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28 October 2017

What's the Opposite of Appropriation?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day just passed and Halloween is almost here, and I just suggested learning a new way from Native peoples, while making the grand, controversial suggestion that there exist both negative and positive versions of “appropriation.” I apologize for using a semantics trick to get your attention: there’s no such thing as “positive appropriation.” But, there is something else. Something better.

So, let’s clarify exactly what I mean.
Groundwork first: the word appropriation comes from appropriare ‘make one's own’.

“Make one’s own.” It’s a haunting phrase. A terrifying phrase that suggests power over… possession of. It’s painful for me to write now only two weeks after admitting publicly that: “me, too.” I, too, was treated as an object by a man. He had power over me and he used it to hurt me—he took something physical from me, while shitting all over my heart, my spirit, my mind. When he took that physical thing he had no right to take, he also took a piece of my trust, a piece of my sense of safety and some of my dignity.

Activist Tarana Burke started the "Me Too" movement in 2007.
“Making one’s own” is a very specific problem in the United States (and elsewhere) because White [and male and hetero, etc.] people and systems decided they could make anything and anyone their own—to do with as they chose. Land, rivers, trees, coal, women, Black/brown People, Native People, and essentially all of what is known as Turtle Island. Culture’s trappings, too, when it pleased them (see Victoria’s Secret models prancing down catwalks in headdresses and Native-like “regalia”), even while telling the people that created those trappings that the underpinnings of their cultures were worthless or even the Devil’s work. White supremacy ideology has been telling white folks that they have a right to take anything they want and use it anyway they want for centuries—without regard for anyone else. Taking pieces of a culture for profit, for “fun,” for image, and stomping the pieces they don’t want (don't value) to death in the bloody earth—after telling people they and their cultures are worthless.

Part of how this operates now, at Halloween and in the capitalist marketplace, is that the physical trappings of culture are bought and sold, making companies and white folks money, while the philosophies, values, histories, belief systems, and experiences of those cultures are trampled, devalued, annihilated and worse. So, yeah, Victoria’s Secret models strut in beads and feathers, but Native women are beaten and raped by off-reservation tourists who cannot—by law—be held accountable or prosecuted once they strut back off tribal land.

Feathers and beads are meaningful, Ankara and Kente are meaningful, but the meat of a culture that gives those material manifestations their power is in the stories, the experiences, the teachings, the values, the beliefs, the philosophies, the histories. These intangibles are what make beautiful Black people and cultures beautiful, glowing Native people and cultures iridescent. And yet these intangibles are what White supremacist and Capitalist culture (can they be separated? let’s be honest) have tried to destroy by demeaning, ignoring, excluding, devaluing, and committing all-out genocide through slavery, incarceration, denying sovereignty and all the other bullshit for at least five centuries. This is wrong and is has to be stopped. Now. So let’s be abundantly clear: appropriation is abominable and has to be abolished.

In order to abolish what we now know as appropriation, we have to abolish white supremacy itself— defined as a notion that white culture is more valuable, right and good than any other—an idea that pervades assumptions, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, policies, etc. in the United States (and elsewhere). I can think of no other way to abolish it than to dismantle the false notion that white culture is better than other cultures. The opposite of this, then, is to recognize the power and beauty and value and guidance in other cultures, hold them up, appreciate them, and let what is good in them lead us and teach us.

Learning is defined almost as the opposite of appropriation. In learning, we do not possess, but rather change. In education circles and pedagogy, we define learning as change in thought, feeling or behavior/action. We do not take, put on, co-opt, sell or profit from another culture or people (all colonialist, materialistic, capitalist terms in themselves). Instead, we let the cultures change us. We do not appropriate, “make our own.” We don’t own at all, and there is in fact nothing physical or material to possess. We let cultures that have ways of beauty and truth and meaning guide us. We make ourselves available to them—to be changed by them. We change. We submit ourselves to something that has the power to change us because we want to be changed, we want to grow, we want to love, we want to be better, we want to do better. Not only are we not appropriating, we are submitting.

artist, Vince Ballentine, @ ig: vballentine99

This is not a new idea. The Zen Buddhists, the Yogis, the practitioners of mindfulness the world over from St. Augustine to the Sufis were well-versed in the art of giving themselves over, submitting, to a new idea, letting themselves become immersed in a practice to be changed by it. And we can do it now, again. So, before we take one step down this path, let me be clear about where we are going. We are not going to take power over another culture to do with it as we please. We are not divorcing prayers from eagle feathers and strutting around in medicine wheels, we are not making onesies out of keffiyehs. We are not borrowing beautiful metaphors while siphoning off their power. We are walking into new ideas, immersing ourselves in them, to be overtaken by them, to submit ourselves to a new way of seeing, and emerge changed.

White supremacist and Capitalist culture have demoralized and destroyed too many and too much. There are good things in white/Euro cultures. But there are EQUALLY good things in other cultures, also, and if we want to change what’s destructive and wrong about white supremacist culture and its dominance, what I’m saying to you is, we NEED to learn from and value other cultures, and we need to change the dominant culture—no matter how you describe it. We need to find a new way. So, what this blog will do is bring you along for my explorations and meditations on what I have learned and can learn from other cultures that we must wholeheartedly come to learn from and value. This is not appropriation; this is submission. Submission to a new way, a balanced way, a cooperative and complementary way, a healthy way forward where we value the good and power in every voice: the mitakuye oyasin way.

01 October 2017

A Return to Love

The Mother’s Nature has always been about love. Love for our families, our children, the world that teaches us so much, moments of insight and experiences of inspiration. Love for my lovers, love for art, love for the creative spirit, for the nutritive wealth that is love and creation and acts of creativity in service of nurturing our children; creating things tangible and intangible that we call “art”—painting, music, afronauts, street art, poetry, hip hop; and seeing the world in another way—seeing one another in new ways.

Cornel West once said, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public” (in private, this is tenderness). And his words have resonated deeply in me for decades. Even when I write about art or romantic, even intimate, love I see them as revolutionary acts. When I talk with my 6 year old son about our world and some of its deepest violences—injustice, hate, anger, racism, bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia—I think what I most want him to hear is that love, tenderness and justice are doing right by one another. I teach him that we all come from Creator, because that is what I believe; we all come from Source and so we are all of and by Creator and we share in Source. Source binds us and therefore we are one another. If we do not know this spiritually, perhaps science and nature can teach us.


