4 Corners: An Interview with Lowell Thompson

Advertising or Adland’, used to be a home to a plethora of interesting and dynamic characters. I’m not talking about the smooth, elegant types that grace our TV screens in shows such as Mad Men;but the weird, wonderful and downright eccentric ones that featured at the heart of many a tale and legend told in industry pubs, clubs and awards ceremonies. I guess it was a symptom of the (less politically correct) times of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the nature of the job and the people it attracted. But as the civil rights era kicked in, what about the black creatives working in the industry? Tales of black art directors and copywriters tend to be few and far between. This may be again symptomatic of the times. But also possibly I suspect due to a desire to blend in and get their head down and do the job, rather than be loud, extrovert and stand out in the crowd. Our featured creative this month is no such wallflower and is a genuine character. He has successfully managed to navigate a career in the turbulent waters of American advertising, creating some uncompromising work in his inimitable style, winning awards along the way and lived to tell the tale. So here it is in his own words. Over to you Lowell Thompson…

Lowell

Lowell Thompson, advertising executive, author and artist

What’s your background?

Background? What background? I got into the ad game the old- fashioned way: luck, pure luck. Just like most of the “white” folks. But seriously, the only thing I had that, in hindsight, made me a future ad man was a little talent for drawing and painting and even smaller one for writing. I’m from a poor family of 11 kids, but luckily, two parents, and spent most of my young years just barely making it in school, although I was told I had an above average IQ and read well for my age. I also liked to draw. Having 10 brothers and sisters gave me lots of folks to practice my portrait drawing on. It took me forever to finally get out of Wendell Phillips High School (on Chicago’s Southside) and only then because a few art teachers took pity on me and literally put me in a class by myself so that I could gain enough credits to graduate. I had won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But I dropped out after six months because I needed to make money to help the family (and I didn’t feel particularly at home in the fine art world). After about a dozen jobs, I lucked into the ad game at age 20 (in 1968).

King

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I happened to be in the right place, at the right time with a little talent. If I remember right, I got into the big-time ad biz almost exactly three months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. And after the nationwide riots that followed. Corporate America suddenly got interested in colored folks in anything but menial positions. I would have been lucky to have gotten a job in the mail room before that. Just a decade or so before, these giant ad agencies were still getting used to the idea of hiring Italians and Jews. I was actually working at the Chicago Tribune newspaper at the time, as an office boy in the creative services department. I’d been promised a promotion to be a keyline/pasteup artist.  They had already let me draw black and white fashion drawings for their Muriel Mundy account. (I’m amazed I still remember the name. I haven’t thought about this stuff in over 45 years). Anyway, when I got knocked out of the promotion because of a merger with Chicago’s American, another Trib-owned paper, I went looking for a new job during my vacation. On the very last day, I went to the Urban League, a social service agency focusing on civil rights and helping “Negroes” get into corporate America, The guy there told me about a summer intern position at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising agency. I didn’t really know what an ad agency did, but I went to the interview. Luckily their offices were in a sleek, Mies Van Der Rohe knockoff skyscraper right next to the classic, gothic Tribune building, so I could sneak out to an interview during my lunch break. The personnel man at FCB was a guy who made Don Draper and his boss on Mad Men look like plumbers. Slicked back silvery white hair and even whiter teeth. He was so smooth, he could sell fins to sharks. He welcomed me into his big, wood paneled corner office overlooking the Chicago River as if I was his long lost runaway slave son. After I found out exactly what FCB did, I knew I’d found a career. 

Sears

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Funny thing, I don’t remember ever having any blatant, racist incidents. But by that time in the USA, “whites” up north had learned to keep their racist training in check, only bringing it out around friends and family. For about eight years in the US, being a card-carrying racist wasn’t cool. Of course, I’m sure there was talk behind the scenes, in the meetings, bars and clubs where I wasn’t invited, where they decided just how high they wanted me to go… and how close to any client they wanted me to get. I never really realised the extent of this until I was way beyond the business and started reading and thinking about the sea-change that happened in America between 1960 and 1970. But now I remember one seemingly harmless, even personally positive, incident. A very respected, award-winning veteran art director at Needham, Harper & Steers told me when we were working on a creative gang-bang, “you know Lowell, you think like a white guy” (or words to that effect). I took it as the compliment I think he meant. But looking back, it shows just how conditioned “whites” were to think of er…ummm… “colored” folks as lacking in… er… uh… cognitive skills. I was probably one of the first and few “blacks” he’d ever been in a room with who wasn’t sweeping the floor or freshening his drink.

Sears

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

1. My uncle Raymond, whom my mother always said was where I most likely got my artistic talent, although I don’t remember seeing anything he did. She told the often told African American story of him sending his drawings to apply for a job and being enthusiastically hired until he was stopped at the receptionist’s desk when he showed up in “black” skin.
2. My mother would also mention the only African American artist she’d heard of, E. Simms Campbell, a cartoonist extraordinaire who went to school in Chicago and whose work was appearing in Esquire, a leading men’s mag.
3. Henry Ossawa Tanner, the great African American artist.
4. Vince Cullers and Emmett McBain. They were the first two African American admen who were doing ground-breaking work in the late ‘60s, when I first got into the biz. Vince Cullers had started his agency in the mid-‘50s and by the time I heard of him, he claimed to have the oldest continuously operating African American ad agency in the USA. Emmett was an amazing art director and creative character. Together they did the first “conceptually black” ads I’d seen. They also did a poster promoting the agency that ranks with the boldest, most elegant pieces of communication art ever executed by man – in my humble opinion.
5. Georg Olden, as an example of great talent, the pitfalls of believing your own press releases and of becoming a pseudo-EurAm.
6. Harry Belafonte, the singer/actor/activist who put his money and his life where his mouth is. He shows that just because you’re personally successful, you don’t have to abandon your people or your principles.

Sing

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

At the risk of sounding like a big-headed, pompous, self-promoting egomaniac, I think my best piece of work is me. Looking back to where I came from, I see gradually creating this character I’ve become at 67. The project of staying (relatively) sane, positive and optimistic in this insane, negative and pessimistic nation and world ain’t easy. It’s not for wimps. Although I’ve done work that has won the Clio (the “Oscar” of advertising in the USA), Cebas (the “Oscar” of “black” advertising), been featured in Print and Communications Arts and that I was pretty happy with at the time, little of my ad work for the big agencies lived up to my loftiest expectations. In fact, the stuff I like the best was almost all done for freelance, personal or not-for-profit projects where I made little or no money.  The work I did for Partnership Against Racism (PAR) is an example. I created this not-for-profit in the mid 1990s to be a communications agency creating ads and commercials designed to counteract the effect of 400 years of white supremacy. Later, I was joined by Father Derek Simons, a “white”, British-born Catholic priest and we created the “Diversity is Beautiful” poster and we co-hosted a radio show titled, “The Race Question” where we argued about the issue and hosted guests. It was fun.  But even more fun was when I wrote my first book, ‘“WHITE FOLKS”: Seeing America Through Black Eyes’. The title was tailor-made for advertising and controversy. My “I Love White Folks*” poster here is one of my favorite pieces. The radio spot I wrote was so hot, they refused to run it on WVON, the legendary African American-owned  station. It began with a brotha shouting “White Folks for sale! White Folks for sale!”. I still don’t fully understand why they were afraid to run it it…

WF

What would be your dream job or project?

I’m actually working my dream job right now. I’m retired from the day-to-day business, so I can spend my time, energy, talent and experience to save the world – starting right here in the USA in Chicago.  In fact, I just completed one example of what I want to do on a bigger stage. I call it my AllMericans Portrait Project. I’ve attached an example of the portrait, which I began in a “pop-up” studio on a corner in Buena Park, the southern portion of the neighborhood I live in, Uptown, Chicago. My purpose is to document a neighborhood in Chicago (still considered by many to be the most segregated big city in the USA) where people of many different “races”, ethnicities, incomes, gender choices, mental and physical abilities, etc. live in relative harmony.  This is just one small example of my dream job. I plan to create a communications company I’ve named Humane Communications that promotes humane ideals and values. My theme line is the kicker, “It’s like an ad agency… for the human race”. It basically takes my old Partnership Against Racism idea and expands and twists it to be a positive force for the future instead of just a corrective of the USA’s heinous racial history.

Kemper

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Vince Cullers, who started one of the first successful African American ad agencies, which was based in Chicago for about 40 years, until his death. Emmett McBain, who was one of the first art directors at a major ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, in the early 60s. By the time I got into the business, he was the head art director at Vince Cullers Advertising and helped create some of the classic ads of the day. He later co-founded Burrell-McBain (now Burrell Communications), which was for decades the largest African American-owned agency in the USA. Joey Randall, who worked in New York and Chicago and was the creator of “Street Song” the TV commercial Burrell advertising did for Coca Cola that put the agency on the creative map. Harry Webber, an art director/copywriter, and a legend in his own mind, but deservingly so. Many of his claims of creative stardom would be unbelievable if they weren’t largely backed up by fact. He worked mostly in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He won many creative awards and gets credit for co-creating the “I’m Stuckon BandAids” and the “Thanks, I Needed That” campaign for Mennen in the 80s.  I met him when I took his office at Leo Burnett in Chicago in 1978. Alma Hopkins was a copywriter who started in the business about the same time as I did. She worked at a few EurAm agencies before I convinced her to come to Burrell in 1979. Although I left by January 1980, she stayed, becoming senior VP and creative chief. James Glover is a copywriter who wrote and helped produce so great commercials for McDonald’s, United Airlines and other big clients. He’s still working at a creative director. Phil Gant was a copywriter who became one of the few AfrAmerican top creative executives at a major ad agency. He ran the creative department of BBDO Chicago for years.

Miller

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

1. Find out what you’re good at.
2. Decide if you want to do it for a living.
3. Develop your skill, whether you see immediate job prospects or not.
4. Find out as much as you can about the realities of the business.
5. Keep your fingers crossed. Luck is real.

Top Dog

What’s next for you?

My next book, “Mad Invisible Men”, then world creative domination. I have so many “save the world” projects I can’t even list them all. But one that I hope will incorporate many of them is my Humane Communications project. I bought the domain about a year ago, Humanecom.com and I think the theme line explains what I want to do pretty well, “It’s like an ad agency…for the human race”. Please stay tuned.

