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I’ve always wondered what it would be like to step into an artist’s mind. I could never fathom how artists conceptualize their work. Their methodology is often unconventional and experimental, yet they manage to transform an idea or observation into something palpable. In his luminous 1967 piece “Window or Wall Sign,” Bruce Nauman posited the role of an artist with the neon-infused phrase, “the true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths.” The artistic process is both exploratory and revelatory. An ardent creator strives for new insights while refining his or her craft.
His workshops are unbelievably incredible. One by one, everyday people with no artistic backgrounds, hold up masterpieces that they seem to have magically created on their own. The portraits, comprised of all different colors and faces, have one thing in common: each image represents a person the participant of the workshop loves. Whether the finished product reveals a spouse, child or best friend, the art produced illustrates the very core of the art instructor’s philosophy: paint what you love. Full of warmth, creative energy, encouragement and passion, 34 year old artist Kevin Nance-West not only inspires future generations of artists, but he encourages adults to channel their artistry as well. Whether running a workshop, painting abstract designs for a neighbor’s’ home, collaborating with schools or simply painting a portrait of his daughter, West is for the people.
Despite being a professional artist with over 15 years of experience, this Indiana based painter never graduated from college (though he did attend Danville Area Community College). In fact, his journey is as unique as his approach to art. In many ways, his artistry started as a kind of therapy. Diagnosed with stage three cancer, West was forced to reevaluate what was most important in his life. That of course, was his family, comprised of his wife Roshawn Scott West and their daughter Brooklyn. But in lieu of cancer bringing his spirits down, West channeled the little energy he had into his art, by painting what he loved. As if his works of art were tangible expressions of his prayers, West won his battle with cancer. Years later, he’s still painting portraits of people.
West’s artistry embodies a modern style. Colorful and realistic, his portraits carry the essence of the person he’s painted. He has a particular fondness for creating acrylic paintings of celebrities and pop icons. His abstract work, often custom designed, is generally vibrant and illuminating, adding light to almost any room in a home or corporate office. One of his most memorable paintings, “Deception,” demonstrates the vast range of West’s ability. The painting shows the back of a woman’s body. Her bare skin is covered by red streaks tossed onto the canvas. Her hands are wrapped around her body. In a similar fashion, West’s art is tightly wrapped around and involved in his local community. His latest venture, Gifted Custom Art, is one of the many ways West is an artist for the community.
Following his surgery to remove a football sized tumor, West found himself in the garage painting. After printing out a photo for his daughter to paint, he converted the photo into a simplified paint by number image. Within an hour’s time, Kevin envisioned expanding this technique. Today, Gifted Custom Art is the first fully automated paint by number organization. Based in Indiana, the company has branches in Michigan, Illinois and Missouri and is expected to have a location in every state by the beginning of 2016. With every new location, West is inviting people to paint what they love and people are doing just that. Jake, one of West’s younger students painted a picture of his 4th grade teacher. Shocked and amazed, his teacher received the gift with great joy. It’s moments like this that put West’s heart on display. Though talented, he’s not selfish. Instead, he wants to share the gift of art with the world.
Kevin Nance West is the kind of artist that holds the capacity to change the world, one community at a time. Whether hosting date nights, workshops, school or community events, his artistry has always been about connecting people to other people. A family man at his core, cancer, though terrible, has given this artist a new outlook on life. Every day counts and every person embodies talent. Likewise, when people are granted the opportunity to paint what they love, they are bound together by humanity- the same humanity that allows us to express ourselves and understand each other much more than before.
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You’ve seen it in museums all over the country (or even all over the world). There’s a massive, blank canvas staring at you from across the room. As you approach, the “art” is finally realized. It’s a line, the world’s tiniest circle or maybe an impossibly small cube. This is the part where some might say, “How is that art? I could do the same thing.” This is how John Franzen’s art comes across at first; it’s a splash, a line or a speck of paint that is supposed to convey some meaning that I simply don’t get. Then, you see the other side of his art.