The Mother’s Nature, like all my writing, is about love: tenderness for my child and lover, justice for my sisters and brothers. Love and justice are revolutionary because in and through them, we manifest our best, most Source selves in the world. Giving what we are on Earth, here and now, to give is revolutionary—transformative; being exactly what Source has made us to be is revolutionary—we re-create ourselves and the world. Real love, real justice, real creation are all of these. They are the mother’s (and father’s) nature: to make, to give, to nurture, to encourage from soil and flesh the very best in us, in all living things.

It is in this spirit that I rebirth the Mother’s Nature now, at harvest time when we look back to all we have created and reap what we have sown and nurtured. A time when we bring from our gardens squash and apples where they deliver their gifts to our bodies, and we are re-created.

I have in many posts talked about love, art, and culture, and diversity and justice—tangentially and transparently. Whether either or both, this was always intentional. The time has come to step out from my own shadow, the fear being misunderstood, and bring into the world a gift I believe I have been given. Because, if I don’t, my own life loses meaning: I am not delivering what Source gave me to give.

It’s time to talk about love-justice in a new way.

Michael Harriot recently wrote, perfectly, "White supremacy is the structural mechanism built into American society that values whiteness over everything by default." This is what I want to talk about. Many of us know we must #endwhitesupremacy, what we may not know is exactly how. As I learned real quick when my son was about 2 years old: if you want to course correct, you will need something “right” (healthy, harmonious, balanced) to focus on in order to move away from “wrong” (toxic, imbalanced, supremacist). No, he cannot throw metal toy trains across the living room. Yes, we can go outside and shoot baskets. Move the energy, in earnest and with intent, in the direction we want to go.

Righting balance means there are things we—especially white people—must stop doing, and other things we must start doing. I’m here to suggest a new direction. Stop white supremacy, and start #mitakuyeoyasin.

I’m a privileged white woman. One way I was allowed to thrive due to that privilege was to have been told repeatedly I could go anywhere. And they were right: I could go nearly anywhere. White supremacist bullshit, however, also tells white folks they can go anywhere and behave any way they want. I was at least distrustful of the system enough to know that was bullshit—because in a white supremacist system, only your own [white, male, hetero, etc, etc.] feelings and values matter. That never made sense to me. Of course others' feelings and values matter. Therefore I was often welcomed into black and brown spaces because I at the very least valued what they had to say, who they were, what they had to teach me. I’m not perfect, I made mistakes, but I also went to those places—black and brown spaces—and learned more than I could possibly have imagined—because I wanted to learn. Primarily because I recognized very early on in life that the culture I was living in not only wasn’t nutritive or healthy, it was toxic in a million ways. I sought other cultures not only because they were beautiful, because something in them resonated in my own chest, but because I knew I needed to learn from them if I wanted to thrive and if I wanted humanity to survive at all. Humanity, mind you, not human beings.

So, when I suggest we turn our energies in a new direction—mitakuye oyasin, “all my relations” or “we are all related”—know that right here and now I am doing exactly what I recommend: that we, white people, white supremacist systems and institutions, and everyone begin to value and learn from cultures that have been resolutely put down, devalued and attacked from every side in white supremacy’s effort to annihilate them.

2010, Standing Rock, pregnant and gathering sage from downwind, because plants have the sense of smell
Learning other cultures, and coming to places where we can adopt their practices in mind, body, heart
Unci Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance
and spirit—without engaging in negative appropriation (yes, there is positive appropriation)—is hard work. I’ve made mistakes in this realm, hopefully learned from them, and expect to make many more—but only because the desire to learn more, to learn better, to be better and to right these wrongs we are surrounded by is more important than pride, than appearing perfect. It requires, in every way, being humble, attempting empathy, and being willing to face our own shit. But it’s worth it. I’m better, my life is better, my child’s world is better because I have been willing to fuck up and learn and change. Because I want better for everyone, for you, for children, for wingeds and four-leggeds and all living and growing things.

I invite you to come with me down this new road in coming posts. I invite you to join me in learning more about mitakuye oyasin from the grandmothers and others, so that we can learn to create a new harmony together, in society and between one another: as brothers and sisters. You can start here by listening to the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers.

05 September 2016

Fly by Barangay...........by @tomasmoves

I’ve been watching #NoDAPL, “no Dakota access pipeline,” going down this summer like a hawk.
What’s horrifying is that the culminating political and personal moment in progress right now is the confluence of environmental and ethnic destruction we’ve been watching since the industrial revolution.

What’s amazing and beautiful and hopeful and strong about it, is that over a hundred Tribal Nations, locals and non-locals, Black Lives Matter activists, neo-hippies and boomer hippies, as well as artists and journalists of our day now are there.

I pray this won’t turn into Wounded Knee III (see Pine Ridge Reservation history 1890 and 1973), but I pray this will shake the hills far and wide, and our hearts loose from their rib cages where, apparently, they are not working hard enough for the blood, bone and flesh that is our only home, Earth.

I’ve always believed that it was one and the same spiritual disconnect that allowed European “conquerors” to annihilate Native peoples, enslave African and Indigenous individuals, and strip the earth of her flesh with little or no remorse, let alone acknowledgement of the consequences—today or tomorrow.

But was it that blindness, that disconnect, that spiritual vacancy from creator and / or creation that made generations of white people capable of slaughtering spirit, connection, being and bindedness to other life?
Or was it committing these atrocities that so disconnected them from spirit that our society persists in these horrifying, institutionalized habits: tearing earth to pieces in a self-selected ignorance of the consequences, while shooting black children down in the streets, and performing hysterectomies on the new Native mothers who gave birth in the hospitals of my own birth year?

I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. And they say form follows function, but one thing I learned the hard way is: you can make good things happen one of two ways. 1. Form can follow function. You know what you want to accomplish and so you create the form that allows for that. Or 2. Function follows form. You know how you want to live, and so all of your choices flow from that awareness. My father called it “awake, aware, alive” and he said it to us every time we took the car out as teenagers. You can call it mindfulness, yoga living, Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind – whatever you want. But it means choosing wakefulness.