For more information visit madinvisiblemen.com

Network:

EUROPE:

GLENN LIGON ‘CALL AND RESPONSE’ Camden Arts Centre until 11 January 2015. For his exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, the first in a UK public gallery for the celebrated American artist, Ligon presents a new series of large paintings based on the 1966 seminal taped-speech work, Come Out, by Minimalist composer Steve Reich. Come Out is drawn from the testimony of six black youths arrested for committing a murder during the Harlem Race Riot of 1964. Known as the ‘Harlem Six’, the case galvanised civil rights activists for a generation, bringing to attention police brutality against black citizens. Echoing Reich’s overlapping repetition of words and phrases, Ligon’s silkscreen paintings overlay the words to create slowly shifting and rhythmic effects. For more info visit the website

WANGECHI MUTU is on a formidable tear. After presentations in Durham, N.C., Brooklyn, N.Y., Miami and currently Evanston, Ill., her first U.S. survey remains underway as her second solo exhibition at Victoria Miro opens in London. Based in Brooklyn, educated in Britain and born Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu’s international pedigree is reflected in her otherworldly collage works, drawing on African mythology, colonialism, feminism and contemporary perceptions of black women and their bodies. ‘Nguva na Nyoka’ is at Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 19 December 2014. For more information visit the website

THE U.S:

Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art explores the ways contemporary artists use Ebony and Jet as a resource and as inspiration in their practices. Published by Johnson Publishing Company for over sixty years, both magazines are cultural touchstones for many African Americans and often represent a commonality between people of diverse backgrounds. Exhibition runs til Mar 8, 2015 at Studio Museum of Harlem.

For more information visit the website

THE CARIBBEAN:

The Martinique Jazz Festival 2014, now in it’s 20th year, features an array of jazz and world music artists from the Caribbean and around the world. For more information visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

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4 Corners: An Interview with Bro Ben

As October and another British Black History Month draws to a close, it gives me cause to reflect on the years since its inception in 1987. Culturally and technologically the changes in our society in that time have been immense. However, politically we seem to be going backwards rather than forwards as our basic freedoms and human rights come under constant attack and outrageous acts of prejudice, racism and violence become increasingly flagrant and frequent. Back then in the ’80s, our profiled creative for this month was making his mark as a graffiti artist and rapper as part of London’s burgeoning hip-hop scene. Creative roots which fed and nurtured him into one of the most talented, diverse and respected artists and designers of his generation. His integrity to his craft and commitment to his community, especially in encouraging young people, is awe-inspiring. As is his vast body of work encompassing art, design, illustration, photography, film, sculpture and music. But let’s be clear, this is no “Jack of all trades”. His work in each and every discipline he turns his heart and his hand to, is accomplished and features many landmark projects, which continue to influence to this day. So without further ado, let’s pass the mic to Mr Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben.

Bro BenSource: Azita Firoozyar

Benjamin Wachenje aka Bro Ben. Artist, designer and filmmaker

What’s your background?

I grew up in Harlow on the outskirts of London. Being born in the mid-70s meant that I was just about old enough to be considered a first-generation hip-hop child. From the first time I set eyes on Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Girls video as a young boy I became submerged in hip-hop cultural expression. Although I enjoyed all of the various disciplines of the emerging hip-hop movement I found the spray can art element particularly fascinating and exciting to do. Spray cans only represent a medium but the art form is essentially typography fused with figurative and landscape painting on unconventional canvases. As a result of this early introduction into the combined arts I have continually resisted the notion that you have to specialise in one discipline. During the mid-90s I was fortunate enough to have been the first generation to be offered the opportunity to study for a ‘joint’ honours degree at The University of The Arts’ Camberwell site. So I chose to simultaneously study Fine Art and Graphic Design, where I furthered my understanding of layout, composition, photography, typography, painting and printmaking.

Breakin'+Convention+designBreakin’ Convention design

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Prior to studying for a degree I had already satisfied many illustration and design briefs in the late-80s and early-90s. Before having computer access I had learned how to cut and paste using Pritt Stick and a scalpel, delete and tidy work with Typex and do laborious-hand rendered typography with Gouache paint or Letraset transfers. With regards to my illustration style, prior to owning a computer I would collage sheets of coloured paper together to make Illustrations. I got my first Mac in 1997 after volunteering at Alarm magazine. As a reward for my hard work and sleepless nights meeting press deadlines the publisher kindly gifted me an Apple Macintosh Performer 5600 Power PC. I quickly developed a technique to create my collaged paper illustrations in Photoshop. I had my first illustration published in VOX magazine in 1997 and this was followed by regular appearances in Echoes Music Weekly and Touch Magazine. In 1999 my illustration helped to enrich the branding of the DarkerThanBlue digital platform. After two years at DarkerThanBlue I returned to Touch Magazine as art director and also worked as art editor for THE FLY magazine.

Darker+than+Blue+designsDarkerThanBlue designs

 What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I had hundreds of rejected job applications after leaving university. While being unemployed I would occupy myself with imaginary briefs. I started to take the job application process less seriously and began to take risks with my covering letters which accompanied my CVs. On several occasions I just wrote raps/poems and I was surprised to find that this strategy appealed to some of the recruiting art directors who found this interesting and funny. As a result I became a frequent freelance designer at both Emap and IPC publishing houses. I also underestimated the power of referral. At least 50 per cent of my early work leads came from one friend, Russell Moorcroft. He was comfortable in putting me forward for a number of jobs because I had been at college with his wife Linda, who was able to give a confident character reference about my work ethic. But now the greatest challenge I face is to work as hard towards my own goals as I have in the past towards the visions and goals of my paymasters.

Breaker+illustrationBreaker illustration

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Most definitely hip-hop culture has been a great inspiration and has interfaced me with enriching experiences. But professionally my early mentor Everton Wrightshifted my paradigm as to what is possible. I had never come across a black man with dreadlocks who drove a nice car and owned a consultancy and design studio (Creative Hands) in the heart of the City. The walls of the studio were adorned with examples of high-profile work that overlooked the minimalist furniture, wooden floorboards and first generation G3s and iMacs that were dotted all over the loft-styled workspace. What’s more he had staff and was able to pay me. It was a mind-stretcher to say the least. I had never met a black man in Britain who had carved out a living for himself like that and being of black British descent this really resonated with me. Aside from that type of up close and personal inspiration I also take a holistic approach to the arts as a whole, so I might do a painting inspired by the music of Donald Byrd. I might do drawing inspired by Spike Lee’s films. I might make a short film inspired by a poem I have written. I might design a palette for a corporate brand based on a Monet pastel drawing. I also find inspiration in failure, depression and tragedy. I know that I am at my happiest when I am productive. I know that if I am not productive I will be depressed. I know that if I don’t find a lesson in a tragedy then the sorrow may envelop me. I know that if I don’t analyse my failures I will be destined to repeat them, so I stay positive and draw inspiration from life’s beauties and hardships.

FourFourTwo+cover+illustrationFourFourTwo cover illustration

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I am not a proud person. Sometimes I like my work momentarily on completion but as time passes I can only see how it could have been better. I get very uncomfortable when people praise my work.

PaintingPainting work

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream job would be to direct and produce a feature length film. As an artist without boundaries what better medium exists than film, to harmonise the spectrum of artistic disciplines? Within film you can fuse, literature, poetry, music, sound design, dramatics, theatre, dance, sculpture, photography, typography and graphics… I think the great filmmakers of this period will be remembered and revered in the same way we idolise the renaissance painters of the 15th and 16th Century.

Design+for+Jonzi-DDesign for Jonzi-D

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

As previously mentioned Everton Wright. Steve McQueen. His work asks questions in a subtle way. Also he feeds into the growing audience that want to see an unconventional artistic approach to film making. Kjell Ekhorn and Jon Forss (Non-Format). They don’t follow design trends and they have enough confidence in their vision to establish trends. Graham Rounthwaite. Editorial illustrations were seemingly becoming stagnant before he re-energised the discipline with his fresh fashion-led stylised characters that he placed in familiar urban contexts. Taki 183 and PHASE 2. Fathers of graffiti who were some of the first Street artists to break the cycle of incestuous, elitist art and bring it back to the everyday people. Blek Le Rat. The relatively unknown Parisian stencil artist, whose work inspired and pre-dates Banksy. Following a period of abstract impressionism art was losing its ability to communicate with the masses and could no longer effectively critique power or voice decent. With the emergence of Culture Jamming and Street Art once again artists like Blek Le Rat were able to comment on the social and political climate in a dissident and subversive visual language.

Touch+magazine+coverTouch magazine cover

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t follow in my footsteps – create your own pathway. If you try to get to where I am you will be disappointed when you arrive. Never limit your goals to what someone else has achieved, look beyond, focus on personal excellence. Try to be excellent at what is in front of you right now and then move on when the time is right.

Sleeve+art+for+TySleeve art for Ty

What’s next for you?

A workout. I have been sitting in front of my computer all day. Not good. You have to paint up close but then view from a distance to find out if your strokes are making sense. When I work out I can reflect on my creative goals from a distance. But for sure I will continue to illustrate, art direct and make space in my schedule to make films.

Network:

EUROPE:

STEVE MCQUEEN ‘ASHES’ is the Thomas Dane Gallery’s third solo exhibition of the acclaimed British artist and filmmaker’s works. For this exhibition, McQueen will present two new works. The first, entitled Ashes, 2014, is installed as an immersive projection with sound.  It was shot on Super8 film with a haunting verbal soundtrack, recently recorded in Grenada. Much of the footage dates from 2002 and was taken by the legendary cinematographer, Robbie Muller. The deceptively simple film was commissioned by Espace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo and shown there earlier this year. At No. 11, we will be showing an entirely sculptural installation ‘Broken Column’, which acts as a pendant to ‘Ashes’. Gallery hours: Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm, Saturday 12pm-6pm.  Admission Free. Tel: +44 (0)20 7925 2505. Nearest Tube: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus. For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com

HOW GREAT THOU ART – 50 YEARS OF AFRICAN CARIBBEAN FUNERALS IN LONDON by photographer Charlie Phillips presents a sensitive photographic documentary of the social and emotional traditions that surround death in London’s African Caribbean community. Runs from 7 November – 5 December at Photofusion 17A Electric Lane
London
Brixton
SW9 8LA. Visit the website for more information

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL ‘LOOK SEE’ – an exhibition of new paintings oncurrent with the traveling exhibition Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff, currently on view at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid. Runs until 22 November at David Zwirner Gallery, 24 Grafton Street London W1S 4EZ. Visitthe website for more information.

