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ART 408: Visual Culture
Professor T. Melchishua
Bowie State University
Holy Hip Hop
Art and music seem to be a complementary mix. Music plays as the soundtrack to movies and plays and many artists look to music as an outlet during their creative process. There are two artists who have used hip hop, not just as a soundtrack to help their creative process, but as the star in their art. Kehinde Wiley and Alex Melamide are two artists who took the time to display hip hop in a light that not many had seen before. The paintings created by these men show hip hop as a powerful, respectable, regal entity that could be taken seriously as a Monet or Picasso. Their paintings offer a classic and awe inspiring take at the hip hop world.
Kehinde Wiley was born in 1977 in Los Angeles. He received his MFA from Yale University in 2001 and became an Artist-in-Residence at the studio Museum in Harlem. He has had numerous exhibitions around the world at various museums which include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. (Wiley website) The paintings done by Wiley have a old European feel but he remixes the paintings in a way that blends the old with the new. He creates large portraits of black men and by replacing the white figures of the originals with the black men, he shows that the black man can be seen as the hero, the general, the commander, but still in his own attire. Wiley allows the men being painted to look through art books he has chosen and to find paintings that spark their interest. Wiley says that he would look at galleries around the world and he was not seeing himself in the art world. He wanted to change that. He started mainly of his paintings in Harlem, and painted from photos he would take.
In 2005, VH1 commission him to create pieces to honor their hip-hop honorees. He used the same approach as before, asking the artists to look through his art books and to find the paintings that they felt represented something within themselves. The artists up for that years honor were Salt ‘N Pepa, L.L. Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Ice T, and Big Daddy Kane. The first picture is that of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The painting is oil on canvas and it is 72 by 96 inches. The background is orange with a colorful border. The men are dressed in their everyday attire but the background is laid out with the regal feel that is Wiley’s trademark. They are carrying staffs but dressed in their own clothing. This is a smart way to blend his love of old and remaining true to the people he is painting in this piece. I look at this piece and feel like they are like kings, standing proudly before the land. The gentleman with no shirt and the hand on his waist, alone without the staff or the other men, might convey a very different message, but like this, he seems like an authority figure. In the 96 by 72 inch, oil on canvas painting of L.L.Cool J, we see that he sits upon his chair in such away one might call the simple seat, a throne. The background is green and red and he is seating in a brown office style chair. He has in a white suit with a baseball cap. He has a calm, direct look on his face, with a pose and posture that screams confidence. I like this painting because it really has that feeling of a painting one might find in the country club or the foyer of a million dollar home. But it doesn’t look out of place the way one might think it would if he in fact was hanging up in the country club. It’s believable, clean lines, and sharp colors make this a powerful piece that I really enjoy. The flow of the painting has power and it demands to be noticed. The last painting is of Ice T. He is wearing a black and red-trimmed shirt and pants with a baseball cap to match, He sits upon his throne, which is gold and has drapery flowing from it in a shade of vibrant red. .Grasping his cane or staff, he is showcased as a man who means business. He looks almost scary in the painting. The expression on his face seems lethal, like at any moment he could throw the cane through your heart.
VH1 picked the right man for the job. The pieces are truly beautiful. In a few couple hundred years, I belive artists can look to these pieces by Wileyas a source of inspiration in the same was he looked back at art.