And that’s where @tomasmoves comes in. He has several paintings hanging at The Civil Service Café in my neighborhood on Nostrand and Clifton in Bed-Stuy.

@tomasmoves at The Civil Service Cafe, August 2016
I don’t have to tell you why I love this one. It feels like a starry universe of words exploding, and it explodes right from the Bronx graf scene that I have returned to again and again in life—not only because the aesthetics bring me alive and the colors rewrite my world, but because I will today and forever be a woman and a lion for amplifying the voices who have taught me so much and need to be brought to their seats at the table of decision and leadership in this very world we are running bloody with oil and bodies.

But it’s a cosmos of words exploding! Words! My friends, since before I was born, who made meaning of the world for me, but also who gave me the power to MAKE meaning of my world. Yes, they are the second option. They are Function Follows Form. We can choose our meaning; we can choose. We can choose.

But this one, this was the counting coup painting that brought me home. Because while the graf piece is exploding my mind and my world for me, “Fly by Barangay” by @tomasmoves, was the surprise that won me over, took me down, replaced my point of view.
@tomasmoves, The Civil Service Cafe through 11 Sept 2016
A triptych almost—three horizontal panels: a placid sky, a zigzag frame, and the resulting paint dripping down, slowly, smooth and layered: rain from the sky? An exhale from great heights, stalactites underground, showing us where water can be found? I don’t know. But I saw some three levels of consciousness or perhaps three other inseparable dimensions: mind, body, soul…

We are taught in Western European culture that such things are separable, that we can separate mind, body and soul; that there are three distinguishable levels of consciousness; that, until recently, acupuncture was a myth and intuition was not to be trusted, and that women were too “emotional” to be president.

Then comes the falcon: forever inhabiting all threes inseparably. Earth, air, sky; mind, body, soul; conscious, subconscious, unconscious. Here comes the falcon above all three – sweeping wings longer than my child is tall over it all, reminding us of what we don’t know… and what we do: you are intimately connected to all of it: self, earth and others.
And it is intimately inseparable.

This is that moment. This falcon is the No Dakota Access Pipeline moment, and the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Wounded Knee II moment. This is it. You are not disconnected. When you get disconnected, bad things happen. And we can choose to reconnect. We can choose to bring each part of ourselves back into harmony: as a humanity, as a part of the life body that is our home Earth, as part of that river running right now, and the people on its shores fighting for all our lives.

.......................
This post goes out in support of #NoDAPL, with great thanks to @tomasmoves found on IG, and the Civil Service Café found at IG @thecivilservicecafe,
where you can see these paintings and others until 11 September 2016.
To support the Standing Rock Reservation Hunkpapa people, inbox me; I can send you a contact.

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Recommended Reading:
“Whether it’s gold from the Black Hills or hydropower from the Missouri or oil pipelines that threaten our ancestral inheritance, the tribes have always paid the price for America’s prosperity:” article by DAVID ARCHAMBAULT II
AUG. 24, 2016
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/25/opinion/taking-a-stand-at-standing-rock.html

What's Happening in Standing Rock? by Mark Sundeen 2 Sept 2016
http://www.outsideonline.com/2111206/whats-happening-standing-rock

#NoDAPL #BlackLivesMatter #RedLivesMatter #StandwithStandingRock #WaterIsLife

06 August 2016

Chris Soria’s Track 6

Everyone loses their way sometimes. Your compass gets wacked and the lodestone is off. Your tuner hits the floor and suddenly the D string cannot harmonize for shit.

For me, it is writing. It’s always the writing. If I don’t produce my work, write my mind and the world, everything goes haywire. I literally have to write. I think most people have something like that, something you need to do because it’s in you to do, and if you don’t the stuff of you just piles up all over the place, becomes a mess and a labyrinth and you’re all caught up in it. In your own head, your own heart, winding around the same tall hedges, unable to see over them, unable to breathe deep and turn around and find your way back out.

This is probably why Chris Soria’s Track 6 (ig chrissoria) resonated so deeply for me today at SpreadArt (ig spreadartnyc) in Bushwick.

It’s the antithesis of chaos. It’s organized, it’s tight, it’s balanced, it’s pretty. It’s a mandala for me. The longer you look the deeper you go – both inside yourself and outside of yourself.

Why is that important?

Chris Soria, Track 6, Brooklyn August 2016

Because.... Intuition.
Buddhists, Sufis, Desert Fathers, and Anasazis had clear and beautiful things to say about intuition well before Immanuel Kant. All the same, the old German said that intuition is all about direct contact with a thing, an idea, a piece of art, even a person.

Osho and Eckhart Tolle and the Yogis say that the intuitive – meditative state can be such a deep, profound contact that we are at once – through our deepest selves – in contact with cosmos, sometimes that particular ray of cosmos that is our most essential self, the best of each of us manifested through our practice in this moment. Even western doctors agree that the rest we get in meditation can be more restorative than hours of “sleep.”

And on the other side, there is nothing more exhilarating, nothing that makes us come alive more than moments of intuitive insight – moments when in an instant everything comes clear and we know a thing so deeply and significantly true for us, we are like a match, finally lit, light and heat everywhere… all big, fat, broken out, toothy smiles of a five-year old who has just heard the cricket he waited for all winter. There he is in a moment of contact and oneness with the cricket and cosmos and a song and the night and the streetlights. Just as he hoped and waited, there it was, and he is in the line, caught in the beauty of the world that he just knew was there.

That’s me, when I write. Ayo when he builds. Marthalicia when she paints. Rock when he runs. So why see Chris Soria’s Track 6? Why feel the mandala?

Fall into the art, dwell in its space, and I remember my most real, most spirit self. And she is a fountain and a queen. She waters me, and she leads me. She’s the one the Mandala awakens. She’s my deepest self, and the one who can walk me back out of the labyrinth when my compass is broken and my D string cannot send back echoes to show me where the walls stop.


When I write, I meet my idea so fully, so deeply, I have gone through myself out into the world, and out there was #OneLove.