THE U.S:

A THEATRE OF COLOR: COSTUME DESIGN FOR THE BLACK THEATRE BY MYRNA COLLEY-LEE consists of more than 100 original costume designs, and over 80 production photographs, including full scale production images from several productions portraying the black experience from before World War II through the Pulitzer Prize-winning works of August Wilson. Exhibition runs until 4 January 2015 at Charles H. Wright Museum of African History.Visit the museum’s website for more information

AFRICA:

TEMPORARY BUT PERMANENT: PROJECTS The act of being present, and following the construction of a permanent work of art within a public space, is for Hobbs/Neustetter a complex and political condition where one is literally exposed to myriad forces and opinions. A temporary action on the other hand– while no less complex or political, unfolds with a different sense of time in relation to development and production, and often displays more social dexterity regarding audience and site. The works presented inTemporary but Permanent, through their exploration of xenophobia, forced migration and urban degeneration, stand as a particular instances of these symbolic translations. Developed in countries as varied as Martinique, Norway and Mali, Hobbs/Neustetter employed photography, video, mapping and participatory processes in order to present and record such interventions and ultimately effect radical changes in society. Accompanying this selection of works is Hobbs/Neustetter’s post performance video installation of their Tate Modern Commission for the December 2013 Sud Trienniel in Douala, Cameroon.Visit the Museum of African Design for more information

THE CARIBBEAN:

LAST SUNDAYS @ NATIONAL GALLERY of Jamaica features special exhibitions from 11.00am to 4.00pm, with free admission for all free tours and gallery-based children’s activities. There are often special films or special performances and the gift and coffee shops are also open. Contributions to the donation box are welcomed. For more information call 876.922.1561, or visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Lemi Ghariokwu

According to the lyrics of the late, great pioneering Afrobeat musician and cultural icon, Fela Kuti, ‘Music is the weapon of the future’If that’s the case, then this month’s profile designer’s work is a laser cannon. There are very few artists and designers, whose work transcends merely being the superficial packaging of the music, and becomes the visual embodiment of it. And Lemi Ghariokwu, or Lemi G as he is often known is such an artist. As a pioneering sleeve designer in his homeland of Nigeria, he has created an enduring legacy of highly potent, and political visual statements that gave Fela’s music added power and impact. So let’s hear it from the man himself in his own words. Shoot Lemi G.

Lemi Ghariokwu, artist and record sleeve designer

Lemi Ghariokwu, artist and record sleeve designer

What’s your background?

I’m a self-taught fine artist, graphic designer and illustrator. I did not receive formal training from an art school so I’m coming straight from my heart and soul through the streets into the arts. No degrees but I got pedigree! That’s my background.

Peter Okoh Patience Rhythm Band, front cover, 1973

Peter Okoh Patience Rhythm Band, front cover, 1973

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Destiny is the key to my life and pre-destination unlocked when in 1974 I did my own version of a Fela Kuti cover as practice. A journalist saw my cover, was impressed and took me to meet Fela. Soon after I had the opportunity to do my first Fela cover, which received rave reviews and gave me instant recognition. I was then a teenager seeking my path in life and Fela pointed me in the right direction to become a professional record sleeve designer. In the early days, I used to be commissioned do live drawings at TV studios. My first ever cover design was for my uncle, Peter Okoh and his band, Patience Rhythm Dance Band for Decca Records in Africa, but unfortunately it was never published. So officially, my first published record cover was for an album called World Affairs by an artist called Tessy Allan. I’ve worked with many musicians all my life. I would have been a musician if it wasn’t for the Art.

Tessy Allen World Affairs, cover, 1974

Tessy Allen World Affairs, cover, 1974

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

The first challenge was to school myself to acquire the skill to be very professional in my work. I checked out any arts and designs I came across, asked questions from experienced artists and designers, did short stints in three advertising agencies in a bid to overcome the challenges. As soon as I was ready, my association and eventual collaboration with Fela Kuti put me on a pedestal and a very good footing to achieve one of my ambitions as the pioneer of professional record sleeve designer in Nigeria. I’ve made a career spanning 40 years of this.

Fela Kuti, Alagbon Close

Fela Kuti, Alagbon Close

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’ve always been inspired by things around me; everyday movements of people, state of the nation and the world at large. My greatest inspirations and influences come from individuals who are advocates for equality and justice, contributors to the advancement of society and human progress and most especially facilitators and catalysts for positive change. Also, I fell in love with album sleeve design while at secondary school. The album ‘Woyaya’ by Osibisa was the first to catch my attention. Designed by the renowned British sleeve designer Roger Dean, I was inspired by his other works such as the logo and album artwork for groups like Yes. Back then, only in my wildest dreams could I ever imagine I could become a record sleeve designer too. I also loved the album cover artwork of the acclaimed p-funk, Parliament-Funkadelic cover artist, Pedro Bell. Many people have suggested to me that there is a strong similarity in our work.

Fela Bus

Fela Bus

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Well, I have many ‘best’ pieces of works! My mostly proud of project is the body of works of 26 album cover designs I did for Fela Kuti’s musical career. I’m very proud of the Fela Bus, a mural on wheels I did for the Fela On Broadway show. Being a part of the Kalakuta Museum project as the curator is also a shine!

Fela Kuti, Beasts of No Nation

Fela Kuti, Beasts of No Nation

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to have a platform on a TV reality show dedicated to discovering and nurturing talents in visual arts and design. This I believe will help to promote visual art and design as a laudable profession and encourage individuals born with artistic talents in my society.

Fela Kuti, Yellow Fever

Fela Kuti, Yellow Fever

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Honestly I’m not sure I know anyone and that is sad, but let me explain. Things are different in Nigeria. When I started, I think I was the only one doing what I do. There were other artists, who worked for the likes of advertising agencies etc… as illustrators, but the few there were seem to have all disappeared. Nowadays, you have people who are not necessarily artists, but are technically-minded and computer literate, creating album cover designs. They tend to work from their own photography in cyber cafes, manipulating the images and creating the designs for many of the new breed of Afrobeat performers and recording artists. Frustratingly, they never seem to credit their own work on the sleeves so you never know who they are.

Fela Kuti, Zombie

Fela Kuti, Zombie

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

My best advice to anyone is not to follow in someone else’s footsteps but to learn from their story. First and foremost, you need to find out who you are. Self-discovery and mastery is the key to life. Check out what you are really good at or what your strongest flair is. Work vigorously on developing that talent by honing your skills. Be consistent, principled and ambitious. May time and chance meet you at the point of your need for opportunity to shine. Good luck!

What’s next for you?

I keep working to remain relevant and very contemporary doing avant-garde works in a bid to consolidate my legacy. For 2015 I’m planning to publish my memoir and have a retrospective exhibition to mark my diamond jubilee.

For more information visit: http://lemighariokwu.wordpress.com

Network:

EUROPE:

DISOBEDIENT OBJECTS. From Suffragette teapots to protest robots, this exhibition is the first to examine the powerful role of objects in movements for social change. It demonstrates how political activism drives a wealth of design ingenuity and collective creativity that defy standard definitions of art and design. V&A Museum, London. Exhibition runs until 1 February 2015.

For more info visit www.vam.ac.uk

AFRO-POLIS will be hosting alongside the Frieze Art fair, a 5 days experiential exhibition (15 – 19 Oct 2014) entitled – the African Renaissance. Held in and around Hoxton Square at various locations including the iconic former White Cube Gallery once the home of YBA Artists such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. In addition to being able to see and buy art and design by some of the leading African artists and designers, The African Renaissance features an innovative and interactive set of activities, which include workshops, debates, panel discussions, keynote lectures, live performance, and themed dinner.

Click here for more information on purchasing tickets.

THE U.S:

IMAGINARY POSSESSIONS: The first substantial presentation of his recent work at a U.S. museum by pioneering filmmaker, director, and theorist, John Akomfrah. ‘Imaginary Possessions’ presents three distinct films and a new commission that deftly excavate the fragmented identities of colonial subjects while challenging the received codes of cinematic representation. Runs until February 1st 2015 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, East Lansing, Michigan 48823.

For more information visit http://broadmuseum.msu.edu

AFRICA:

DESIGNING AFRICA: Exploring Provenance and Materiality interrogates two particular areas of design – visual communication and material exploration. Designing Africa showcases the work of visual artists Momodou Ceesay, Clari Green, Pwavidon Mathias and Brian Omolo with origin as the underpinning theme. How do we define where we come from? By communicating their origins, present, future and imagined states they redefine the identity of Africa through printmaking, graphic design and illustration.

For more information visit the African Artists’ Foundation website

THE CARIBBEAN:


THE TRINIDAD & TOBAGO FILM FESTIVAL (TTFF) 2014: 
Founded in 2006, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is an annual celebration of films from and about Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean and its diaspora. The Festival also screens films curated from contemporary world cinema. In addition, the ttff seeks to facilitate the growth of the Caribbean film industry by hosting workshops, panel discussions, seminars, conferences and networking opportunities. Festival runs 16 – 30 September.

For more information visit http://www.ttfilmfestival.com

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Carolyne Hill

I first encountered the work of Carolyne Hill, this month’s profiled designer, at the Black Cultural Archives, the UK’s first and foremost Black heritage institution, which was recently rebranded and relaunched this July into a £7 million refurbished historical building in the heart of Brixton. Her family and most notably her mother Dawn, who is chair of the BCA, have been staunch supporters of this organisation for many years. Carolyne, specifically has lent her considerable talents in design and branding. However, as I would later come to find out, this is but one small facet of Carolyne’s many achievements thus far. Her background as a graphic designer, previously specialising in retail and ‘destination branding’ has seen her working for many of the high streets most recognised brands. Now working as Associate Director and branding specialist for Harrison:Fraser, I have no doubt that she is carving her own place in history as one of the few women of colour to ascend to such a position. Ladies and gentlemen, please be upstanding for Carolyne Hill.

Carolyne Hill

Carolyne Hill. Graphic designer/branding specialist

What’s your background?

I’ve always seen myself as an ‘Original Londoner’ born and bred, but equally proud of both my British and Jamaican heritage. My father is English and my mother is Jamaican. My grandmother on my father’s side was very creative and was always painting; this was a big inspiration from an early age. I would say ‘when I grow up I’m going to be an artist!’

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

Branding for Rhythm Kitchen, designed at The Yard Creative

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I have worked for a range of design consultancies in London for various clients over the last 15 years. I studied retail interior design and business management at the London College of Printing. Having graduated and finding it hard to get a job in interior design, I managed to get a graphic design job from Design Week listings. From then on I was a graphic designer doing something I’d always loved and been passionate about.