Another painter that found a way of showing the beauty in hip hop is Alexander Melamid. He was born in Russia in 1945. his early works of art were done with fellow artist, Vitaly Komar. The two created pieces of work that the Russian governmetn did not approve of. “Komar and Melamid often faced government opposition and harassment. In 1974, they exhibited Paradise, featuring a Moscow apartment covered with light fixtures and small sculptural figures in various historical styles and movements. Audience members were locked inside and forced to listen to official Soviet radio. The installation was demolished on state order shortly after it opened. Just one year later, they participated in the Bulldozer Show, an outdoor exhibition that also was bulldozed by the government. These and other occurrences resulted in their expulsion from associations such as the youth section of the Moscow Artists Union and the Graphic Artists’ Association.”(MOCAD) They went to America and shared their art, and in 1988 was able to finally receive citizenship after the Soviet union denied them twice when they requested exit visas. The two opened the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. The two had over 60 exhibitions all over the world and although they had great success, in 2003, they parted ways. It was around this time that Melamid’s interest in hip hop was sparked. His oldest son is a music video director who introduced him to a few well known people of hip hop. For two years he studied the men and with photographs, was able to come out with paintings for an exhibition known as “Holy Hip-Hop”. Based in Detroit, this exhibition was a great way to get the younger community into the museum and art world and to see that art did not have to follow rules. The fact that a white man from Russia created these beautiful pieces makes me respect him a little more than others. He took the time to get to know them and to show them in an elegant, strong, way. The first piece is of Rev. Run. Mr. Simmons’ is dressing in a suit and collar, black cap, and is talking on a corded telephone. He is seated on a couch. Who he is talking to is up to the viewer’s imagination. He could be talking to his family, working out a new business venture, or talking to the president. Based off of what I know of Rev. Run, I get the impression that he is serious about the topic. He may be laughing at the end of the conversation with whoever is on the phone, but right now, he seems to be very engaged in the matter at hand. I like this piece because it seems like the way we would see Rev. Run on television. Melamid paints in a style know as Old Masters, meaning he would use a small palette of colors in his paintings. He also used highlights to help emphasize areas in his paintings.
Another great piece is that of Kanye West. This looks like how he was in the beginning of his carrier; the blue baggy jeans, brown hoodie, big watch with a chain to match and his backpack on stage; like he was ready to hop on a plane right after his shows. The painting is 88 by 56 inches. It is an oil painting done on canvas. The light behind him makes such a glow, it radiates off the painting. I can hear Kanye singing, “All Falls Down” when I look at this piece. He is looking right at the viewer, like he is on stage. He looks confident and ready, walking around with that “swag” walk. I appreciate this piece for being a “look how he started” piece. If Kanye looks back at this piece, even now, he can see the change, progression, and growth he has made in his musical career. And now art show would be complete without this man, Snoop Doggy Dog. Simply dressed, white sneakers, brown pants, white shirt, and a skull cap; he is seated at a desk. When I initially looked at this painting, I thought he was in the courtroom. I really had to examine it to notice the computer mouse in his hand. The expression on his face made sense; he is so focused on the computer, maybe mixing a song, answering emails, doing some type of show prep. I like to see him like this. The focus is painted so well in this piece. It’s a piece that I really liked the more I looked at it. Hard work, determination and confidence in
w ho are, what you love and there are no excuses as to why you cannot make it big at whatever you want. I can see and feel that from looking at this piece.
Alex Melamid and Kehinde Wiley might seem like two different people, but when it comes to art, they both share a passion for creating pieces that get people talking. They used color in two different ways when painting, but both still were able to produce timeless, classical pieces that were appreciated by many people. They both painted large scale pieces, in a way that the hip-hop artists are sometimes viewed as larger than life by their fans. The hip-hop world seems like one thing or something that could be described in one way. But these men showed that hip-hop can be beautiful and bold, that hip-hop is a force that demands to be noticed. And they appreciated these men and what they were doing for hip-hop or how they affected hip-hop. They gave these artists the spot light, center stage, and brought them a new audience.
http://mocadetroit.org/exhibitions/melamid.html. Holy Hip-Hop!. New Paintings by Alex Melamid. 2008. Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Retrieved from the internet March 25, 2012.
Prelates and Rappers Strike a Pose. Kino, Carol. The New York Times. March 9, 2008
Retrieved from the internet March 20, 2012.
Liner Notes is a showed based around the inserts that come with your CD’s or the notes that musicians leave as they are writing and creating music. This was a production which comes from Paige in Full creator, Paige Hernandez. The group includes a few artists and musicians who share the story of a music group, or era. It was held on March 1 at the ATLAS Performing Arts Center in DC as part of The Intersections – A New America Arts Play Festival. It was like a mini karaoke session, but with wonderful singers who also shared some information about the artists. The hour long show included a question session at the end. There were very interesting questions, like how did the artists feel about sampling. Overall the artists supported sampling because it was a way to bring the old to the new. It introduced generations to forgotten music and gave it a new life and feel.
writing about pictures…. graffiti… i wish i could snap my fingers and this last major aper was all done…. but no… and even writing this is wasting my time.. but … focus is not my friend this last week of school…. back to the pages.. they are calling my name… adios..