02 May 2016

People's Champ

..........................................................................................Vince Ballentine                                    

Dodsworth mural. "If you set the bar high,
you can only keep going higher."
The magic in art is vision. Images offer us ourselves, our worlds, reflected back.... but with what more? Is it the sight of what lives below the surface: depths otherwise unavailable to us? What dwells there? What does it know? What happens if I touch it?

Years ago, I set out to become a teacher of the literatures that have given me the most - meaning, clarity, purpose - literatures primarily of tribes that have been marginalized, in some cases to the point of extinction. I said I wanted to ensure that these important voices were heard. I didn’t go that particular road, but it is still my path.

A year ago I realized that a lot of emerging artists around me were also saying important things that I believed the world needed to hear. I write this blog to listen to, meditate on, and amplify those voices. Voices I believe are essential.

I met Vince Ballentine right around the time I realized I needed to add this artist interview element to The Mother’s Nature. He’s one of the people who drove home for me this obligation I have –with pleasure– to ensure that vital artists’ voices are heard. One thing that struck me about Vince’s work was that his street art speaks so loudly to so many people – in my neighborhood, and in others. It resonates deeply, not only for the sheer beauty, the presentation, the sensitivity of the paint, or the ideas carried, but for the presence. His portraits and scapes are living, breathing, they have a pulse. You almost cannot look away until you have fully acknowledged who is looking out of the paint, just as we would not evade the eyes of a living person whose gaze we have met until an acknowledgement of soul is exchanged.

Vince’s paintings are as dynamic as humanity, and for this reason, they possess the power to reflect back to us not only who we are – but, like living water, that which lies below the surface, far more than we have yet conceived. Vince’s paintings are, for me, possessed paint. They show me what I have not yet seen by asking me to look again, not with a shout or demand, but with the powerful gaze of a man who knows himself. Meet Vince…


Vince Ballentine, artist

PAINTING: From the Beginning


when did you start painting?

V: the first time I ever remember doing something creative, I was drawing. I couldn’t be more than 5 years old. And I was so proud of it and my mother, she looked at it and she said, “oh, that’s so good, yadda yada!” I remember drawing the whole thing. It was like the first thing I could be proud of, like, “look: I did it!” And everybody was like “oh, ok, that’s cool! That’s cool! Yay!” and I remember Uncle Andre.
I love Uncle Andre to death, but he takes one look at it and he’s like, “why’s the head so big? Arms all little. Why you mess up the face like that!? You’re s’posed to color in the lines! That’s the best you can do?” That’s what he gave me and I was kinda like, “damn.”

sad face.

V: very sad face, you know what I mean. I wish I could speak emoji right now, that’s what happened.

i’ll put an emoji poop in the interview transcript.

V: right: a little poop, next to my face as a 5 year old: be like DAYUM! Defeated. But it was interesting though because that was my first taste of criticism. That was my first critique at 5 years old.

and plenty of detail along with that critique.

V: yeah, yeah, yeah! Well, see the one thing about a critique is it’s criticism, but it’s constructive. When it’s family members who aren’t creative, they just see what’s wrong with it.
As an artist it’s funny because you always see it wrong and you’re always trying to perfect it. So even when somebody be like, “that’s the most incredible thing I’ve seen!” I’m looking at it and I’m like, “yeah, well I fucked up here, here, here, here and here. That’s bad, this is bad.” Until the point where it’s kinda like some Bob Ross happy imperfections type stuff. You know, little happy mistakes and stuff.
So… I think that’s the constant quest.

what was your reaction to Uncle Andre?

V: the most immediate reaction was, “oh, yeah, well, I’m gonna show you!” So it turns into the next one. And then next one was kinda like, you know, “that’s better.” It wasn’t good, “but it was better than that last piece of trash you showed me!” I mean, like, “Did you burn that yet? You still have that? Why would you even keep that!? It’s horrible!” This one was like, you know, a smidge better than that! So a long story short, that’s what progressed into where we are today.

what’s the next memory after the age of 5?

5 year old Vince
 V: I had other moments in life where I’ve been able to draw something or paint something, but I always remember the messed up criticisms. Those are the ones that stick with me. Those are the ones that somebody was like, “yo, you suck.” Those drive me more than people telling me how good it is.

mm hmm, yeah…

V: so, high school kid, again, the same thing. Everyone’s just like, “ok, you’re good.” I had Mr Brown, Malcolm Brown. He’s just like worldwide dude. Again, love that dude to death, he gave two fucks about teaching us to do art. He would give us a little synopsis at the very beginning of the class: “ok, here’s how you make a landscape. Ok, go make a landscape!” If you missed it, you missed it! Snap – like, “yadda yadda, horizon. Get it! Go!” and then he would sit down and work on his own personal paintings that he was gonna sell later for thousands of dollars. But at the same time though I was like, “well, he’s at least a legitimate artist, out there really doing it so!” Go for it, salut! It wasn’t him, ‘cause he’s the one that actually wrote my college recommendation.
It was Mr Hoffman.

evil eye, throwing shade!

V: Draggin – D-R-A-G-G-I-N-G! Mr Hoffman down the street by his nostrils

by his flaring, smoking nostrils!

V: punk! We’re going around the room and everybody’s saying what college they’re going to, this is AP Art. So this is the only advanced placement class I got, you know what I mean! Everything else is like… I was in Science. It wasn’t even like it was special or nothing. Was like, “you in biology?” What kind of science is it? It’s science! Dude, science class. Yo, they took our frogs away! They were like, “if y’all can’t get it together, y’all ain’t doing shit!” We didn’t dissect shit, we just watched shows about it.
So, we’re going around the classroom, we’re all asking, “where you going?” One guy’s Parsons, another guy is Carnegie Mellon, “I’m going to Cooper Union.” I’m going to these different schools.

those are some swanky schools!

V: exactly! And then uh, at the time I had got accepted to the art institute in Chicago.

that’s good!

