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In the Studio with Cypher

Cypher is a self-taught visual artist from New Orleans whose practice oscillates between the figurative and abstract, a reflection of the schizophrenic nature of the modern mind. We met with Cypher to tell us more about his inspirations, travels, and how he has been staying creative during the pandemic.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist? 
 

I’ve always felt like an artist/creative. I don’t think until maybe I was in my early 20’s that I started to feel as though my work was a craft and was at a point where I could vocally an confidently say, hey I’m a artist. 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? How has this impacted your work?
 

I’m from New Orleans, LA born an raised uptown, 3rd ward to be exact. My upbringing was fun, but like a lot of other kids where I’m from, I was raised by a single mother cousins aunts & uncles. 

I avoid trouble as much as possible, pit falls & typical things of the sort, art was big in my house along with education. 

I did a lot of reading, drawing & I remember a lot of national geographic magazines all of those would just distract me, allowing me to dream & use my imagination, different type of summer camps, road trips experience etc…

Everything about my upbringing an all those things impact my work still to this day an being able to tap into my childhood memories & allow it to flow with the current things I’m creating shows that.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track? 

Short answer NO! 

My art journey started really young maybe 6 or 7. My grandmother was a artist, teacher & curator in the 90’s. My uncle was a artist as well, so I’m self taught. As soon as she saw me really taking interest in art,  my grandmother immediately made sure she taught me everything she could, while still allowing me to be free.

She would bring me books from places she’d traveled abroad, art books, design & architecture books. As a kid we went to the museum a lot & different art shows. She worked for YA YA arts center after school enrichment program founded in 1988 by artist Jana Napoli.

She would pick me up from school an take me to YA YA after everyday so I got to do art everyday after school for like 8 years, watching them build things like chairs & fabric designs, even the swatch watch collab they did an I still have to this day. I watch an learn from all the older teenage kids as well as my uncle who was in the program. They sold art in the CBD (central business district) of new Orleans, then New York, other US cities, then internationally.

My experiences were very life changing an always some adventure & creativity.

What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic?
 

There’s always a message, sometimes a theme. 

But the narrative always connects to me in one way or another, an my life experience telling some type of story or sparking some conversation or question. 

I think my ultimate message is to create things that represent me an people that look like me an tell their stories. My purpose is to learn help & teach through my work as much as possible. 

Are your works planned? What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? 

None of my works are ever planned. I never sketch I just go straight to canvas with the ideas feelings an my emotions. I zone out, then I snap out of it, either the ideas an everything come out or there’s something else that was in my subconscious that I didn’t even realize was there. 

And there’s no target audience I think about when I create art because I have to some days. I can’t do anything else…Art has to be free. 

Who and what are your greatest influences?

I like a lot of artists but I wanna say my greatest influences come from knowing that I can tell a story an connect with people, wether it’s through beauty or pain & it truly means something to them.

 

What events in your life have mobilized change in your practice/aesthetic?

I think the opportunity to travel as much as I have done over the last 15 years & so on has helped my work evolve. I use to draw a lot when I was younger, way more than I painted. I remember how much I loved to draw & sketch in ink pen. With pencils I would try perfectly shading an how light or how heavy I applied pressure to the pencil was always something that just gave me such enjoyment. It would put me in a relaxed state. Now I never work on paper. I use a lot of oil paint, oil pastels, garden tools to scrape an add paint to whatever I’m painting, which has been a lot on canvas. Right now a single chop stick is what I use to apply wallpaper adhesive to the magazine & paper cut out. I apply it to my works, like peanut butter on bread. Then I stick it… once it’s on the canvas, I take that same chop stick an then smooth it out, not sure how I came up with that … I try to experiment like a scientist as much as possible. 

Because off the climate & weather, sometimes I’m using what I called weathered materials. My canvas gets soaking wet sometimes from the rain if I’m not able to move pieces I’m working on in time. I also like to work on the floor. Things get extra layers accidentally over time an then I have to wait for them to dry before I can work on it again which changes the complete feel of the canvas or magazine cut out or whatever I may be using at the time. I also have wooden piece from different random finds. If the piece is already started, the colors an materials I’m using becomes altered, the image sometimes smeared an then I go from there, build on.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work? 

 

Lol honestly idk? I’ve recently gotten my own studio space for the first time last year at the height of the pandemic. I love the work I’m making now because I have more space, but I’ve also painted in my moms garage an that was my studio, no air, no heat, my small apartment with my kids running around an spilling paint. I also loved those works in those times. I think it’s a mind state. As an artist I feel as though you should be able to create anywhere. 

 

What are your goals for the future? (Projects, collaborations)

My goals are to continue to push the work. To intimidate & shock with beauty, myself & the viewers. I would like to open a gallery that can facilitate as many opportunities as possible, grants, funding, events, fundraisers, schools an so on. 

I wanna continue to work with like-minded artist creatives & do group shows where we can build our own worlds. 

 

 Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your works?

They all mean a lot to me.

I was inspired a lot by the current events of last year all through the pandemic, the targeting of black people after hundreds of years of being oppressed, all the evictions that took place. 

My favorites of them all are  “A Stroll to Victory” & “Black Targets”. It about the opposite, there’s no stroll to victory for a Black man in America. I saw this man that was evicted. He had a basket with all his belongings an some things he picked up along the way. I saw him passing a grocery store from across the street, an instantly it grabbed me. He seemed at peace, he was just strolling with all his things, seem to not have a care in the world. I wanted to recreate that in its purest form, the way I saw fit. I saw abstraction.

An unexpected source of inspiration? 

I visited Georgetown, Maine about two years ago in the short summer they have. I think it was June. I stayed up there for about 3 weeks. I went with no clue or expectations. All I could think about was the opportunity to get to paint outside of my city for 3 weeks. I packed a bunch of supplies, flew out an I had 2 rolls of canvas shipped out before I left.When I got there it was an amazing house on the water, deer grazing every morning. No wifi, no cell phone, just me my photographer friend Casey Shaw & a big house.

After the first week of exploring & eating all the lobster & haddock possible, daily visiting the museum in town an the other small galleries in Bath,  I painted the next 2 weeks straight. Everyday the inspiration was crazy, never felt anything like that before. It is now easily one of my favorite places now.

How have you been staying creative during the last year? 

By educating myself as much as possible, lots of reading, trying new things within myself & art.

Pushing myself to become more free, writing a lot of notes of ideas down, thinking of mini things I wanna build & paint, sculptures, home decor an all types of other things. Just really exploring.

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