So why did you decide to do Malcolm X painting now?
Back in college in the early 1990s I had read the autobiography of Malcolm X cowritten with Alex Haley. It definitely had the impact of how I formed thought around racism in America during the 1960s and its legacy up to today. I had also lived in a half black neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs, so kind of knew up how youth were viewed through the microscope of skin color alone, since Chicago really hasn't completely integrated at that time and remained very segregated into different neighborhoods by color, ethnicity and by wealth. There are neighborhoods of Poles, Italians, Mexicans, blacks, whites, rich and poor. Then you have to layer in the gang culture that divides the inner city hoods down to blocks sometimes, all thanks to women's movement in the 1920s leading to Prohibition and the formation of the intial gangs such as Al Capone and others. That's the legacy still there with illegal drugs.
Anyway, I had always had this in the back of my head as an interesting historical figure exposing the racism of America to itself and driving the evolution of civil rights along with MLK Jr. Recently, I've been reading many more biographies to learn how to succeed in life and decided to reread this book. So then I was hooked.
Hmm... not sure. I really like the edginess to Malcolm and how he directed hate back to the haters. There's something much bolder in his stance than MLK Jr., which is core to my character as well. I love the debate against opposing parties that have been misinformed and try to overturn their flawed character. MLK is kind of too passive for my taste, although each time you hear the "I have a dream" speech you can't help but tear up. That speech still resonates in our society despite having broken the barrier of a black president, kind of the final legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman coming to fruition.
So what is so edgy about Malcolm X?
How important was his legacy to Obama's rise?
Obama definitely stands on these shoulders, but he made great strides himself: studying at Colombia and teaching at Harvard, community organizer and Senator before running as US President. All those are great achievements in its own and being a great family man, which set a great example to Americans as well.
Do you see yourself doing an Obama painting?
I did do a painting related to the Obama presidency called "Da Worm and Nuke Kid on the Block" based on Dennis Rodman's famous trip to North Korea to bring the Harlem Globetrotters to Kim Jong Un. My interpretation is this was secretly organized by Obama to try and open up the closed hermit kingdom towards possible market economy similar to the way Nixon sent Kissenger to open up China with Ping Pong diplomacy. Unfortunately, I don't think they had the same impact on the young Kim dictator. The funny thing is that "The Daily Show" ripped off my title to use in their TV clip right after I produced the work. The other bizarre thing is although Dennis's 2nd trip to North Korea didn't turn out as expected, Dennis said he might go again if Trump becomes president, so who knows.
I got tax audited during the Obama administration for many thousands of dollars so personally I don't have any love towards the man, so I'm not sure I can get over that and do a great painting of Obama. The other point is he already is out of office, so that time has passed in a way. Look at what happened to Shepard Fairey that produced the famous "Hope" and "Change" posters for Obama.
In the first poster, that really helped drive the cool factor for Obama and the election, the artist was rewarded with a personal letter from Obama and of course, he became even more famous as an artist. In fact, I didn't even know much about the artist until I saw that in an art exhibition in San Diego. Later in the 2nd term of Obama with the rise of Anonymous and their campaign against banks bail-out and CIA wire-tapping, the artist made a poster with "Mister President we hope you are on our side". This poster was immediately pulled out based on complaints from Obama administration and the next thing you know Shepherd Fairey is being sued by surprise, surprise big press AP that backed Obama as well. So not everything the Obama's do is gold, some of it smells like shit.
Whenever you associate your art with a current president, you literally put your neck on the line.