V: yeah, I felt somewhat proud! And the thing is, it’s not like we went and visited a bunch of schools. We went to Chicago, to that school, and I got in, and that was it. It wasn’t like we visited eight schools and all this. Naw: “you wanna go here? Ok, you gonna go here then!” And, um, everybody’s going around the classroom and he gets to me and I was like, “yo, I’m going to the SAIC in Chicago.” And he’s like, “how!?” It was like, “hey, you’re my teacher!” It took everything in me not to like jump scissor kick this dude smooth in his neck!
“Bruh, what- what do you mean, ‘how?!’ cause I didn’t get a recommendation from YOU?” Dude, how did I, like, manage that? I know other people besides you, punk!

Which actually leads to the next story of rejection when I was at the art institute. Literally, in Chicago it was the first time I did a fine art spray paint piece and the first time I got arrested for the shit, so… it was a nice little flip, you see what I mean? Museum… Jail…
Coming from Cleveland, we had our artists that I really respected and I was able to connect with and all this good stuff, but again, it was just in Cleveland so I knew what that was. Going to Chicago was mind-blowing. I’m out in Chicago and I show my art work, and the teacher goes, “eh.”
“Eh?!” what, what do you mean, “eh?” This shit is nice, like I did the – it’s fresh.
“No… no… do better.”
So I felt like, “this motherfucker just Uncle Andre-ed me!” Dayum! But at the same time though, he was critiquing everybody. So the people that I saw – there were people in the class that I was looking at like, “this motherfucker’s incredible! Why are you here?! Why aren’t you out there making money already?! You have no business being in art school, period. Cause, cause, just cause – for what?!”
And then he would look at mine and give me an accurate critique – it wasn’t necessarily under the critique of someone that was really refined. So I felt good about that. But long story short is, I saw his work and I respected it, so it was ok.

And then he tells me, “go take the train north, sit by the window.”
Again, I’m a young punk kid, so I think I know everything. I’m the dopest shit in the world. I get on that train and my face was glued to the window ‘cause it was like, “oh, that’s incredible, that’s incredible, that’s incredible, holy shit, that’s dope.” I wanted to stop the train and get off and walk from that point, let me just examine this shit, by myself, for myself. What is this?
Uniqueness and individuality – lines that people were using, the depth of the images, expression of characters, colors and styles, the different letters, and all of it happened in the cloak of night, couldn’t see shit, getting bitten by rats…. And you still achieved all that!?
That realllly exploded my head. And I hadn’t done that much, you know. I started to understand – with the help of art school for sure— line weight and how to find parts. Art is very mathematical as well, visually mathematic.

yeah, we had classes where she would hit the clock and you couldn’t pick up your pen for 27 minutes or whatever it was. You had to commit.

V: yeah! Yeah… Ink pen, that’s like my favorite medium in the world because you can get so many variations of depth with that one tool: you can go really dark with the pen, you can go light; it’s amazing.
But that’s where it starts to lead everywhere else, so – left Chicago, went to Philly. Philly: learned a whole bunch, oh my god, what’s going on. Moved out to Cali. Cali: learned a whole bunch, oh my god, this is crazy. Go to New York, same difference. And the beauty of it is that I can finally see different.

It’s immediate: you can see your progress. I wish I still had the Uncle Andre piece to be dead-ass honest with you!

why are you so motivated to get better— be better?

V: everyone has a purpose; everyone has a reason to be here. I want to be acknowledged, I want to be recognized for what I do. I could be considered the best to like 8 people, but to me that’s the base. Always wanted to be great at my thing. I always was a niche person… in the niche world that I’m in – I want to be one of the best to do it.

SEEING: Believing


V: I’m starting to see things— I mean, it’s always a progression of seeing things, but, since I quit that job: hooray!

hooray!

V: i’m not gonna knock on the job ‘cause that shit was there when I needed it! But, getting out and being able to paint, my skill set went from zero to 60 real quick. I started to develop so fast! And then having to work fast – over the summer I did a piece for NYC Spread Art on Dodsworth — that was the one that you came to help me with, the two story one, with the scaffolding, that was two days. To be able to do a piece in two days now- meant you had to commit to a stroke and leave it. It wasn’t a bunch of fixing, tweaking, this, that and the third. There’s a high, there’s a low, move on! Colors just stack on top of each other. You’re cutting within that, move on! As opposed to, let’s say, before even with characters where you have to push it to find what it is, to find the shapes…

pull out the personality…

V: yeah - having all of those elements together now, just through the progression of seeing.

one thing I hear is: you’re deep in the actual physical activity of making work, which is not the case for everyone.
 
V: you mean they don’t actually like painting!?


no. some artists are just more concept-driven. It’s more about “I have an idea, I have something I wanna say, I’m just gonna find a way to say it.” You talk about the involvement of getting into a line and following the line, developing a line.

V: yeah

and clearly the challenge of having to put something on the wall, let it be what it is, right? You can’t tweak it. It’s gonna be there and you gotta work with it and then you’re gonna walk away.

V: you have to believe in your line.

yeah! And you have to be able to see. you have to have more vision sooner.

V: not even, you just have to be happy with how it lays. There’s abstraction to everything, that’s where stylization comes from, so, if I make an eyebrow, for instance, right? I make this eye and then I put this thick descriptive eyebrow on it. Now if you do that with one stroke then it’s, depending on how that stroke is – is it wavy, is it straight, is it curved– that becomes dictated by your style. Your style becomes how you see, create, flow. You know how they say your first impulse is usually your best impulse. That’s exactly how painting is. So the same way as you could make a line and then wanna correct it. No, you made the mark already. What’s the next mark after that?

So, you’re looking at balance from the very first line. It’s like the game of chess even. The game starts with the very first move. That very first move is pivotal.

perfect metaphor

V: it’s life or death right there.

PRESENTING: Stepping In


V: Sometimes the conceptual artists: that’s all they got! And, for what it’s worth, I don’t always respect that, the overly conceptual artist, for the simple fact that anybody can do it. It becomes a point where if it’s open for interpretation, then it’s open for interpretation. If you can’t immediately say if I like it or I don’t like it, that says something right there. There should be an immediate reaction.

that person didn’t have an authentic experience?

V: yeah. Yeah, yeah, but at the same time, be able to cross different platforms. I know some conceptual artists that are very elitist; it’s like they got on some special 3-D glasses that nobody else has. It’s like, “I see the world for how it really is; you’re just too dumb to know.”

so, what do you want, what type of experience do you want the viewer of your work to have?

