Going to high school in the 1960’s, it was easy to get caught up in the rich mix of music, politics and art of the times. Those times shaped my world-view. I absorbed the tenets of the Black Panther Party, as well as, the beliefs of the Black Arts movement. From those progressive and radical platforms, I learned and internalized that “One should leave their community more beautiful than they found it.”
Since that time I’ve aspired to create environmental artwork that honors, communicates to and inspires communities. I feel very strongly art that can be a source of neighborhood pride as well as a tool for social and cultural development. These fundamental principles guide my artmaking practice and undergirds my educational philosophy.
My home/studio is an old cigar factory in the Frogtown neighborhood (formally called the Thomas Dale community) of St. Paul, Minnesota. From there I create distinct artwork in a variety of mediums, that is informed by research and observations made on several different trips throughout the African Diaspora, to understand how the descendants of Africa shape and order space.
In form, my work has evolved from mural making to abstracted sculptural reliefs on walls to free standing sculptures and sculptural installations. Over the last ten years my practice and career is more focused on public infrastructure, so the materials of my work, are the materials of streetscapes and landscapes. The mediums of my art now include cast concrete, metals, stone, cast paper, wood and clay. My most recent commissions have also become more sophisticated and have required complex working drawings that help translate my ideas to a crew of fabricators. I use Computer Aided Design (CAD) software to create working drawings, pencil and maker illustrations, CAD drawings and maquettes to present my ideas. These skills have aided me in creating 30 large-scale works of art and communicating my ideas as the first artist-in residence for the City of Minneapolis. A role that I’ve held for the last three years.
In addition to this my large-scale public artwork I also work as a scenic designer. I create work for stage much like creating any other large-scale public artwork. My works for stage are sculptural installations that I create in collaboration with a director and many times a group of scenic craftspeople. Most of my theatrical work accompanies plays with non-linear or abstracted themes or ideas. The abstracted texts in these plays compliment my own minimalist aesthetic for visual storytelling. In 1995 the Theater Communication Group and the National Endowment for the Arts recognized my work as a scenic designer with the award of a Designer Fellowship. While this was very important accomplishment, and while my theater work has consistently received favorable reviews, the real accomplishment is that theaters and directors continue to ask me to collaborate with them to create works for stage. In fifteen years I’ve created over 25 works for stage.
To increase my knowledge of plant materials I enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s Extension Program’s Master Gardener Core Course, which provided a foundation in soils, botany, entomology, plant pathology, herbaceous and woody plants and vegetables. After becoming a Master Gardener, I realized I needed to learn even more in order to use this understanding of the world in my art practice and set out to study landscape design and environmental history. This formal study increased my understanding of the natural environmental and ecological systems.
For ten years I’ve worked with a group of gardeners in Frogtown to “greenline” our neighborhood. The term “greenling” was developed as a counter to redlining, which is the practice of refusing to do business with in low income, or communities of color. Greenlining is the act (sometimes without permission) of increasing the amount of plants and trees in those same neighborhoods. This group of gardeners/activists have engaged in greenlining as a small part of a larger movement towards environmental justice. In fact, we are inspired by the work of Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, whose Green belt Movement in Kenya planted 3 million trees, our modest goal in in 2009 is to plant over 1000 trees in Frogtown.
My educational path has given me new tools to draw from to blend art and nature to create a better world. As a result I am morally committed to the practice of designing an educational program to meet a student’s personal needs. Teaching allows me to share my experience, knowledge and artistic practices with students. What I ask students in return, is to change the world. I believe my experience and world-view matches the goals of Goddard College and the MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts Program.