Not That But This features visual communicator Chris Herod. He talks about his practice, childhood, and
how his work is African centered. Chris is currently in a group exhibition during the time this interview was published. The title of the exhibition is “The Point Is…2.0” at the Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland California. Go take a look at the work in person if your in the area.
1.Who are you sir, what do you do?
I am a visual communicator- painter, playwright, and poet. I identify myself as a conduit primarily. Most of my artwork is a visual interpretation of written work by revolutionary thinkers, deconstructing the world around us.
2. What city/state do you currently call home? Are you originally from there and if not where are you from originally?
I currently live in Dallas, TX. I am originally from Sacramento, CA.
3. At what point in your life (If you can remember) did you realize you wanted to become an artist or creative or something like it?
When I was 4 years old, I remember visiting my father’s office and seeing that he had prominently displayed a painting my older brothers on his office wall. I was determined to get up on that wall! I never really wanted to “become” an artist however. Art just always felt like lightning in my bones.
4. Can you remember your first drawing?
I don’t remember my first drawing, but I remember that most of my earliest drawings were of superheroes and my family. Sometimes a confluence of both.
5. How did your family, friends think about that decision then and how do they think about it now? In terms of support or/and seeing you grow?
My family has always been and continues to be supportive. Art has never been the principal way I’ve fed my family, so I have had the luxury of only taking on projects that have been near and dear to me.
6. I’ve caught your work on facebook and it seems to be influenced by hip hop culture –graffiti, comics, and also digital age via social media with subjects and references to music, black culture and other things.
What ideas, philosophies, concepts, events, is your work tied to or associated with? In other words what discussions surround your work or do you attempt to address thematically, aesthetically, etc?
Thematically, my work is always about the dynamics of a healthy African centered identity – inspired by the many pivots in Malcolm’s autobiography, the nationalism of Nkrumah/Touré, the historical and psychological analysis of Henrik Clarke and Cress-Welsing. Once I understood that the “Negro” was not created in a vacuum, I was moved to explore root causes and potential remedies to counteract this condition.
7. How does your work tie in to music specifically hip-hop?
I created my first aerosol “masterpiece” in 1988. I was trying desperately to voice my hopes and fears in a world that seemed to have little concern for either. I found that voice in Hip Hop in general and as a style writer specifically. Hip Hop at its radical apex is a creative space that thumbs its nose at its own marginalization in order to create a new paradigm- a definitive and normalized Black/Brown cultural syntax. In embracing this culture, I instantly had a code of ethics to follow, terminology to use, a written language that belonged to me and others with a similar worldview.
8. Did you engage in any other principles of hip-hop? Eg. Were you a rapper, dj, or dancer?
I tried them all! I decided early, (because I was wack at all of the other elements) to stick with what I loved most, which was style writing.
9. If comic books influenced you; who are some of your favorite super heroes?
Brotherman is my favorite. Growing up, I loved the John Byrne X-Men and his Wolverine in particular (before they made him the “JJ” to the X-Men’s “Good Times”), but I found myself collecting comics drawn by my favorite artists as opposed to collecting titles.
10. What are your thoughts about the divided discussion (probably aged discussion particularly for artists of color) regarding creating art for art’s sake or creating art as a responsibility that usually leans toward social responsibility or cultural concerns?
I am squarely in the latter camp. I see art as a tool necessary to liberate the oppressed by creating an empowering narrative to compete with the negative messages about them promoted by the larger society. Art as individual expression certainly has its place, but most of us can’t afford it. Without a social purpose, art appears to function strictly as an indicator of material wealth. Just as style writing on the street served as the language of the dispossessed at the advent of Hip Hop, art hanging on a wall in a museum with a “from the collection of” sign near it seems to serve as a means for rich people to communicate the scale of their wealth to other rich people.
11. Do you have any thoughts on the direction art; the art community or industry is going in terms of how society views it?