V: immediate! If you think about it, predominantly, my work is on the street, so it’s for people that don’t have background. For people that could even give two fucks about some art work. So if you’re gonna give ‘em something , you gotta give ‘em something! They could have walked by something for six years, and until you point it out, they’re like, “I never knew that that was there!” So, knowing that, you have to immediately already engage people.

so they shouldn’t have to do any digging, no context, nothing?

V: no. There should always be levels. Let’s say it like this: the presentation of it needs to be finely crafted. That’s one thing that can’t be mistaken. If something is finely done, you can see the curves in it, the line, the detail – that’s immediately gonna get your attention. And after it has your attention, then what happens?
That’s what I mean. I’ll do a piece and it’ll immediately – even just by sheer size— it’ll be so big that you’re just like, “this is big as hell!” And that’s actually a good way to think of it, too: it’s so big that you can’t get it, ‘cause you’re IN it!
You have to take a step back, and I think that metaphor reflects on most art in general. Some people’s concepts can be so big that they can’t get into it.

yeah, for sure!

V: but it’s not a matter of stepping back, it’s a matter of stepping in.

absolutely, yes!

V: and I don’t think that a lot of people care to do that, especially when it’s an extremely conceptual piece that isn’t immediately finely crafted. I’m gonna quote this guy’s work, Dasic Fernandez. He does these mad colorful images, of let’s just say a woman, for instance, and she might be in a puddle or something so you see her reflection in the puddle, and they’re massive. He has one over on Broadway, but the beauty of it is, it’s immediately engaging. The first thing you do is look at it and say, “ho! Whoa!” but then you keep saying, “whoa!” And you start realizing the drips are coming off of her so, where is gravity? Why is the gravity negative? Why is she in this position? Why – the conversation just continues, and continues and continues and it can open up doors that other people don’t see. You know what I mean?
As opposed to (laughing), the flip side of that is a lot of modern conceptual art, it’s just like, “bruh, this is a blank canvas! But I’m not smart enough to know what you’re doing with this right now?!” (teeth sucking) Get the fuck out of here, kick rocks! (laughing) You know what I mean?

YES!

V: ‘cause if that’s the case, if I’m not smart enough to understand your art, then – you’re not smart enough to survive where I live every day. If you can’t walk a mile in my shoes I won’t walk a mile in yours! Meet me half way and we can both go there.

ohhhh!

V: so, long story short – if you see that painting with a red dot, anybody can do it! When they have to differentiate between “is this a well-known millionaire artist” or “is this a 5 year old,” and people are confused about which is which, that should tell you something about what it is that they looking at.

As opposed to if you see some of these street dudes who don’t have that same education, that same background, they don’t have the same motivation, they just wanna go do some dope shit, and you walking past some shit, like Dasic’s or uh, Dasic and Ruben have done some work lately; uh, there’s Danielle Mastrion, she’s done some fantastic stuff; Shiro does the same character over and over again, but I love it every time I see it. But it speaks to the people that are lookin’ at it.
And there’s a lot more of us walking that block than there are people who have season’s passes to the Met. That’s for real. There’s a lot more people that are playing pick-up basketball than have been to Madison Square Garden. So let’s take it out of their hands and let’s give it back to the people.

so that’s who you’re painting for?

V: the people. Definitely. Definitely.
 
Halsey Dreamway: "Mine is out in the world, yours is in a museum."

VINCE: The Anti-Narcissus


we’ve talked around a good amount of space without actually talking about what you wanna say.

V: the mural on Halsey, on the Dreamway, with the big Indian headdress girl, ‘cause that one set it off in so many different ways. So a kid walked by. And one of the organizers, actually, yet again, Tatu, man, love him to death! He was the founder of Xmental Inc. He was one of the ones sponsoring the wall. He said, “we have homework on everybody else but you! We didn’t know about you.”
“Oh, word!? Alright, just let me paint first, and if it’s not good, then shit on me then.”
Halfway done, he was just like— his boy was even like, “yo, if you use these caps you might be able to-” and then Tatu was like, “man, you should be teaching!”
A kid walks by and says, “I wanna paint.” Say, “I wanna paint.” That’s dope. I got that kid wanting to paint. And the beauty of it is, I want the kid to say, “I don’t wanna mess it up, though,” which means that “I’m really gonna concentrate right now.” That’s what I want.

And then the second one was one of the promoters comes by like, “if I was a little girl seeing this, I would be so impressed. Because it’s not many images of us out there.” You don’t see large, beautiful pictures of black people. It just says something when it’s inclusive, when it speaks to everybody! Instead of a lot of pieces where if you’re not this black person, you’re not Rakim, if you’re not Biggie, if you’re not – this type person, we ain’t got no holla for you. I really should stay away from that.

so, what’s the conversation? What’s your conversation?

V: that’s exactly what I’m saying, is the fact that everybody is on their expression, and I don’t wanna be brutal, but – fuck your expression.
Your expression should be reflective of what you’re coming from. So, when I’m in Bed-Stuy, I’m doing Bed-Stuy shit. I’m doing shit for the people that live there. Cause after you leave, your piece is still there, but you are gone.
So, true and deep: think of it on a level of graffiti, cause graffiti gets wiped out, but I do a piece of art that’s actually gonna be there for a minute and represent some shit, do something that’s really gonna be there and represent some shit!

so to you it’s really more about holding up a mirror.

V: holding up a mirror and exposing things that people don’t see, like colors. There’s a lot of blight – so people are used to these drab colors, rusted out, blown out buildings, you know what I mean. And there’s this bright spot. It’s not for everybody, but when I was a kid and I got Uncle-Andre-ed, and I got crapped on by the high school teacher: let me have a piece that I can go to and reflect on and say, “ok, but this is the type of stuff that I wanna do, because this is the type of stuff that I admire.” And actually have something in the world that exists. It exists so someone else can exist with it, and not have to go to a museum. Not have to go to a gallery. Not have to know somebody who knows somebody to get a glimpse of this thing that’s supposed to be precious ‘cause Banksy did it!
See something that wasn’t there before: that’s the main thing – it was a dirt wall before. Look at it now.
I don’t understand how people can not like that. How do you not like that?

i think what you’re telling me is that the conversation is actually: you’re painting to have a conversation. That’s what the painting is about.