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

Poster for African Street Festival Street Style

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I still think the biggest challenge for me was just getting that first job. Upon graduating you come into the industry with all these hopes and dreams and then you can’t even get an interview! I worked at The Conran Shop weekends and was an office intern doing filing work during the week. It took more than a year until I got my first design internship at Elemental Studio in Loughbrough Junction, which then led to me getting my first actual full-time paid design job at Astound, working for clients such as Tesco, B&Q and 3M. Once ‘in’ I’ve worked hard at achieving my goals at every stage and those first contacts I made working at Astound have stayed with me throughout my career and have helped in finding the right kind of work with the right people. 

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Identity for Kaleidoscope Cinema – a pop-up cinema run by Jewel Hardy

Who or what are your greatest inspirations?

At school I was fascinated by the Pop Art era. I was a big Andy Warhol fan as a teenager and when studying GCSEs I discovered Bridget Riley, who as well as sharing my birthday, was a great inspiration as a fellow south Londoner from Norwood where I was at school doing my best at creating my own ‘Pop Art masterpieces’ for my coursework! I was impressed with her artwork and career as a strong female artist – I loved her bright colours, geometric forms and stripes. My parents were also a big influence as they always instilled in me that I could achieve anything and supported me along the way in my decisions to study and work in design. Today I find my biggest inspirations come from those around me such as my friends and my peers. I enjoy seeing people being successful with whatever they are doing and this spurs me on to find the next challenge.

Handpainted sign for Lola's Casino

Handpainted sign for Lola’s Casino

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

At the moment I’m most proud of the Lola’s Casino identity work for The Hippodrome Casino at Harrison:Fraser, where I am associate director. Last year I took a typography course at Central Saint Martins, and to see a direct link from new learnings to a finished logo up in Leicester Square makes me very proud. I like to think that I’m proud of whatever I work on and I hope my ‘best piece’ is still to come.

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape Cape Tea

Work for South African-inspired Rooibos tea brand Cape & Cape Tea

What would be your dream project?

My dream project right now would be to design and build a pop-up restaurant – mainly because I’m a foodie and really enjoy going to these ‘blink and you miss it’ installations! In 2009, I was made redundant and decided to set up my own company, sharing a design studio with Arthur Irving and his company Skylark, which was an exciting and fun experience, hard work but very rewarding. Financial pressures and great job offers have led to me moving on from my own company, but I like to think that in the future I might work for myself again! I also have the dream to be ‘more of an artist’ – still working on that one!

Who in your field do you believe deserves credit and recognition?

There are so many people who could deserve some recognition. But in my daily design job, the printers and shopfitters who produce amazing results, often with the shortest turnaround times and last-minute changes, to bring our work to life – they are amazing and deserve credit.

Flyer designs for Manifesto

Flyer designs for Manifesto

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Love what you do, work hard and don’t give up! Alongside anything I’ve ever worked at, I’ve always had a side gig. Whether it be designing flyers for friends’ club nights, creating events or taking pictures, these things add to your personal portfolio and whether starting up or working in the corporate design world you need this output to keep your creative spark alive.

What’s next for you?

As associate director at Harrison:Fraser I’ve got big challenges everyday and enjoy being part of a team in which is fast paced. Personally I’m enjoying learning how to use my new camera and building upon the personal design work I’m doing with Kaleidoscope Cinema and Street Style.

For more information visit www.harrisonfraser.com.

Network:

EUROPE:

RE-IMAGINE: Black Women in Britain. The BCA’s inaugural exhibition delves into the remarkable history of Black women in this country and spotlights some of their inspirational lives and contributions to British society since the Roman era. Listen to a tapestry of voices and reimagine the historical accounts of an 18th-century freedom fighter, social and political activists, talented musicians, writers and a woman serving in the Royal Navy. Until 30 November 2014. FREE admission. For more info visit www.bcaheritage.org.uk

THE LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL 2014. First staged in 2003, the London Design Festival is one of the world’s most important annual design events. The Festival programme is made up of over 300 events and exhibitions staged by hundreds of partner organisations across the design spectrum and from around the world. Design Week is proud to be a part of this event and on Saturday 13 September at 10.30-11.30am at the V&A Lecture Theatre will be hosting a special talk, ‘4 Corners: Design from the African diaspora’. Here, Design Week columnist, Jon Daniel will introduce the thinking behind the column and select work from the USA, Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. For more information visit londondesignfestival.com.

THE US:

HERE AND ELSEWHERE. A major exhibition of contemporary art from and about the Arab World, New York’s New Museum’s exhibition brings together more than 45 artists from over 15 countries, many of whom live and work internationally. Exhibition runs until 28 September at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002, USA. For more info visitwww.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/here-and-elsewhere

FUNKY TURNS 40: Black Character Revolution Animation Art from classic cartoons of the ’70s. This special exhibition commemorates the 40th anniversaries of 1970s Saturday Morning cartoons that featured positive Black characters for the first time in television history. The exhibition includes original production pieces and drawings used to produce these cartoons. Also included are images from the animated opening to Soul Train and two of the few Black cast/Black-focused animated features that have been produced since the 1970s: BeBe’s Kids (1992) and Our Friend Martin (1999). Now on the second leg of a national tour showing until 20 October 2014 at DuSable Museum of African American History. For more info visit the DuSable Museum website for details.

AFRICA:

TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival 2014. Every year since its inception in 2002, the TriContinental Human Rights Film Festival has screened powerful films from South Africa and across the globe, exploring some of the most urgent local and global issues of our time.With a passion to support the fight for human rights and democracy through media, the TCFF offers stories from the bleeding edge of current social and political waves – stories that are not only relevant to our time, but skillfully told through beautiful cinema.TCFF is the only festival primarily dedicated to issues of Social, Political and Human Rights on the African continent. Taking place in Johannesburg, Capetown and Pretoria, 13-29 September 2014. For more information and submission details visit www.3continentsfestival.co.za

THE CARIBBEAN:

INTERNATIONAL REGGAE POSTER CONTEST 2014 Call for Entries is now open until until November,1st, 2014. The best posters will be selected by a jury of design professionals and will be published in a catalogue/book and exhibited around the world. The objective is to continue to build awareness for Reggae music and to celebrate the global achievements of Reggae and its impact on the world. The term Reggae encompasses all the popular Jamaican musical genres; Ska, Rocksteady, Roots Reggae, Dub, Dancehall and the unique Jamaican Soundsystem. They are looking for your talent and vision and we are very excited to see what designers can come up with in their original poster designs that will capture the energy and vibe of Reggae Music. The contest is open to all graphic designers and artists internationally. Artists/Designers are allowed to submit any number of original poster Entries. Posters should not have been published in internet, social

medias etc. For more information visit www.reggaepostercontest.com 

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An interview with Emory Douglas

As a black teenager growing up in East Sheen, I was inspired by the historical contribution of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement in the US, and influenced by leading black political figures and community activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale – and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in particular. The Black Panthers’ base in Oakland, California was a universe away from the genteel, suburban niceties of south west London, but as an aspiring artist and designer I could not help but be captivated by the powerful and evocative imagery they projected and the striking graphic designs they created. Both the medium and the message had a profound influence on my development as a creative professional and certainly instilled a desire to use design as a tool to promote and tackle social issues and human rights issues that continues to this day. The Black Panthers’ pioneering political visual communications were the handiwork of a truly gifted and visionary man, who served the party as Minister for Culture from 1967 to 1980. A man who in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that I would one day have the honour of interviewing and the pleasure of introducing you to today. Brothers and Sisters please pump your black, gloved fists up for Mr Emory Douglas.

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas, Revolutionary Artist, Designer and Minister of Culture of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1967-80).

What’s your background?

My art background is basically as a self-taught artist with a minimum of professional training. I attended City College in San Francisco off and on from around 1964 to 1966 and majored in Commercial Art.
That educational practice introduced me to the basic graphic designing elements such as figure drawing, sketching, illustration drawing, lettering, layout and design, pre-press production, the offset printing process, the basic animation process and how to critique and evaluate one’s work. This was my only academic graphic design training prior to my actual on-the-job training.Free+All+Political+PrisonersSource: Emory Douglas

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As a youth I was in and out of detention centers, I will say for illegal activity not sanctioned by the state. While there I would do mostly landscape art – nothing with any social meaning. A year or so after I got out I decided to attend City College of San Francisco. The councillor at the detention center heard of my decision to attend college and suggested I take up art. When I went to enroll I mentioned to the college councillor
I would like to major in Art and he suggested I major in the Commercial Arts, which I did. Thereafter the whole idea of my going to school was to try and break into commercial art by becoming a designer, art director or illustrator. I heard of people who were making good money in those fields so I wanted to join them. However,  after a while I began to see and realise that there was really only an elite few that made it and became successful and they were mostly the white students, particularly the ones who had relatives or close family friends with ties to the commercial art field. While at college I developed my graphic art skills to a professional level, where they would send me out on job assignments. I worked at a silk-screen factory where I learned the silk-screen printing process. I also worked at a downtown store in San Francisco where they sold fine wine goblets and silverware doing layout, cutting and pasting of advertisements and preparing display signs for their store window displays. Also there were paying jobs that came in from various departments at the College for graphic design work such as sign lettering and technical illustrations where I along with other art students who had developed our skills to a basic professional level were offered these jobs.Malcolm+X+SpearsSource: Emory Douglas

What challenges did you face in achieving your ambitions to break into the industry?

Certainly there were challenges, because this was at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Firms weren’t hiring blacks, so it was particularly difficult for African- Americans and there were many racial biases and obstacles to overcome. But at the same time that’s how I got involved in political artwork. For example, the whole time I attended City College there was only me and sometimes one other black person who were enrolled in the Commercial Art classes of about 20 students per class. Also there were graphic styles that I created which one of the instructors expressed to me wasn’t commercial enough, so for a while I had to go along with that whole framework of how they programme you to produce artwork for your portfolio with a certain commercial style that was considered acceptable when it came time to looking for a job or going for job interviews. The graphic styles I personally used I had to just put that to the side until later on. I remember one time as a class assignment to create a magazine layout I created one similar to EBONY magazine (the most prominent African-American magazine of the time) and the teacher pulled me aside and said how much he appreciated what I had done. But he added that to be honest with me, it would be another 10 years or so before ideas like mine would be accepted. Eventually it was the Civil Rights, and human rights pressures and campaigning against discrimination that began the process for black people getting into the commercial arts industry during that period.Paper+BoySource: Emory Douglas

Who and what are your greatest inspirations?