I think that “art” is becoming an increasingly tricky term to pin down. Technology has allowed quite a few people the means of production and distribution of their “art”, removing the hedge of mysticism surrounding creation and creators. For everyone other than those who are able to afford pretty pictures, useful content is the new “art”.
12. I think graffiti and digital art (sometimes done online) has a great impact and dialog with the community on an everyday level. I’m always excited to see graffiti wherever I go. I take photographs of graffiti, street art, and works in museums and galleries equally because I personally don’t accept one as being better or smarter than the other – just different. What are your thoughts about comics, public art, graffiti, street art, art made digitally for viewing online through social media as a form that engages the public and community as it relates to accessing a larger viewership?
I don’t mind the newer platforms, however I think that style writing in particular is best appreciated in person. Done correctly, it confronts its viewer and demands attention- forcing its audience to reconcile the work with their own definitions of ownership/personal/public space. “Why does this tag offend me more than the cigarette and liquor ads in my community?” Technology has also significantly altered the longstanding tradition style writing once held- learning letter styles from established masters of the form. Previously, in order for one to learn, you needed to apprentice with these masters first, learning foundational composition, form, flow, and style along the way. Eventually, you would earn a prized outline or blackbook for you to rock on your own. Technology has allowed people to immediately pilfer outlines without the benefit of learning the fundamental elements and escape the consequences of “biting” which once propelled practitioners to new creative heights. It feels like younger generations are being robbed of their own personal “Hero’s Journey”.
14. Who are some of the artists, cultural producers, and creatives that you find inspirational and are currently looking at?
Too many to name!
A few that are constant sources of inspiration- Biggers, Catlett, Siqueiros, Rivera, Orozco, Charles White, Bearden, Kyle Baker, Bill Sienkiewicz, Klimt, Jamel Shabazz, Africobra, Rob Pruitt and OJA, Skeme, Shame, Refa, Mode2, etc…
15. What are you currently working on?
I have a show hanging in the Joyce Gordon Gallery in Oakland celebrating the legacy and 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party and just concluded another here in Dallas at the South Dallas Cultural Center centered around the “#Blaxit” hypothetical as it relates to Marcus Garvey’s relocation program.
16. One of the things NTBT is interested in as it relates to art and culture is how it exists in nuance; particularly in our communities, and how it existed prior to being labeled or validated by academia, art movements, and documentarians so we like to also find out about other things the artist does which sometimes can intersect and overlap.
A. What is your favorite type of food?
I have an absolute weakness for Marsala over rice.
B. What was the latest film you’ve watched?
The Flashpoint Paradox
C. Did you like it? Give a brief reason to why you did or didn’t.
I loved it! The struggle weighing individual comfort versus the greater good personified.
D. What music-music artist are you currently listening to?
- Esperanza Spaulding- Emily’s D+Evolution
- Solange- A Seat at the Table
- Prince- Dirty Mind
- Ultramagnetic Mc’s – Critical Beatdown
- WBLS and KDAY Mixtapes
E. What are you currently reading if anything?
I am re-reading “Brainwashed” by Tom Burrell, a great primer about the role of advertising in the ongoing oppression of people of color.
F. Are you an extrovert or introvert or somewhere in between? (I know this seems absurd and irrelevant but well, sometimes we need that.
I am really an introvert who can’t stop talking once he has the floor.
17. What other artists/ creatives/ would you recommend the NTBT viewrship take a look at and check out?
Goldi Gold, Refa1, The Nance Brothers (Djore, Terrance and Nelson), Lalah Hathaway, Jules Arthur
To view more of Chris Herod ‘s visit his website.
Featured image -ADVANCE: UNIA Series by Chris Herod; image courtesy of artist
Nathaniel Donnett is an interdisciplinary artist from Houston, Texas who is interested in human behavior and psycho-social concerns. Donnett is currently working out his “Dark Imaginarence” concept/manifesto soul theory, and is also the founder of “Not That But This.” You can find him at www.nathanieldonnett.com, https://twitter.com/artistik, and on facebook.