V: definitely, definitely. When I leave, what am I leaving? Once you know how to paint – what are you painting? When people look at it, what do they say?

Bushwick Puerto Rican Community Mural."I'm a conduit."

THE PEOPLE: Listening


so, is you getting better as a painter about you being able to hear and respond better?

V: definitely, but I think that’s inherent though. That’s just a part of the process.

oh, it’s not, my love, it’s not!

V: if your journey is to get better then you have to be able to soak in so much – and be able to give a LOT.

the reason why you’re getting better is so you can see better, so you can hear better, and so you can respond better?

V: yeah

i’ve never heard that. And you actually started saying this at the very beginning of the conversation when you described the train ride. You really want this engagement.

V: yeah!

because there’s actually no conversation without the engagement.

V: yeah… yeah, yeah! I want 5 year old Vince to look at this and be like, “man, that’s what I’m gonna be like in the future!?” I’m gonna be looking at my Uncle Andre and then I’m gonna look at 2016 Vince and be like, “I’m gonna be that!? when I’m thirty-something years old!?”
“Word! Let me just keep going then,” you know what I mean?!  Really push the envelope! Do something that’s really gonna be provocative, have a conversation.

Case in point, we’ve talked about this before. We can talk about all types of police brutality, we can talk about disenfranchisement, we can talk about prison industrial complex, but nobody’s actually gonna talk about racism. Let’s just talk about that. Let’s just talk about what the core problem is. Let’s just talk about money, and how these people got it and these people don’t.
It’s like if – let’s say somebody has a malignant tumor in their leg and someone says, “ok, we have to go through her neck to get there.” Like, “what?” That doesn’t make any sense. Like why would you – just go to the tumor and knock the tumor out, ‘cause then in the process of you going through the neck to get to the leg you done fucked up all types of shit on the way down! Now you gotta fix everything that you fucked up trying to get to the initial problem.

another perfect metaphor.

V: you still got a limp, like, “why am I dying!?”

people like to do that, we like to get our ass kicked all over the place before we make any changes.

V: honestly – I feel like black folks been saying it forever. We’ve been like, “no, the problem is you keep smacking us in the face” and other nationalities, whatever, will say like, “well, we don’t understand.” It’s like, how about this, “leave me alone, first. I’m not trying to get revenge, I’m not trying to come back and hunt you down, I’m not trying to rape your women and sell drugs in your community. That’s not what I’m trying to do.”

TALKING: Coquis, Black People & White People


V: i’m a conduit. That’s what I do. I’m gonna represent y’all. If they call me to do me – then like the Indian headdress, that was more me. I felt like these are things that can be represented in a different way without exploiting it, you know?

If I go out here and paint pictures of black people on the walls, it gets looked at funny. Real talk. People look at it like, “huh,” they don’t necessarily get it. Let somebody else go up here and paint some African people and people love it. Because of the stylization, because of this, that and the third. I was like, “no, it’s because you saw who was doing it.” That’s some real shit that I go through with all the time.

Flip of that, a friend was in Brownsville working with this group, doing this thing at the bottom that says, “black girls matter.” And a black girl approached: “how are YOU gonna tell ME about ME, in MY neighborhood!?” She was immediately offended by the whole thing. And the painter turns around like, “well, first and foremost, I do have a biracial daughter.” What’s actually a smack in the face to you, chick, is “I’m doing it. What are you doing?” Done.
Washed up! What can you say after that? You can complain about it, but you’re not gonna do shit. And I think that’s where the conversation needs to start. Instead of having a bunch of shit to say, NO, go DO some shit! And let’s talk about what you did.

so, what’s the next piece of your conversation?

V: first I don’t like the fact that murals have the stigma of painting dead people. I think we should immortalize people while they are still alive and they can come and see it and see what impact they’ve had on the world. In a huge mural that anybody can come and see – that’s something – so they can see if people love ‘em or hate ‘em! I still wanna do my Blackstar piece, Mos and Kweli, I want that really bad.

from here it’s definitely – show people that we can still hold onto now, push, get behind, you know, be motivated by. I think the THINK BIG piece, in a sense, it was different for me, cause it was all letter based.  When we were sitting around knocking the ideas back and forth, it was, “well, we wanna do something Biggie,” and I was like, “I’m not painting a mural of Biggie!” No, no because it’s like 9000 murals of Biggie already! And he was like, “ok, well it’s gotta be Biggie related.” So I threw this, he threw that. The thing was though, to come out and to just say, “Think Big.” It just, it stuck with me to the point where it was: “no, I HAVE to do this now!”

I’m making landmarks. I don’t know who I’m affecting. I have no idea. I could be affecting you positively, negatively- don’t know. But, the fact that I am affecting people is what makes the difference. The fact that I am causing conversation. The fact that somebody’s looking at that and they either think it’s dope, or they don’t. They don’t have to think- for what? Why should I care? Make ‘em care. That’s where we come in.


THE ARTIST: The Line


is there anything that’s lingering?

V: the fact that I feel much more the people’s champ than I do fine artist. I don’t speak of art in these highbrow conversations.  I just want that to be appreciated.

is that part of the reason why you wanna be as good as you can possibly be?

V: no, the only reason that I do this is for me. I don’t do this for women, for money or fame. I do this because I – I really have to do this. It’s just that if I don’t do it, I’ll die.

yeah. Yeah, yeah!

V: that’s it.
It’s little nuances that just get you and keep you.

no, I get that, when I really get in, get in the flow, there’s definitely something that happens – everything’s on fire, your face is on fire, your heart is on fire. You can feel those words coming! You’re just in the line, right? You don’t wanna get out of it.

V: yeah, yeah…

i feel like half the work I do is just – writing can be just bullshit, it can just be work! But I work that hard for the moment to get into the line!

V: yeah, you gotta get through it…

and that moment is rare, and it is precious and it doesn’t last that long, Rafael’s gonna wake up or whatever is gonna happen. But I get that, I get that.

