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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!


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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, and