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An Interview With Artist Michael Chukes

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By Taroue Brooks

When did you realize that you would be able to create your art as your profession?

Chukes: I was in my early twenties when I sold my first work of art.  That meant more to me that than any prior job I had because I was selling something I made using my creative thoughts and working with my own hands and not working for anyone but me.

Tell us about your style and various mediums in which you work.

Chukes: I don’t believe I have a style they never last long, I just have my own visions and influences of the world and its people and cultures and I want to reflect my experiences of this in my work. I create in many materials including bronze, wood, mixed media, wood and oil paint. However, the material that I express myself best with would be clay because of its spiritual connection to the earth. There is something primal about creating with a material that comes directly from the earth and this allows me to stay connected to my ancestors. At some point in life we all go back into the earth and creating in clay helps me tell the history of those who history forgot. 

Gravety

What inspires you to create?

Chukes: I want to leave this world know that I left something important behind to inspire next generation. History and its great civilizations are remembered by two things, what they create or what they destroy, how do you want to be remembered? Art is my legacy and that’s how I want to be remembered!

How important is it for your art to send a message?

Chukes: I was given what some people may call a gift and that is to create art. There is a very heavy weight that sometime comes with incredible gifts. I want people to see in my art that I stayed true to my calling as an artist. I used my skills to tell the history and beauty of life as I know and understand it. I have and will continue to pass my knowledge on to all those who seek creative inspiration because with out it the world would be one huge void.

Do you have any other artists that you emulate or follow? If so, who and why?

Chukes: I have admired the work of the great Michelangelo from a very young age but I never wanted my work to looks like his. When a person tries to copy another masters work I feel they become a cheap copy of that person and miss out on the opportunity to create and be themselves. The artists that inspire me the most are musicians. There are times when I consider myself more a musician  that I do an artist. I am always listening to music when I create. I love it when a musician cut loose and begins to improvise on their instrument. This allows me to create what I feel the music that I am listening to looks like.

Majestry

What advice would you give a young person who seeks to create art as a profession?

Chukes: First and foremost finish what you start! Don’t knock yourself if what you are creating doesn’t turn out the way you planed it the first time because there are no mistakes in art and that is its beauty. The more you work at it the better you will get. Creating art is the closet thing you will get to being free so don’t be afraid to let your creative mind go.

How do you think we can get more African Americans to become collectors of art?

Chukes: People will go out and spend thousands of dollars on a car and after a few years of driving that same car into the ground even with good maintenance it will depreciated to the point of much lesser value. The same can not be said for art. No matter how great it may be, art only appreciating. If you are seeking monetarily gains because of your art acquisition so be it. Collecting art is a good investment just look at some of the art that sold for a few hundred dollars years ago that now sells for millions. Nevertheless, art has much more value than a dollar sign. Art should add joy and pleasure to a home and remind us of the beauty of life and all that it has to offer.

What piece of art you had the most difficulty selling because of the emotional attachment?

Chukes: The art I create does not belong to me it is my gift to the world so I have no attachment to it. I just want my art to go to the person or people that enjoyment and appreciate it the most.

What is next on the horizon for you?

Chukes: another bag of clay!

Chukes website: chukesart.com
Chukes social media: Chukes Art facebook

A Bag Of Clay

About

I was born in Vallejo, California. Our family moved to San Jose, California, when I was a year old and that is where I began my artistic journey. I have been working professionally as an artist for more than thirty-five years. I am now living and creating in Altadena, California.

My connection with art started around the age of five as result of watching my mother sew clothes for my brothers and me. She would sketch out the clothes on paper and within a few days of her sewing, we were wearing them.

I thought there was something magical in the process of drawing and pasting things together, so I asked my mother for a pencil and some paper, and I began to create images as my imagination ran wild. This was my first introduction in art; it was also my first introduction to sculpture because the clothes went from a two-dimensional piece of paper to a three-dimensional tactile object that I could wear.

I didn’t find clay, clay found me. I was in the fifth grade the first time I touched clay. It was like being reacquainted with an old friend; I knew just what to do with it and the first sculpture I created was of a human head. My teacher was so impressed that he paraded my sculpture around all the classrooms. I never forgot that feeling because it wasn’t me that was the center of attention, it was what I created that captivated the audience.

It wasn’t until I reached high school that clay would begin to define me creatively. I had a wonderful art teacher named Mr. Shannon who valued art making as something equivalent, or even more important, than any of the academic classes I was taking at the time. Mr. Shannon made it clear that I would be remembered by what I created, not by what I scored on a test. I learned more about the wonders of art making through his teaching, and I credit him for his significant guidance in advancing my creative journey.

I attended San Jose City Community College in 1980 with the intent to study art. However, my athletic prowess gained more attention. After being ranked as the second fastest junior college 400-meter hurdler in the nation, I received a full track and field scholarship to San Jose State University where I also majored in art. I had great success as an athlete there but found little support from the college as an art student.

After leaving college in 1984 without a degree, I felt a huge void in my education so I decided to teach myself how to become a sculptor. I spent the next nine years escaping to my parents’ garage spending countless hours honing my skills. I pulled from my athletic discipline and challenged myself to better understand the nature of clay to create the artistic visions that consumed much of my thoughts.

During this creative journey, I started exhibiting my sculptures in local art festivals and art events. My work began to get recognized, but it was not by the audience that was best suited for me. I started approaching art galleries with my portfolio, but I always felt there was something missing when it came to writing and speaking about my creative process. Frustrated by not feeling adequate enough to express the meaning of my work, I decided it was time to finish my academic education.

In 1993, I was accepted to the California College of Arts and Crafts, in Oakland, California. My  goal there was not solely focused on becoming a better sculptor, I wanted to learn how to express my creative thoughts by concentrating on classes that would teach me how to become more proficient at writing, documentation, and historical and oral communication. I learned more from that instruction than any of my required art classes.

In three and a half years I graduated with high distinction honors as a dual major receiving a BFA in Sculpture and Ceramics. In 1998, I moved to Los Angeles after meeting Earl Underwood, the director of Leimert Park Fine Art Gallery. Earl was so impressed with my work that he granted me artist residency of the gallery. This was a dream come true. For the next two years my work flourished, and I was able to create and exhibit in a wonderful environment until Earl’s untimely passing forced the gallery to close. One year later I moved to Altadena, my current home. I met and married my soulmate, Rhonda, who has been a true blessing and a major force in my life and art! And once again, I felt compelled to return to college.

Protector of the Next Generation

In 2005, I went on to receive my MFA in Sculpture from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. My intent was to one day become a college professor. I wanted to give students something I felt I didn’t receive in many of my college courses — the truth! I have yet to take on a college teaching position; however, I have found great pleasure in mentoring artists of all ages. I have given countless lectures, artist talks and workshops in colleges, museums, galleries, and art institutions nationwide.

To this day I have continued to challenge myself as an artist, never resting on my laurels. My goal is to use my artistic skills to educate and inform all peoples of the beauty and creative energy we possess as a human race.

My work is now exhibited and collected in prominent galleries, museums, college institutions and private collections worldwide, as well as by countless noted art collectors. My sculptures and paintings have been published in several books and magazines, as well as featured in television and movies.

I am honored to have received numerous awards in the field of art, but my greatest reward comes from sharing my lifelong creative journey with all.

ART IS MY LEGACY!!!

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