yourself, to defy your people. Yes, your people. You are kin, even if you have not chosen to be. You will speak, must speak, to the soul and spirit of all those who share the complexion of you, the complexities of you…” – Joel Leon

I thought “What kinda black am I?” Am I a black that is old? Fresh? Lustrous or dull? I don’t know, yet. This exhibition of drawings journal my contentious relationship with blackness as well as the social, cultural, and political systems that contribute to my identifying with it. If you find yourself in San Diego, CA during April 1-5, 2019, stop by the Adam Kamil Gallery and view the exhibition. I’d love to see you there.


https://www.thsppl.com/thsppl-articles/2017/4/25/what-kind-of-black-are-you

Black as Symbol and Concept,” in Barbara Rose, Art-as-Art: The Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt (New York: University of California Press, 1953), 86.

Ghana 2018

“I recently traveled to Ghana”. This may sound insignificant, rather irrelevant to most, and to be fair it is. Most of the responses I’ve received have been one of the following two: “Where is Ghana?” and “What made you choose to travel there?”.

Aside from meeting my partner’s immediate family in person, there actually wasn’t much of a motive behind it. I had traveled to the UK over the previous holiday season and could hardly contain my excitement. Hell, my grandmother even cried when I told her I’d booked my flight. Her response was “I’m so proud of you!” and honestly I was proud of myself too. While I was there, I spent a lot of my time in museums that contained artwork I had only dreamed of seeing in person. I marveled at them and stood awkwardly with glee as I begged my partner to “Take my picture! Take my picture!”. He obliged and watched curiously as I carried on.

When I returned to the states, I felt established. I walked with my shoulders back and my head high, secretly wishing someone would ask about my holiday endeavors so that I could feign humility when I told them “oh, not much just a couple weeks in London”. London. As if saying it aloud produced some tangible form of prestige that I could cloak myself in. I was sick of myself, truthfully, but I couldn’t help it. I was finally ‘in’ on the secret and now all the cultural references from my favorite show like Friends, and ‘Gossip Girl’ finally made sense. For the first time, I really understood what being cultured felt like.

Needless to say, I did not have this reaction when I arrived to the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I remember landing from the 14 hour flight, claiming our baggage, and exiting the building into what my southern-Californian mind paralled as ‘Tijuana with Black people’. I was not in awe. I was in shock. Certainly my grandmother would not be shedding a tear of joy if she’d accompanied me on this trip. Still, something in me sparked that I hadn’t anticipated. Something I wasn’t aware I’d been missing.

Belonging.

I had never seen this dense of a body count that ALL looked like mine; ‘black’. I was not in my familiar ‘melting pot’ of cultural variety and no other ethnicity surrounded me; not Mexican, not Not Filipino, and certainly not Caucasian. Still, these unfamiliar faces represented pieces of a world that I am derived from, a place I probably would have called my home. I stood silently for a moment too long and my partner asked if I was alright. But before answered, I noticed that he appeared different. Not a different that alarmed me, but one that I had seen in myself after returning from our holiday in the UK. His shoulders were back and his head was high. He was proud. He belonged.

My Ghana trip was very different from my previous journey, in so many ways that it will take multiple entries to fully express, but it is very important that I point out a lesson I learned. Whether we are aware of it or not, being an African American is to be inherently displaced. Generation after generation, African Americans have resiliently adapted to the impositions of Western society and culture, to the extent that many of us have lost our sense what it means to the majority. There is power in numbers, especially when all of the numbers share the same roots. Our experience cannot be compared to other ethnic communities. Where other communities can find cultural asylum in returning to their their homelands it is not the same for us. Like Frankenstein, African Americans are the experiment a scientist once created for himself but now discards in fear.

With new research surfacing on epigenetics and genome alterations created by extreme long term exposure to stressors like abuse and isolation, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to draw a connection between the centuries of abandonment our forefathers and mothers endured and the alarming rates of mental and emotional disparities that plague many African American communities today.

Certainly I have more to say about this historical gem that is Ghana, but
for now I will leave it with one question: What would our lives be if we had never encountered the hand of colonization?

To be Continued…

The Journey to Comic Book Making

At this time in my art career, I am pursuing my long time aspiration of making comics. If you are new to my page, or my work, I am the creator of a horror-comedy comic series titled Cypress Tales. Comic book making has always fascinated me. It was actually the deciding factor in choosing what university I would attend. Comics are a popular media and many of the characters in these image-text hybrids are known and beloved worldwide. For some, the characters become the readers heroes, their friends, their family.

When I think of my series I picture my childhood, my community, and the things I enjoyed most about it. I was just a fearless inner city kid riding my bike to the neighborhood Liquor Store, Tradewinds on 54th St. There I would buy as many swiss-rolls and strawberry cakes as I could afford with my leftover lunch money, then ride a few blocks back home. I remember feeling safe, like the neighborhood was an extension of me, and I an extension of it.

I liked buying the sweets to eat them as I read children’s books. I enjoyed the way the images complemented the story lines. As I continued through school, the stories became more complex, more interesting with nuance and characters that felt real to me. But as I got older, the books contained less images and more text, and this bothered me. I wanted to see the lives of these characters being lived out on paper. I wanted to join them, to fight with them, to rescue the troubled and be the world’s heroine. I wasn’t aware that comic books existed at this time, but I’m sure that if I had I would’ve began this journey then.

Now that I’m an adult, I don’t see my neighborhood the way I once did. I rarely even see myself the way I once did, with the potential to rescue the troubled or be anyone’s heroine. Still, Cypress Tales is an homage to my childhood, my culture, and African-American history. It’s charming, curious, and familiar, yet gritty, fearsome, rudimentary and full of immanent danger.

Just as I, the characters exist as an extension of their neighborhood, and the neighborhood solidly remains an extension of them.

Comic Con 2018

RDK[+]Creator is conveniently located in San Diego, CA,  home of the one of the world’s largest annual comic conventions, San Diego ComicCon!

As an Artist and Marvel Comics fan, Kimberly Heard has attended the event multiple times. Check out the Gallery below for exciting (and embarrassing) photos of her and her friends at ComicCon2018, or follow us on Instagram!