As a youngster growing up it was my mother – she was legally blind and worked hard as a single parent.
 There was an artist I knew named Charles Bible, he lived downstairs from where I lived and he would mass-produce multiple paintings of the same image of Malcolm X every year for the anniversary celebrations of Malcolm’s life. I would talk to him about his assembly-line production process and his painting technique and he would explain both of them to me. The information he shared became very helpful when I began doing some portrait paintings over the years. There was also the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which I made artistic contributions to during and prior to my joining The Black Panther Party in late January 1967. Then there was this calendar I would see as a child at my aunt’s house. Every year it featured artwork by a black artist named Charles White, which had a real impact on me. Politically, I was inspired by the politics and artwork that was being created at the time – particularly the work of the Cuban poster artists of OSPAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America), and from China, Vietnam, the Anti-War movement and Palestine. The Cuban artists used to remix some of my artwork they saw in the Black Panther Newspaper and created some amazing solidarity posters that they would share around the world – that was very exciting and inspiring.End+to+RobberySource: Emory Douglas

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would say the best piece of work would have to be a volume of work that maybe tells a story – and therefore it would be my body of work for The Black Panther Party. But there are also volumes of work that I’m doing today that I feel strongly about and that I am pleased and satisfied to be able to make a statement on current issues and in a more contemporary way than what I did back then.Free+LandSource: Emory Douglas

What would be your dream project?

If I were younger, my dream job would probably as the head of a company, art department or organisation dealing with basic human rights and enlightening and educating people and using art as a language to communicate with people.Black+PantherSource: Emory Douglas

Who in your field do you believe deserve credit or recognition?

There are many, therefore I prefer not to drop names because I’m sure to remember later that I forgot to mention many others I should have, who are also amazing artists and great communicators through their art.ObamaSource: Emory Douglas

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Whatever you do stay focused and practise your craft. And if you’re doing political artwork or social commentary art make sure you know the basic politics of whatever social issues that may concern you. Have fun! Don’t do it because it’s a fad, do it because you believe in it and understand that the creative process will be an ongoing life long journey.Endangered+SpeciesSource: Emory Douglas

What’s next for you?

To continue doing what I’m doing, creating artwork that deals with quality of life issues, basic human rights violations and concern for the struggles and challenges of oppressed peoples in this world.

For more information visit www.emorydouglasart.com.

Big thanks to Maurice Cherry of Revision Path for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network:

EUROPE:

‘RETURN OF THE RUDEBOY’ is an original exhibition created and curated by prolific photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, which showcases a sartorial subculture through a series of portraits, installations and set pieces. Runs until 25 August 2014 at Somerset House, Terrace Rooms, Strand London WC2R 1LA. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.somersethouse.org.uk.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: PAINTING AND OTHER STUFF is an exhibition of the work of the American artist across venues in Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition is divided between two venues. At the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid there is a focus on historical works and paintings, while the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona includes more recent works, not only in painting but also in other media such as drawing, photography, video and installation. Exhbitions run until 26 October 2014. For more information visit www.fundaciotapies.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

40 VOICES is an exhibition encompassing film, photography and an art installation in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Culturama event in Nevis Culturama (Nevis ). Through open, emotive and unguarded interviews of forty Nevis residents, 40 Voices aims to create an empowering film that will capture a snapshot of the feelings, opinions and attitudes of Culturama into one seamless loop. The exhibition runs from Sunday 27 July – Sunday 10 August 2014. For more information visit www.culturamanevis.com or chantimedia.com.

THE US:

DESIGN FOR SOCIAL IMPACT, an exhibition offering a look at how designers, engineers, students, professors, architects and social entrepreneurs use design to solve the problems of the 21st century. The exhibition features projects that address a variety of challenges in the areas of Shelter, Community, Education, Healthcare, Energy and Food & Water. Each category highlights solutions taking place locally, as well as ways in which these challenges are being addressed around the world. The exhibition is on view at Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) through to 3 August 2014. For more information visit www.museumofdesign.org. 

AFRICA:

21 ICONS: PORTRAIT OF A NATION, a poignant and inspiring multi-media exhibition by 21 Icons and Mercedes-Benz South Africa, opened on Youth Day, 16 June 2014 at the Museum of African Design in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg. In celebration of 20 Years of democracy, the two-month long exhibition features portraits and short films of 21 of South Africa’s greatest social masters including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sophia Williams De Bruyn, Ahmed Kathrada, Nadine Gordimer and George Bizos. 21 Icons: Portrait of a Nation: Presented by Mercedes-Benz South Africa will be on exhibition at MOAD for the first time, through to 17 August 2014. For more information, please visit www.moadjhb.com/21icons.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Malene B

This month we take a slight departure into a different field of design. Carpet design to be exact. Dynamic, bold, colourful and contemporary textile creations inspired by the designer’s travels, far and wide, they have made their mark on the floors of a host of prestigious residential and commercial environments around the globe. Born in The Bronx, New York, of West Indian parentage, our profiled award-winning designer now runs her business from Brooklyn and is a regular guest speaker at design and interiors events on the global cultural calendar. So without further ado, over to you Malene B. The floor is yours.

Malene B

Malene: carpet designer/president and design director of Malene B Carpets.

What’s your background?

My heritage is Caribbean-American; my mother is from the island of St. Vincent and my father is Jamaican. I’ve always had an interest in colour, painting and design since childhood. Eventually, my interest turned into passion and I attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, graduating with a BFA in Textile Surface Design and an Associate Degree in Fashion Illustration.

Malene B

How did you get started?

After college, I worked for a textile importer and then a carpet manufacturer.  From the carpet company, I learned all aspects of their business and decided to create a custom carpet company to showcase my specific design aesthetic.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

One of the biggest challenges I faced was starting a business during a recession. We overcame this by staying focused, keeping a positive attitude and relying on my aggressive networking skills. Our company’s motto: Since we’re starting at the bottom, there is only one direction to go…UP!!!

Malene B

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I am most inspired by the people and places encountered during my many travels. Those experiences are the essence of my brand and because of them, I am able to share a part of their life story through my designs.

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

My collection titled Signature. It was the first carpet group in the Malene B brand.  It debuted five years ago and it still continues to ‘wow’ people.

Malene B

What would be your dream project?

My dream is to design a collection for industry giants like Anthropologie and Crate and Barrel, and to work with David Adjaye on residential and commercial projects…His work is beautiful and visionary.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

All the owners and designers in the rug business. They continue to be a wonderful source of support. To name a few; Tania Johnson, Inigo Elizalde, Jan Kath, Judy Ross and Warp & Weft.

Malene B

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t be a follower…create your own path!

What’s next for you?

Its time to expand into other product categories. I’m working on a crowd-fundraising campaign, which will help finance the development of new products. The campaign will allow customers to pre-order specific limited-edition items and the collection will consist of beautiful theme driven pillows, throws, carpets, tile and more.

Malene B

For more information visit www.maleneb.com.

Network

EUROPE:

‘BRITISH’ is a photography exhibition that explores the multi-cultural nature of British identity by Zadoc Nava. Taking his own iconic ‘British’ T-shirt, a celebration of multicultural ‘Britishness’, as his starting point the fashion designer Wale  Adeyemi commissioned photographer Zadoc Nava to document the changing face of Britain. Using the street as his studio, Nava has produced a series of compelling portraits that reflect the diverse nature of contemporary British society. Runs until 29 June 2014 at The Print Room, 34 Hereford Road, London, W2 5AJ. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.the-print-room.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

REGGAE SUMFEST 2014 will be the 22nd annual staging of the festival in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Staged annually during the third week of July, the festival is now an established staple on the Jamaican entertainment calendar, attracting patrons from all across the globe, as far away as Australia, Europe, the USA and the African continent.  Festival runs from July 13-19, 2014.  More information at at www.reggaesumfest.com 

THE US:

A SUBTLETY OF THE MARVELOUS SUGAR BABY. Creative Time presents the first large-scale public project by Kara Walker. Sited in the sprawling industrial relics of Brooklyn’s legendary Domino Sugar Factory, Walker’s physically and conceptually expansive installation responds to the building and its history. The exhibition is open until 6 July, Fridays 4-8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays noon to 6 at Domino Sugar Factory, South 1st Street @ Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. For more info visitcreativetime.org/projects/karawalker/

AFRICA:
Zanzibar International Film Festival 2014. Recognised as the largest film and arts event in East Africa, the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) offers a themed selection of African and international cinema. The festival also features a series of performances, discussion channels, workshops, exhibitions, live music concerts, cultural tours and workshops. This year’s theme is ‘A Common Destiny’, and the selection of films will be chosen depending on their power to ignite common experiences in their diverse audiences by reinforcing awareness of shared experiences, history and culture. Ngome Kongwe (Old Fort), Zanzibar City, Zanzibar. For more information, please visit www.ziff.or.tz

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Mo Woods

If race equality progressed at the same rate as technology, we’d be living on an amazing planet right now.

Yet, here we are in 2014 and there is little doubt that the playing field for people of colour looking to break into the world of design and visual communications is still not level. However, our profile designer this month is one man who has managed to break through and scale heights that befit his 6’ 10” frame.

A self-confessed perfectionist, and prodigious college basketball talent, whether working previously with the likes of design legends such as Pentagram or now as senior visual designer with technology giant Yahoo, he always brings his best game. And as co-founder of a pioneering social project that is helping introduce under-priviledged, inner-city kids to the world of design, he’s someone we can all certainly look up to.

Please be upstanding for Mr Maurice Woods.

Maurice Woods

Maurice ‘Mo’ Woods, graphic designer, co-founder of the Inneract Project and senior visual designer, Yahoo.

What’s your background?

My roots are in visual communication design. I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. This is a great programme that taught me crucial fundamental skills I still use today. If you are at all serious about being in this business it is imperative that you find a good school with solid teachers that push you and have a good mix of other talented students.

CultureBusThe CultureBus logo was designed while at Pentagram

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Well, my trajectory was not typical. I got into design via basketball. I was granted a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Washington, and after realising I might not make it to the NBA, I had to decide a major. My mother actually suggested I try graphic design, because I ‘liked to draw’. From her suggestion I took an intro to graphic design course. After the first class, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a designer.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I don’t think I thought of getting into the profession as a challenge. I think I had a personal challenge, and that was to prove that I could be good enough to work with the best designers in the business. I guess you can say that basketball had a profound influence on me. In a way, I think it was the competitiveness that sports ingrains in your spirit that makes you want to win, all the time. I was that way, although I never expressed it. It was more of an inside goal I had to reach. I would do anything I could to achieve the success I believed I could achieve.

