As the firstborn of 11 children to a 15 year-old mother, I was raised in an unsupervised and drug-infested environment. My childhood and youth landed me on the chaotic streets of Kansas City MO, where I dropped out of school in 7th grade, got arrested for selling drugs at 19, and wound up serving 11 years in federal prison as a first-time offender. That’s my early backstory in a nutshell.
The sound of the prison doors locking firmly behind me woke me up to the possibility of finding a different path. Rather than simply bide my time in prison to await the day I could return to the hopelessness that pervaded my childhood, I made a conscious choice. My life would change for the better. For the grace that led me to this choice, I am grateful.
Even in my childhood environment, the one escape that had felt real came from sketching on whatever paper was available. Art had a tug on my soul that felt authentic. So I decided to find a way, even while in prison, to develop my love for art. I read and studied everything I could about the craft of art and artists. At the same time, I found that I could expand my mind by reading books on every subject I could find. I also started creating portraits of people on the inside. My growing reputation as a prison portraitist created a space within which I could study, grow, and stay out of trouble.
Fast forward 10 years. By staying out of trouble, I was able to gain supervised release. Determined to make painting my life’s work, I headed to Atlanta, GA, and the miracles began to unfold. A highly regarded artist took me under his wing. A group of local painters and others took an interest in me and raised funds to support my studies. And, I was accepted into the first class of 7 students by the New York branch of the Florence Academy of Art.
Under the tutelage of some of Americas leading painters at the Academy, I have learned that my bedrock artistic interest lies in that place where perfected technique meets the individual soul. My journey, which has been richly rewarding, has been unique and full of challenges. My goal as an artist is to utilize my singular voice that arises from my own personal struggles, my deep gratitude, and all of the big and little triumphs along the way to illuminate and inform my work. I now recognize with conviction that beauty can emanate from darkness as well as light.
And, yes, life —enriched by my continuing growth as an artist— does get better everyday.
Expanding Traditions; The Journey of the African-American Artist Grenning Gallery Sag Harbor, New York
Drawn to Greatness Arcadia Contemporary Culver City, California