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Learning to Walk with The Contemporary Arts Network

Images from the CAN Opener

Our 16-month-old son has been walking on his own for about a month now. In the beginning, he didn’t trust himself. He would wobble in place and then maybe take a step or two before plopping down to the ground and doing a speedy crawl the rest of the way. With a simple exercise of putting two chairs close together, my wife was able to give him the confidence in his own footing little by little.

I’m a good artist. At least I feel like I am by my own standards and practices. However, there’s still a lot I don’t know when it comes to the art world. As someone who works full time and has a wife and child to support, it’s natural to doubt your own attempts at becoming a celebrated, selling visual artist. Despite this lack of insight, I am grateful for the support from people when it comes to my work. I recently had the honor to be part of a group exhibition during the grand opening of The Contemporary Arts Network and their new space in Newport News, VA. Headed up by Kira Jackson, Asa Jackson, and Hampton Boyer, the facility boasts two galleries, a performance space, a recording studio, a retail area, and artists studios. The grand opening aptly titled The Can Opener, took place over a month with shows Real Magic and Benediction and featured works from artists Asa Jackson, Hampton Boyer, Mahari Chabwera, Nastassja Swift, Adewale Alli, Wade Mickley, Nikki Leone, Chris Revels, Alyssa Channelle, Dathan Kane, Alex Michael, Thomas O’Casey, and myself.  The opening was well-received and fun to be a part of. Seeing the community support leading up to and during the opening was heartwarming. I am thrilled that there is a new contemporary art space on the Peninsula now that my family calls it home and I look forward to more shows, relationships, and programming from this organization. However, it is not merely a matter of being happy for the people at CAN. 

We NEED this place to thrive.

I have been fortunate to be on art panels and participate in group shows with Hampton Boyer and the man is literally composed of passion and dedication for his craft. Although only recently meeting Asa Jackson his reputation precedes him with an impressive body of work and a persistent mind for the curatorial landscape. They talk about art like it means something and they believe in this area as if their lives depend on it. It is not often that you get a creative space established BY artists FOR artists with a business mindset and an enthusiasm for helping to make dreams reality. Until now, outside of major museums in the area, there are mostly galleries that either has a bare-bones pop-up approach or nicer, safer spaces that rely heavily on an existing clientele with a specific taste level. Not only are Hampton and Asa creating an environment where collaboration and exploration are valued but they are bridging the community (local, regional, and national) with creatives and encouraging thought, dialogue, and understanding.  To talk to Hampton and Asa about the space and their plans is to speak on the untapped and underserved talent of the area and how they are building for the future—by teaching artists to trust themselves and giving them something to walk towards with confidence.

Step forward.

Right in the Feels

A year ago I was fortunate enough to be selected to participate as a visual artist in the first Something in the Water Festival along with a group of very talented creators. I was paired with artist Shaylen Broughton and we collaborated to create one of my favorite pieces to date of anything I’ve made. Little did I know we were going to create something that was going to almost mean more in the absence of everything the festival stood for than during.

Something in the Water is a celebration of not only Virginia, but also of ideas, collaboration, community, and positivity. Shaylen and I were buzzing on the energy that was surrounding the festival, so the work we came up with was not only something we were super proud of but also something that we felt was in total tandem with the talks, concerts, and pop-ups that were happening at the oceanfront. On a personal note, I was creating at a very pivotal time in my life—my wife and I were moving houses (literally that same weekend as the festival) AND she was around 38 weeks pregnant with our son. It was chaotic and fun and stressful and empowering all at the same time. I kind of felt invincible.

Fast forward to a year later and the city, state, country, and world are on lockdown trying to slow the spread of COVID-19. People are out of a job and businesses are trying to avoid closing their doors completely by being innovative and more strategic than ever. Healthcare workers are overwhelmed. For some reason, toilet paper doesn’t last on a store shelf for more than 30 minutes. In a way, it feels like the complete opposite of where I was a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, being a dad is still pretty chaotic but when you go from extreme connectedness to global isolation in a year you struggle to come to grips with the lasting impact of your own efforts.

I realized, however, that even though we were creating something that was reflective of positivity and the exchange of ideas we were actually making something that could evolve like people. Seeing some of the ways the mural has been shared recently as compared to a year ago has made me feel more connected to the community than before because people are using it to express love, unease, remembrance, fear, and escape. I’m so glad we made something that we put ourselves into because it makes me feel like I understand people and they understand me.

If you want to make something that outlives you start by making something that is you.

Even if you can’t see me, I’m still here

Free Shrugs. 2016, 10”x8” Acrylic on canvas

Elephant in the room; as I’m writing this the World is (hopefully) performing self-quarantining, handwashing, and social-distancing. I completely understand the irony of discussing what I am about to discuss while everyone (again, hopefully) is being reclusive and hermit-like. To anyone who doesn’t think they are creative or artistic, congratulations, you are now living like you are.

Sorry, not sorry. That is my apology-but-not-apology for who I am right now in my life. There are a lot of people that think I am at a point in my career where I can call my own shots with my art. I have a really supportive community of people who appreciate my work, buy my work, share my work, and champion me. As a result, I feel very humbled and proud, however, it is still something I do in my free time and, spoiler alert, my free time is about as thin as a sheet of loose-leaf college ruled paper. I have a full-time day job, I’m a husband and a father, and I have a home that we love, and that is just the tip of the climate-changing iceberg.

Sorry, not sorry. 2019, 40”x60” Chalk on canvas. Image courtesy of @thisisgrow

Without going into an ordered list of my priorities I think you get the picture that I, like you, have a lot of stuff going on in my life. And I am adult enough to admit that that will always be the case. This is something that artists/creatives struggle with all the time. When you look at one of our paintings, see our improv, hear one of our poems, or play one of our songs, you’re not just seeing the efforts of our creative mind, you’re also witnessing our survival. We love doing this. We love doing this so much that we’re willing to work 50+ hours a week just so we can do this whether we make money or not. We’re also trying to remember to eat food, feed the dog, watch Netflix, support a charity, and pay you back for lunch on Venmo. It’s a lot.

I’m telling you this because I want you to better understand why you don’t always see artists out. Why you don’t see us at concerts. Why we don’t make it to dinner all the time. Why we’re mostly only reachable through text or Facebook messages. We’re trying. Believe me, we’re trying. But we’re also trying to make our dreams come true. We’re working so hard on something that we are willing to forego the weekly drinks together. We’re willing to miss out on going to see that new movie because we’re in the studio. We are working hard to prioritize our life and what we absolutely can make time for. This does not mean you are not important to us. It just means we’re making sure that light doesn’t go out.

I’m still here, even if you can’t see me, and I haven’t forgotten about you.

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