Miles+DavisEnvisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design Poster Series, 27” x 40”

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I have a ton of influences. There have been a lot of people who inspire me, not just creatively, but through encouragement, sincerity and advice. I would say that some of my biggest design influences are Doug Wadden, Tony Gable, Kit Hinrichs and Chris Ozubko. I became very close to all of these guys and collectively, I learned a lot of what I now know through them. Doug Wadden and Chris were teachers of mine in both undergraduate and graduate school. They always gave me good solid advice, pushed me to move forward, and were a part of my growth in key phases of my career. Tony Gable, from a creative standpoint, was the first African American designer I encountered. Ironically enough, I stumbled across Tony’s work as I was entering into the school of design. I saw a poster he did at a poster shop. I asked the owner of the shop and he told me about Tony, and I connected to him through this way. Much like my trajectory into design, key experiences in my life I believe shaped the career path I have now. Tony, ‘til this day is still a good friend. Kit Hinrichs was an important person. I learned a lot from him. He probably does not even know it. I always tried to learn from everything down to the way he presented, to his incredible work ethic. Kit has been in the business for a very long time and ‘til this day still is usually the first one in the office and one of the last people to leave. I found that to be extremely inspirational and a trait I felt I needed to learn from. Especially from someone who has had a career as good as he has. 

NikeFrom a series of concepts developed for a project for Nike on an all-black basketball team that thrived in the United States in the period between 1904, when basketball was first introduced among African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, to 1950,

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and the answer is none. I am actually very bad with this. There is not a single project that I feel was just right. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I always see way I could have made a project better. It is a curse and a blessing at the same time. However, the thing I am most proud of, currently is the Inneract Project. This is a free programme I started to expose inner-city youth and communities to careers in design. It is my life’s work. It inspires me because I have seen the work we do impact the lives of young people. As Inneract Project continues to grow, I get excited about the potential of our program developing a greater appreciation of design in the schools and inner-cities.

RobotsRobots exhibition that took place at the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. Designed while working at Pentagram

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream design job was to work at Pentagram Design. I worked there, so now I am working at Yahoo. There, I am working on my next current interest, interactive design. I consider myself very fortunate to able to work at this company.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

Most of the people I think would deserve the credit, already have the credit. Those who I know who don’t get enough credit, don’t care. I am one of those people. I, like so many others, do it for the love. But, make no mistake, we want to get paid fairly to do it too.

FistImage created as part of “Envisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design” project.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I can give someone is to make goals for yourself, and never stop working til you get there. It sounds sort of like a cliché, but it’s not, really. It is actually pretty simple, and pretty much proven to net you some success. I wanted to be the best, and my competitiveness and work ethic would not let me give up. I practice my skills everyday. If I am putting together a Word doc to send to someone, I am thinking about the format. When I am at home, and moving things around in my house, I tend to think about composition, balance and symmetry. I admit, it is a compulsive behavior, but those little things have helped me fine-tune my skills and now I can work rather quickly and effectively when designing something for someone. It is the daily practice that enhances your skills — working everyday to get better.

What’s next for you?

The next step for me involves my fascination with technology, interactive design, education and community awareness. These areas of interest will more than likely influence the next big thing I do. We will have to see what happens next.

For more information visit www.inneractproject.org

Network:

EUROPE:

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process. Open until 19 August 2014 at The British Library, 96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB. For more information visit www.bl.uk

THE CARIBBEAN:

Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica. The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present an exhibition of street art from Kingston and environs. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery until 11 July. National Gallery of Jamaica, 12 Ocean Blvd, Block C, Kingston, Jamaica, (W.I)
For more information visitnationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com

THE US:

When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South queries the category of ‘outsider’ art in relation to contemporary art and black life. With the majority of work having been made between 1964 and 2014, the exhibition brings together a group of thirty-five intergenerational American artists who share an interest in the U.S. South as a location both real and imagined. Runs until 29 June 2014 at Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York (212) 864-4500. For more information visit www.studiomuseum.org

AFRICA:

Rotimi Fani-Kayode Retrospective: Autograph ABP presents the first major Rotimi Fani-Kayode museum retrospective in Africa. Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographs constitute a profound narrative of sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their deeply personal and political exploration of diaspora, desire and spirituality. In his large-scale colour and black and white portraits, the black male body becomes the focal point of a photographic enquiry: ancestral memories and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures, inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’. Runs until 18 June at Iziko South African  National Gallery,  Cape Town, South Africa. Visit autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/solo-exhibition for more information.

POPCAP 2014 Call for Contemporary African Photography. Now into its third year, POPCAP ’14 welcomes contemporary photographic portfolio submissions for its annual competition. Five winners will be selected by a panel of 18 international judges. The winners will all be invited to exhibit their work internationally at five open-air POPCAP exhibitions in Basel and Berlin during the European month of photography and with the Cape Town Month of Photography, Lagos Photo Festival and Addis FotoFest. Deadline 1 July 2014. You can apply here.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Barrington Braithwaite

This month we head to a very unique part of the Caribbean, Guyana. It is unique in the fact that it is not an island, but a sovereign state situated on the northern coast of South America. Historically known as the ‘Land of Many Waters’, its heritage can be found flowing through the veins of many notable people, including Baroness Valerie Amos, Lord Herman Ouseley, the late Bernie Grant MP, David Lammy MP, Trevor Philips and pioneering US activist Shirley Chisholm. Many artists and entertainers have roots in Guyana, such as the distinguished playwright, poet and author John Agard; British-based actors Norman Beaton, Carmen Munroe, Ram John Holder and Cy Grant; and musicians such as Phil Lynott,, global superstar Rihanna and Eddy Grant, the platinum-selling musician and entrepreneur. It was Eddy who first mentioned the name of this month’s profiled creative to me, speaking with pride and reverence about the work of his fellow countryman. And who similarly I am proud to bring to your attention now. Introducing the graphic artist and illustrator, Barrington Braithwaite.

What’s your background?

I’m from roots that have produced folk in the arts and media. It’s kind of infra dig though, to talk about folks when the discourse is about self. I spent the formative years of my life with my godparents at Mahaica, rural Guyana, after my Adam and Eve went separate ways. There I was given the opportunity as an only child in their care to explore my imagination. My godparents encouraged my interests and only after their deaths did I realise that I had a privileged initiation to life – I actually have five sisters and four brothers. I was lucky that the Forbes Burnham post-independence Government of the 70s was developing youth-training organisations and bringing experts from overseas in different fields to train the youth of that period. I was interested in art or, I should say, I was compelled by this passion. However I became part of a young settlers co-op group after school in 1974 and there did courses in co-op management and field practices. The Cold War temperature was impacting on Guyana, I left the co-op and worked on the waterfront to survive, until I was encouraged in around 1981 by my friend ‘Fat Boy’ Herbert Archer, a poet, to take my portfolio – which wasn’t much – to Dr Denis Williams at the Walter Roth Museum of Anthropology to negotiate a way out of the dog-eat-dog waterfront world. He engaged me and placed me through the training of a scientific illustrator, but I couldn’t help who I was and while on one particular archaeological site in the Northwest of Guyana’s Rain Forests, I wrote my first two stories to be illustrated. I was supposed to go to Scotland to complete my training but it was decided that if I went I wouldn’t return, so disgruntled I left the museum, and worked freelance as a commercial artist at the Guyana Chronicle. With the support of editors I developed and published several comic strips and serials. With a young family I started an advertising service to keep the pot boiling, and have maintained that while developing and self publishing my graphic magazines.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As far back as I could remember I was enthralled by comic books and most of all telling stories using that medium. While in school I became the class artist. This fame extended even to higher forms, from helping with class art assignments to doing rip-offs of commando comic books in four-page exercise-book middle-page pull outs. These were sold for a penny. I had to wait until 1981, when I was employed by Denis Williams. I presented him with an illustrated story I had done named The Shrouded Legacy. He took me and my story down to the national newspapers who I think he bullied to accept it, and I was guided through my first contract and received my first cheque. When it hit the Sunday pages I received in the weeks that followed great harassment from friends who then pointed out my errors which were many. I had used the only drawing pen I had, didn’t understand the concept of lettering or word balloons and was not a good artist qualified for publishing by the standards of the day. Eerie, Creepy and the Warren Publishing line had enveloped our horizons. I prayed for my series to finish and the torment to stop. I did not fold up and it took years with my wife as the female model and some old muscle magazines for the males to develop my skill, this was a weird mix and with the critical help of my buddy Andy Anderson I emerged with the Elder comic strip, that through negotiations the newspapers carried. As I said before, the policy of the Government back then was to encourage the local arts, but there were standards to be met. I had decided by 1983 to develop a medium for the talents that were directing my thoughts. I had no idea at the time of the necessary independent support systems that were needed to make this happen, I concentrated on making my artwork meet the acceptable standards. In 1988 I published the trilogy of The Shadow of the Jaguar. In the ‘90s I wrote and illustrated The Legend of the Silk Cotton Tree – this went from graphic magazine to stage play in 2010. I work under the Company Name Spectrum Creative Productions and administrate a small advertising service, and have done work for UNICEF, the West Indian Cricket Board and other agencies. The goal of a pure graphic magazine publishing outfit continues to propel the production of several new projects that are yet to be published.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

There is no publishing industry in the CARICOM belt and the comic book industry is even further away from this reality. The most unexpected and vicious opposition to my work as a self-publisher did not come from competition, but from those who had appointed themselves the custodians of proper culture in Guyana. These were characters that were more British than the English who had ruled British Guiana. The idea of an Afro Guyanese hero was offensive I think to both the caricature class and the PPP government. The Shadow of the Jaguar strip in the National Chronicle Newspaper was dropped after the PPP Government was elected in 1992. I had long concluded that Guyana was not the world and since I had always trained my art along the guidelines of a holistic illustrator’s universe, I proceeded now as artist activist resident in my country. The challenges also lay in understanding the rules of protecting one’s work on the international market place, and having a working understanding of contract law. With the rise of new technologies to apply that to production, also charting a network for collaborations wherever the veins progressively lead. Venture capital has always been the unpredictable Cerberus, from a working-class hemisphere talent as me. Cultivating and honing one’s talents and creative skills were the first of the labours, next lay the support forces, space for work, raising a family and no external finances, rising above this is a task of pure will. Only the perseverance, the muse that from its inception was the driving force, delivers the irrational incentive to face these factors towards the realisation of the real fulfillment that is having the complete means present to publish as I see fit the full studio of works that encompasses the last 35 years.