A blackened canvas, completely scorched from flames, sits next to another just like it, but why? When we see art like this, the immediate response is that it’s supposed to make us think. Our own interpretations are projected onto the piece, but Franzen has a clear message for his pieces. For “Darkness Archetype,” the collection created by setting fire to canvas, the artist said the following on his website, “Become the unseen, the unknown and the non existence. Beyond borders of perception and awareness, we exist in darkness as much as we exist in light.” And there it is – a simple explanation of what we as an audience might try to over complicate. Existing in the light, letting the flames lick our toes, leaves us in the dark. We then exist scorched in darkness as a result of the light. We tend to think of darkness as nothing; it represents absence, but in Franzen’s collection, darkness is shown as a result of a rather dangerous and destructive light. Instead of thinking in terms of light and dark, existing and not, our presence is fluid. Our existence is fluid and nothingness begins to have meaning.
The collection “Someone Died” is another example of Franzen’s irony-driven work. This is a series of preserved flowers cast in porcelain. In each grouping, the flowers are laid out meticulously – perfectly spaced and aligned by length. As Franzen explained on his website, “All monochromatic, they sleep silently. Dead. Their beauty has been preserved for posterity but only at the cost of what made them so exquisite in the first place: their vitality.” It makes us question the longing for immortality instead of appreciating a living beauty. It makes me think of Botox and plastic surgery – we nip and tuck until a new person emerges – which is fine; do what makes you happy. But where do we draw the line? What makes us want to destroy that which makes us human? Humanity is gorgeous! We come in all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. The variety alone is astounding. Placed together, we are a magnificent spectrum of life. We replace that life with plastic and fillers, preserving our beauty but simultaneously destroying it.
“Each Line One Breath” is a collection of thin lined drawings. Thousands of tiny lines are drawn mere millimeters apart and the inspiration is something that comes naturally: breathing. By allowing the breath to control movement, a piece is created and no two will be the same. “The line carries the energy of the breath, makes it visible and binds it into matter,” Franzen said of this collection on his website.
Born in Aachen, Germany, Franzen later moved to Belgium with his mother. There, he attended the Robert Schuman Institute where he spent 20 hours a week on art education. He went on to get his Bachelor of Fine Arts and has been making art ever since. Belgium was also where Franzen grew close with nature, which brings some of his themes some context. After looking at all each of these collections, one specific word comes to mind: life. Franzen places such importance on sheer organic existence and actively engaging with it. So, it will come as no surprise that a piece of paper blank other than a single line continues to hold much meaning and depth to the artist.
The “One Line” collection features multiple pieces of a single line in graphite with resin or in 24 Karat gold with gold pigment and resin. This is related to the “Each Line One Breath” collection in that each line is created during one exhale. The idea of creating a single line came from artist Shi Tao, who described a single brushstroke being the origin of everything. According to Franzen, this single line is all lines. “It is pure possibility, constantly defined by that which it is not or has not yet become.”
So, we might be able to draw a line on a canvas, but that kind of insight only comes from years of working with art. It comes from years of existing in the present moment and allowing the art to speak for and create itself. In this way, Franzen is a guide. He is a vessel that art flows through to get to us. Simply put, he’s an artist.
Somewhere roaming the streets of Atlanta you can find Rich Montgomery, commonly known as FRKO, a name taken from shortening his other nickname, Freako Rico, talking to everyone and experiencing life in a way that suits his specific style. He’s probably riding a BMX bike and carrying around a Four Loco. You would never know that he was an accomplished and classically trained artist from first glance, but that is exactly what he is, although his art isn’t necessarily what someone would describe as “classic.”
Fans of Seinfeld probably recall that classic moment when George Costanza frantically screamed, “Vandelay! Vandelay! Say Vandelay Industries!” Although George concocted this company as part of an unemployment scheme, it inspired the creation of an actual business. As a huge Seinfeld fan myself, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of this company’s existence. Whereas the fictitious Vandelay Industries manufactured latex, the real-life enterprise, spelled Vandal-A Industries, specializes in street wear fashion. With an impressive catalog and high-profile clients, Vandal-A isn’t just a punchline—it’s real, and it’s spectacular.