The Art Nerd Manifesto
I have never been completely comfortable being called an artist. I know that may shock some but many who know me are rolling their eyes thinking, “No duh. You’re never comfortable with anything.” Be that as it may, I often have a hard time identifying publicly and socially as an artist because of the pretense and stereotypes the title comes with. Artists also have a tendency due to the nature of our brains to go so deeply into work that the ideas and rationales become esoteric and start to form a language and culture of exclusivity. This is not a sin or a crime or something to be ashamed of but it tends to pull the practitioner away from the audience; especially the audiences that for what ever reasons do not have context to go as deeply.
After realizing that the arts would always be a part of how I see and move through life I made the decision that my direction was toward communication and storytelling. I describe myself as an illustrator because that is the core of what I do, tell visual stories. Unlike most illustrators I don’t put much focus on finding a definitive style. Luckily I don’t have to eat off of my illustration work and most freelance work I do does not depend on any particular style, just skill.
As I try now to make the next steps as an artist more purposefully and find a focus to keep me centered I find myself trying to assess the core ideas, and aesthetic influences that will allow me to talk about my work in context to other works and artists. I find myself looking not to define my work by style (I find that term hollow and flighty), but to brand my hard work with language that provides access to new possibilities and growth.
In the circles I have been keeping company lately the term Afrofuturism has been the buzzword. More than a trend, it has gotten brilliant minds researching it, defining it, propagating it and promoting its use in the last few years. There are books and conferences and exhibits about it. It has been manifesting in the subcultures and in the mainstream popular culture lately. It resonates with me at a deeply intrinsic level. As I look back through my pile of sketchbooks or my stacks of paintings, prints, drawings or sculptures I see the through line of the African diaspora, technology, present and future dystopias, historical re-imaginings present everywhere.
I also see the idea of immediacy, speed, innovation, emotional or implied violence. I see urbanism and a revolt against it. I see anarchy and disdain for civilization in my inescapable pull towards graffiti art.
In my ramblings and outburst on social media I started using the term “grafrofuturism”. I saw it in a piece I was working on while expounding to myself about why I shy away from abstraction even though a deep seeded part of me enjoys the sublime comfort of nonrepresentational work. It rattled around in my head for a while and my friend John Jennings messaged me and told me that there might be something there. I joked that I would write a manifesto about it. A little while later he checked in, “How’s the manifesto coming?” Uh oh.
Here is a response to that challenge and an attempt to honor the work of thoughtful and skillful artist of several seemingly different orbits who consciously or unaware are contributing to the gestalt I recognize as grafrofuturism.
Consider this as my own personal conversation with this type of work but feel free to join in the conversation and add to it. The discourse about art and culture is the key. We recognize all the possible connections and opinions that may arise when discussing any philosophy or orientation to work and cultural development. For the purposes of having a specific and constructive conversation we will use the frameworks and context that we establish in this documents to guide and shape what we refer to as grafrofuturism. The ethnic and racial aspect of the context will always be central. This is to build a constructive, specific conversation and not to be dismissively exclusive.