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I was enthralled by the Sunday cartoons and comic books and I had inherited artistic and the scribe’s talent. Then my greatest influences came from the debates in my father’s workshop about local legends, aspects of Caribbean history, Biblical accuracy against movie stuff and other subjects that preoccupied my serious conversations into early manhood. Some of these subjects required research, like when I thought [at about ten years old] that the Ten Commandmentsmovie reflected things that had happened in Spain – it isn’t funny bro. Reading brought me new ideas and information and in discussion with my peers they rebuked me that I should do comic strips about our topics – a herculean task, but an inspiration. Realising that my talents can fill a vacuum with edutainment tales and characters was the greatest inspiration that propelled me into this career.

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would like to think that I’m currently working on my most valued project. I first attempted the current project, which in its concept presents WWII and then links it to other historical epochs in a mystical way, because this project has some moons to go – I can’t get into the details. What I can say was that I started it around 1984 and I had shown Dr Williams the first concept issue. He proposed to purchase it for the Department of Culture’s Library, I was been trained as a scientific illustrator and was finding it difficult to survive on the Government’s stipend. He then asked me where I was taking the story, what were the elements I wanted to explore? I explained to him what I wanted to do, what had gripped my imagination. He shook his head and explained to me that I should give the ideas about 20 years to grow because I didn’t have the information at the time, he asked me some questions, to which I replied, he then answered them for me to illustrate his point then assured me not to bother with Hollywood and to cover both African and European history deciphering the in-between propaganda that is inserted in historical works, by cross reading. Reading that included the metaphors of the mystery systems, and Dr Williams concluded prophetically, that I’ll know when I’m qualified to address the topic. Yes I was pissed, but convinced by his questions and his counter-answers that I didn’t know as much as I thought, to do this work of fiction. I was mentally oriented that I must be conditioned to face the exploration, and exploitation of ideas with an understanding of the subject, whether it’s the geography, architecture or costumes. With the medium of graphics one has to come close to accurate. The origins of conflicts cannot be taking for granted either. For example – the current Ukrainian issue, where did it start, was it in the Middle ages, the Stalinist era, or with the Nazi era? A framework for a fictional work has to be grounded in a mythic or historic reference sphere , from there, the poetic license can be applied. So that attitude towards work compels research for development and if you’re operating outside of a major budget , then the work is on you and it will take time, lots of time. Dr Williams was right; I couldn’t do honest work on the subject matter of the graphic series now in progress without a wealth of historic time travels, and a working knowledge of religious beliefs across migrations into their modern innuendos. Because it’s not yet protected I can’t provide insights, except to say it’s my pet project. I’ve just finished a recent pet project that I’ve been working on for years, a graphic novel on the Haitian Revolution, a whopping 123 pages, hand coloured and compartmented into five sections. From the period of composing the first page, outside of the years of research, it took three years to complete and now it’s the stuff of nerves to work out the deal that will take it to pay-day. This can be considered my current showpiece, because it was never done before. But as time goes the showpiece changes with the season.

What would be your dream project?

The greatest achievement as a job for me is to be able to work on set designs and costumes for one of my graphic works turn into a movie, then with enough money I’ll finance research into a lens that can peer into the stuff dogs howl at.

Who in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition?

That list would begin with my parents, whose genetics gave me a certain persuasion, then my muse, who’s out there and whispers and guides in some uncanny, save the moment coincidences, I’m still searching the science magazines on the data of the human brain to see if they’re any clarifications that suit my muse experiences – none so far. Mr Hunter, the head master of the school I attended on the rural east coast of Demerara in my formative years, was a tremendous influence. My godparents Abel Burke and Elizabeth Cumberbatch, who raised me in my formative years until their demise when I was about 14 years old, had indulged my curiosities for toy soldiers, comic books and had engaged me in conversations about the travels of Odysseus and Aesop’s tales, they can be credited with shaping the foundations of my later creative career development. My buddy Andy Anderson, who was my personal critic on the evolution of my art, the long after-school debates on technique in the Art room of Queens College. My Mother Grace lived outside of Guyana, my father was the resident parent, and Hubert Braithwaite never stood in the way of my boyhood interests, though he guided me towards the illustrated Classics and coerced me to read my first novel which was the Louis L’amour book ‘To Tame a Land ‘, my dad read lots of western novels,. he did subtly guide me towards Architecture and furniture design, he built houses and had a furniture making operation, which I found exciting but was mundane in respect to the creative stuff that was compelling me. My wife Donna and children Michelle, Taharka and Makeda who were all seconded for model services over the years, and as the photographer when I had to be the model for immediate anatomy fixes. They endured my on-the-job hastily applied lessons on the model or photography specifics, they snarled and scratched and I growled, until we got it done. When I started in the media, at the Chronicle there were people there who were interested in the unveiling of local graphic storylines, and there are names I must include: Claudette Earle the Sunday editor, Godfrey Wray another editor, Adam Harris, Frank Pilgrim and Ulric Captain, all managers at Chronicle, the latter who I was working with to expand to the Caribbean to have a general pull out graphic publication When the Government changed. My pal Poloma, now Professor Poloma Mohammed, a playwright and writer herself who was always there, and David Granger [Brig. Rtr] whose publications on local history gave me the opportunity to interpret much of our local history in graphics. These are the pivotal persons who have come to thought in related fields. And finally the late Poet ‘Fat Archer’, and the small businesses with an interest in the arts who always supported my graphic projects.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I would hope that certain systems are in place with the activism of myself and others to make the acceptance of the local graphic storyteller friendlier and with a greater respect for the value of the work produced. The road of the illustrator, painter, poet and writer is not an easy one, the more talented the artist is, will mean the more challenges, and with originality must come the strength to defend the new explored territory. Young aspirants to the graphic arts must understand that they’re embarking into a serious field, especially if they are going to write their own creative or documentary projects. They must, apart from honing their talents, mastering the areas of anatomy, materials and technique, have a historic understanding of the evolution of the field, from the caves to the current top guns, whose work continue to inspire and move us onto our own. For me it was the unknown artists who did the Commando comics, then on the local Guyana scene it was Rudy Seymour who did the first local comics I knew. I later engaged the work of Tom Feelings. Frank Frazzeta , Bernie Wrightson, Will Eisner all came after I had the gift of Treasure Island illustrated by Newell Wyeth. Old magazines led me to the French and Europe, Eugene Delacroix, Dore’ and the guy who in my view jump-started the modern fantasy art trend: William Blake. But this reservoir of knowhows about the field wouldn’t be enough. The practicing artist has to understand the legal world of copyright, to protect from being sued for violating the commanding piece of art or photography you adopted verbatim into your stuff, or if the situation is vice versa, then copyright becomes your best friend. This wouldn’t be complete without a working understanding of contract law. Contract law is a significant crossroad process that will build or break you – from experience I can tell you this. Your talents can work for you or for some other wiseguy, based on what you know when you leave the environs of your muse and enter the entangling vines of the rainforests out there.

What’s next for you?

The next limb on the tree of life I’m reaching for is for the fruit that enables me to launch internationally the pivotal four graphic series I want to place on the market, this would entail the cash-flow to recruit back-up talents and publish the first two unhindered, then the other two series mentioned. This would open the door to introduce, based on the response of license relationships solicited or attracted explorations into comparative mediums, that would allow realising the exploration of other latent ideas for different audiences. Without further whimsical elaborations, the above capture what lies ahead.

A very special thanks to Patrice Hinds for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network

THE U.S:

Serigrafía surveys the powerful tradition of information design in California’s Latino culture, featuring thirty influential silkscreens from the 1970s to the present. Beginning in the late 1960s, graphic art created at and distributed by artist-led collectives, or centros, contributed significantly to the public discourse. Emerging in concert with the civil rights movement and demanding political and social justice for marginalized groups, these prints confront political, economic, social, and cultural issues on both a personal and a global level. Runs until April 20, 2014 at Pasadena Museum of California Art. For more information visit http://www.pmcaonline.org/

THE CARIBBEAN:

Rincón International Film Festival. On a mission to support and promote culture and the arts in Puerto Rico through the medium of film, the festival seeks to inspire student, future and current filmmakers in the art of filmmaking.From7-13 April 2014. For more information visit http://www.rinconfilm.com

EUROPE:

Japanese Poster Art : Cherry Blossom & Asceticism. Intended as a cultural contribution to the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Switzerland, the exhibition presents the history of the poster in Japan, where this medium is primarily known as an artistic statement and image advertising. Works by three old masters, Shigeo Fukuda, Kazumasa Nagai and Ikko Tanaka – from a generous donation to the museum – are to be seen alongside posters from 1950 to the present day. Here the special aesthetic of Japanese graphic designs reflects the dialogue between Eastern and Western visual culture. Runs until 25 May 2014 at Museum für Gestaltung Zürich.

3rd Curacao International Film Festival 2014. 2 – 6 April 2014 at The Cinemas Curaçao‎
1 Baden Powellweg
 Willemstad, Rotterdam. For more information visit thecinemascuracao.com

AFRICA:

Fashioning Africa is set to bring some of the continent’s most exciting contemporary designers to Johannesburg. The multidisciplinary exhibition explores the history of African fashion and surveys the current landscape of fashion in Africa. The exhibition runs until 27 April at the Museum of African Design. Admission: R 30
 Museum opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10.00am – 5.00pm. For more info visit http://www.moadjhb.com

Nine Fine Design Pioneers

This month, in recognition of the US celebration of Black History Month, Four Corners breaks from convention to profile not one person, but nine people. Taking a moment to reflect on some of the historical achievements of African-American creative pioneers. The short biographies presented can in no way do justice to these esteemed people, but instead are designed to stimulate your natural curiosity to look further into the contribution made by these extraordinary men and women. Although all of the people featured here are no longer with us, they each made an indelible mark on the cultural and creative landscape and blazed a trail for others to follow. #Respect.Stamp featuring Madam CJ WalkerStamp featuring Madam CJ Walker

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, cosmetics designer, marketer and entrepreneur (1867-1919)

Way, way before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove, or Madam CJ Walker as she is more commonly known. The first child in her family born free from slavery just after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this incredible woman made her fortune designing, developing and marketing a highly successful range of beauty and haircare products for black women via the business she founded, Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company. Regarded as the first US female self-made millionaire, Walker proved herself to be a great philanthropist, using her wealth to support many black organisations such as the NAACP plus a number of schools, orphanages, individuals, and retirement homes. Her achievements have been celebrated by many prominent institutions, most notably, The National Women’s Hall of Fame and on a postage stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage USA series. For more information visit www.madamcjwalker.com.O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles DawsonSource: University of Illinois  O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson, illustrator and designer (1889-1981)