V: yeah, yeah, yeah… Or better yet even, sometimes I’ll black out doing stuff, it’s just a blur – I don’t really know how it happened, or what happened – but I know that’s what’s left – and that’s kinda dope!

yeah, yeah!

V: it’s funny cause I saw something recently that I did and it’s just like I’ve done shit from last year – and looked back and like I’m ten times better than that now – from last year! So, whatever we’re doing we have to try to stay on this path the best way we can, somehow.  The best we can.

yeah, when you’re standing on the trail – you really like can’t step off the trail. You have to keep – wherever it’s going, it’s going. You just gotta—

V: yeah, you have to pull things on your trail, you can’t go get it!

yeah, no, you really can’t!

V: no. sometimes it even means food. Days will go by and I’m like – I haven’t eaten, fuck!

POWER: What’s valuable?


is there anything that I didn’t ask you that’s important?

V: I’ll say this, a friend has a gallery that just opened. I gotta take it out of context and put it back in context. There was a joke where the guy says, “I hate it when people find out I’m a comedian because then all of the sudden they just want me to start telling jokes,” and he’s just like, “yeah, well… you know, I could just do some jokes and make y’all laugh, but usually there’s a microphone, a stage, an environment set up, maybe someone serving drinks. It’s a set up for me to be able to be successful in this environment. As opposed to, you know, being at a bar in front of a bunch of drunk people who could care less if I’m funny or not. And I don’t get paid for this. There’s no win-win for me right now.”

It’s the same thing for art. It’s like unless you put it in a gallery or a museum and have cosigners – then it’s not respected and appreciated the right way. And that’s what happens with collectors versus people who just buy art. People who just buy art, they buy things based on do they like it or not, not realizing if they bought one, and their friend bought one and then their other friend bought one, and then their other friend bought one, you’ve just increased the value in what you bought! Real, whole, right, left side brain thinking on that one, though, which we don’t get past.

Collectors will go out and decide, “ok, this guy’s hot. We’re all gonna go in on this collection.” And now that this collection is bought, it has an increased value. So now, when I wanna trade this in, I spent a hundred bucks, I’m getting back two grand. That’s the kicker. That’s what a lot of people don’t get.
The artists are the creators. We are the ones that bring those things to life. Or the writers, the musicians. What people pay for! But the people that have the money are the ones that feel like they hold the power.

yeah, they determine the value.

V: it’s so the other way around! But that’s how society looks at it.

right.

V: and if I can make any segue in that, understanding what is valuable…. This money that you just gave me, that was mass produced, with a dead president on there, made out of some flimsy piece of paper that if it catches on fire, I have nothing now! As opposed to this creation that somebody did, which is unique, one of one. This person might want it but I bought it first, so now I can sell it to that person, for a hundred dollars more. I just made money off of this creator’s person. You can’t give me a five and I’ll sell it to somebody else for ten!
So, that’s my thing right there: understanding value. Treat people well.  Stop trying to undercut people. Cause you’re only decreasing the value of it for yourself.

if there’s one thing I should get right, what is it?

V: how about this? Sometimes it’s face value. Sometimes there’s nothing else, besides “what do you see?” Immediate reaction. It’s like a Rorschach test. What do you see? “Oh, I see this. And it’s – I see a kid with glasses, and I see the flag in there, and it looks like, kinda like a liberty type thing going on.”

Alright, good, carry on.

"The unidentified become the leaders of these situations."
_________________________________________________

This is the easiest interview I’ve done yet. Vince is deeply thoughtful, illustrative and insightful; his work speaks for itself, just as he does with his stories, language and metaphors – elucidating what he sees, believes and manifests with far more than color, line, depth or character.

How generous of him! Not only to give work away on the streets of Chicago, Philly, LA and Gotham, but to basically let me roam anywhere I like in the territory where I demonstrate why seeing art is so important.

Raised in a tight nomadic family of six in a highly individualistic, capitalistic nation, I’ve long struggled with what Amurika tells us is a paradox: my own desire to be distinctively, recognizably individual while also equally the member of a tribe, a pack, where I belong– and an integral member of my herd.

Vince describes himself as wanting to be recognized for what he does. I think this is a desire we all possess. He works hard to be good, to keep getting better, not only so that he can be the people’s champ, a real and insightful conduit for the community, but also so that he is acknowledged for what he does. For many of us, creatives included, what we do is who we are. Vince cannot separate himself from his need to create. Without his ability to make art, he would perish; he would cease to be himself. In other posts I’ve referred to that inner voice that tells him to paint, intuition, as the voice of the soul, while his motivation is the will, or the muscle of his soul.

And therein lies the answer to the paradox we’ve been sold. Humans were never meant to be self-sufficient, separate money-making incorporates. We were born pack animals and that’s unlikely to change if it hasn’t yet over so many millenia of evolution. We still want one thing more than anything else: connection. The answer to that connection was and is ever present in the urge to be what we are made to be – whatever that is. When we do what we are: we can be seen for what we actually are. We manifest ourselves in the world. And those manifestations are our gifts, gifts other people need. When we give what we have, we become necessary members of our tribes – we connect, we slip into our places like the missing pieces of a puzzle. We give our part, one of the whole needed by the tribe to thrive. The desire to be both distinctively individual and deeply connected to the tribe is not a paradox, but the necessary marriage of yin and yang that allow and feed one another, making it possible for each to fulfill its potential.

In giving what we have, we become the individuals that we are, we become recognized—and through that recognition we connect with our tribes. The tribe sees itself more fully in those deep pools – the eyes of the artist; the artist sees his vision more deeply through the tribe, in which he chooses a waking submersion.

It is so easy to be Narcissus, to see everything, including ourselves, as we want to see them. Vince's work calls us awake, makes us want to look again, to see again, to think again.
................................

Vince’s work opens at MoCADA
80 Hanson Place, Brooklyn, NY 
Saturday, 7 May 2016 @ 7pm 
with the work of Nia Love, Jasmine Murrell, and Everett Saunders,
curated by Marjani Forte-Saunders


You can also see his work all over New York City, at ig vballentine99, and http://vballentine99.wix.com/vballentine, and