As one of Chicago’s leading black artists and designers in the 1920s and ’30s, Charles Clarence Dawson made his name creating illustrated advertisments for beauty products and many of the major black businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day, including the pioneering black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Born in Brunswick, Georgia to hard-working parents, and a student of Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute, he more than paid his dues working a variety of odd jobs to pay the tuition to become the first African American admitted to the Arts Students League in New York. He later went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, was a founding member of Chicago’s first Black Arts collective (the Arts & Letters Society) and an integral part of the New Negro Movement in the visual arts or more commonly referred to as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-charles-dawson.Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WashingtonSource: Sarah Stierch  Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Aaron Douglas, illustrator and designer (1889-1975)

Another leading figure and architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas’ bold geometric and angular illustrations alongside the philosopher, Alain Locke’s insightful prose, featured prominently in the landmark 1925 publication, The New Negro. His work enabled the formation of a new visual language that embraced a distinct African heritage. It was a style that found its way onto many a publication cover and would later become known as ‘Afro-Cubism’. His work also translated beautifully into designs for wall murals, the best example of which is calledAspects of Negro Life’ created in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, or as it is now called, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-aaron-douglas.The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Williams was consulted on the designSource: brew books The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Revere Williams was consulted on the design

Paul Revere Williams, architect (1894-1980)

At the height of his career, Paul Revere Williams was popularly described as the ‘architect to the Stars’. This is an incredible accolade and achievement, not least for someone who was orphaned at a very young age, but also as a African American growing up through times of some of the most overt racism imaginable. In spite of all this, and encouraged by a foster mother who nurtured his education and artistic talent, he let his work ethic and perfectionist nature speak for itself. Earning academic awards, winning competition prizes and the respect of  both colleagues and clients along the way, he founded his own architectural practice in 1922 and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. For almost 40 years, his home designs were commissioned by the Hollywood elite of celebrities, movie stars and powerful and wealthy Californian individuals. For more information visit www.paulrwilliamsproject.org.Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-StreatSource: Joaquin Marinez Rosado Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-Streat

Thelma Johnson-Streat, painter, illustrator, muralist and textile designer(1911-1959)

Against all the odds, this exceptional African American ‘Renaissance-woman’, gained recognition from an early age through her Art. A passion, which she expressed through many different channels and subsequently gained recognition for all of them. Whether working with celebrated Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera; becoming the First African-American woman to have her work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as a teacher and activist promoting cultural diversity through art; or performing a dance recital for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in the 1950’s; it was all done with her customary grace, style and sophistication. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Johnson_Streat.Emancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg OldenEmancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg Olden

Georg Olden, designer and art director (1929-1975)

A man very much after my own heart, Georg Olden produced outstanding commercial work for some of America’s biggest corporations. As CBS’s Head of on-air promotions, in the early days of television, he pioneered the field of broadcast graphics, supervising the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke, under the wing of leading art director, William Golden. If that wasn’t enough, he turned his attention to advertising, winning shelfloads awards and mentions in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals continuously. In fact, the Clio Awards statuette of which he won several, was designed by him in 1962. He was the first black American to achieve an executive position in major corporation and also went on to become the first African American to design a postage stamp; a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not bad going for the grandson of slave. For more information visit www.aiga.org/medalist-georgolden.Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank BraxtonSource: Kevin Dooley Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank Braxton

Frank Braxton, animator (1929-1969)

Let’s paint the scene. America. The 1950s. And Jim Crow laws of racial segregation are still in place. How the hell does a black animator get his foot in the door as an animator at Warner Bros Animation? Well, the story goes that animator Benny Washam walked into the office of his production manager Johnny Burton and said, ‘I hear Warner Bros. has a racist policy and refuses to hire blacks.’ A furious Burton wheeled around in his office chair and shouted, ‘Whoever said that is a liar! It’s not true.’ ‘Well then,’ said Washam, ‘There’s a young black animator outside who’s looking for a job. Guess he’s come to the right place.’ That man was, of course, Frank Braxton, who went on to become part of the team at the legendary Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Many of Jones’ amazing cartoons of the 1950’s would contain substantial contributions from Braxton. He also served as a director for The Bullwinkle Show, Mr. Magoo, Charlie Brown TV specials and early Cap’n Crunch  commercials. For more information visit jimhillmedia.com/columnists1/b/floyd_norman/archive.US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by Norma Merrick SklarekSource: jarsyl US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by
Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect (1928-2012)

As a first generation African-American, born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Norma Merrick Sklarek would go on to accomplish many more ‘firsts’, building an unparalleled career as a pioneering women architect. She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966. Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African-American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_Merrick_Sklarek.Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry LawsonSource: Mulad Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, video games designer (1940-2011)

His name may not be as synonymous with the gaming industry as PlayStation and Nintendo, but Jerry Lawson’s innovative technological design and engineering work helped pave the way for them to follow. For Jerry made history when he created the first ever cartridge-based video game console, The Fairchild Channel F. Hailing from humble beginnings in a housing project in Jamaica, New York, his passion and talent for technology was to take him far, becoming Head of the Fairfield Channel F project where he and his team designed many of its prototyped components. Always looking to push the systems capabilities beyond just cartridge gaming, they put together a daring initiative called TV Pow, which was the first, and only video game played via broadcast television. For more information visitclassicgames.about.com/od/classicvideogames101/p/JerryLawson.

Network:

THE U.S:

Acasa 16th Triennial Symposium On African Art at the Brooklyn Museum will consider the full range of topics related to the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora currently being addressed by ACASA members, from considerations of the archaeological and archival contexts of historical African art to examinations of emerging artistic practices on and off the continent. Like the accomplished Lega elder who once used a three-headed sakimatwemtwe figure, ACASA members look to the future and the past, simultaneously. For more info visit www.acasaonline.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014. Since its inaugural Festival in 1997, BIFF has remained steadfast in its mission statement: to advance the love of independent film in a community welcoming to filmmakers and filmgoers and to encourage and inspire young Bermudians to capture their very special narrative through the lens of a camera. This year’s festival runs from 21-27 March.  For more information visit www.biff.bm.

EUROPE:

Still Fighting Ignorance & Intellectual Perfidy: Video Art From Africa presents a selection of African video art that stands beyond the clichés that remain associated with the dark continent and the postcolonial image. It seeks to bring viewers closer to idiosyncratic readings of African video art and its thematic concerns, which are largely ignored. Runs 13-30 March at BEN URI Gallery & Museum, London, United Kingdom. For info visitwww.benuri.org.uk.

“Haute Africa” – At Photofestival Knokke-Heist 2014. From March up to June 2014, Knokke-Heist will once again focus on contemporary photography. The highlight of the festival is the outdoor exhibition, entitled “Haute Africa”, in which international leading artists and photographers such as Martin Parr, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Viviane Sassen, Yinka Shonibare and many others offer an alternative perspective on the contemporary African continent.For more info visit fotofestival.knokke-heist.be/en

AFRICA:

‘Du Bois in Our Time’ Final presentations of works by Ghanaian and UK artists, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Adwoa Amoah, Ato Annan, Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, Serge Clottey, Kelvin Haizel, Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh , Mawuli Toffah, and Mary Evans. Mullti-media and site specific works will be presented in the Du Bois Museum and Mausoleum after several months of reflecting on the legacy of civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in our present era.
Opening events will include a discussion, talk with artists and scholars, poetry and workshops over the 2 days. The entire programme of ‘Du Bois in our time’ Accra was sponsored by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. For more info visit www.nubukefoundation.org

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

A Super Hero Identity Crisis

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Lately, I have been thinking a lot about ‘superheroism’. Partly, because of my Afro Supa Hero exhibition currently on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood, that is centered around my personal collection of African diaspora pop cultural action figures and comics; but also because I see it as a theme that is gradually becoming more visible in society. A trend, I believe is primarily due to the phenomenal rise of gaming across all different platforms and devices. Virtual worlds offering momentary escapes from our real lives through new identities, avatars and alter egos. Sophisticated pursuits that are no longer purely the preserve of children, but also taken through to adulthood.

Although, I am not a big ‘gamer’ myself, I find this whole subject fascinating, especially when I relate it to the African-Caribbean experience in the UK and how many people of my generation; the 1960s first generation Britons, born of Caribbean parents; spent years searching for their own identity.

Even though a sense of displacement was something we shared with our ‘brothers and sisters’ in the Caribbean and the US, I believe our experience in Britain was quite unique. The patriotism, they showed for their respective countries, was a feeling that was often completely alien to me and many of my peers.

Here, we were a group of citizens who felt no more at home in the country of our birth, than we did in the homeland of our parents. In Barbados I was called a ‘Little Englander’ yet in Britain I was seen as a ‘bloody foreigner’. It was an identity crisis that took me years to come to terms with, and even to this day, I still tend to identify more with being a Londoner first and foremost, than being British.

It is experiences like these that have pushed me throughout the course of my life, starting in my early teens, to explore and embrace African Diaspora history and its legions of super heroes and heroines. It fuels my belief that uncovering the truth in ‘History’ is the great equalizer that can help address many of the negative perceptions that surround race, religion, sexuality and gender.

It also informed the approach that I took in creating my Afro Supa Star Twins™ that adorn my exhibition branding and merchandise.  From the outset, I wanted my characters to be accessible to everyone. I was deliberate in making them twins, one male and one female because of my belief in harmony and the equality of the sexes.

In terms of the Afro style, on one hand, and purely for selfish reasons, it embraces the main phase of my childhood; but on the other it was also a dynamic time of ‘Black self-pride’ and ‘Afro-consciousness’ as the formality of the 1960s civil rights and counter-culture movements, paved the way for the free form funkiness of the 1970s.

Although certain strides have been made in the depiction of black cultural heroes and heroines, one issue that still continues to linger is the assumption that a white super hero is for everyone, yet a black super hero is only for black people.  Actually, the ultimate global super hero right now should be from the Han Chinese community, if we are to take our cue from the latest global population statistics.

If we are to go by history, and embrace the scientific facts that suggest all life on the planet came out of Africa, then a super hero of African origin is an entirely fitting concept to be embraced by all.

I have no doubt, the continued portrayal of the white super hero savior of humanity is down to the historical legacy of racism and the continued white male dominated power structure within the worlds of media, television and film. Maybe once they are finally able to accept the ancient African roots of their identity, the world will be a better place for us all.