By Taroue Brooks
How did you get started creating art?
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was a creative and inquisitive child, and the youngest of 4 children. My earliest recollection of creating was copying images from encyclopedia’s and being enamored with the artwork of great artist’s I stumbled upon in those books. My first love was comic books and the heroic characters portrayed in them sparked my imagination to create worlds within worlds. The reality of growing up as a Black man in America inspired me to tell the stories that were missing from the comic books and in the history books. I would spend countless hours drawing the human figure, trying to understand how to create the illusion of depth, form, and surface details. I wanted to understand how things worked, how to take complex structures and simplify them on a two-dimensional surface. I was drawn to the art that told stories and I remember as a child desiring to take those stories and translate them into visual iconography. I remember the complex conversations that took place in our kitchen that would span faith, family, community, politics, tradition, and race. Those talks became the bedrock of my expression and I continually draw on that well when I speak about my art.
Tell us about your style and medium in which you work.
I am primarily known for my drawings and prints, but drawing is the foundation of every medium I have explored such as painting and sculpture. I was introduced to Printmaking while attending Xavier University of Louisiana for undergrad. I was captivated by the stark, high contrast, rich graphic marks that could be achieved by Linoleum Cuts and Woodcuts. I remember the first print I made. I created a lot of preliminary drawings in my sketchbook, I executed the image on the block, and then I utilized razor sharp cutting tools to extract the negative space around my positive lines. The block was carefully inked and paper was applied to the surface and subsequently run through a press. I pulled back the paper from the kiss of the block and realizing at that moment I could create this original work again and again. Design-wise I utilize a process called dense-pack, wherein I pack the compositional space with imagery that forces the viewer to slowly sift through the image to decipher meaning and understanding. I have explored several printmaking processes such as etching, lithography, mono-prints, screen-prints, and collographs. Each process is unique in its execution, but they yield virtually the same opportunity to make multiples.
What other artists inspired you and in what way?
I have been inspired by a plethora of artists such as Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, John Biggers, John Scott, Ernie Barnes, Jacob Lawrence, Murray DePillars, Bettye Saar, Romare Bearden, and Lois Mailou jones. Each artist has inspired me with their unique styles that is drawn from a Black Aesthetic. I was captivated by the voluptuous figures of White that bulged with humanity and strength, the chiseled structural bodies teeming with dignity by Catlett, the complex, symbolic, and metaphysical compositions of Biggers, and the simplistic and expressive narrative paintings of Lawrence. Each artist in a sense fed me with a deep knowledge and understanding of how to speak with the universal language of design. I heard the call to carry the mantle that was passed down by generations of artists before me.
Where do you get your inspiration to create?
The kitchen table at my home was the first site that inspired me to create. I heard the cry for justice from my mom, my dad, and the steady stream of family that came to the table to speak about the Black experience in all of its intricacies. I am deeply inspired by Civil Rights history. I have been inspired by the legacy of my family breaking from the clutches of slavery, navigating the treacherous terrain of Reconstruction, withstanding the perils of Jim Crow Laws, and the seemingly unending fight for equality. I create for beauty, and the love of being able to make something that did not exist until I crafted it. I have dedicated my art to speaking about this human condition to educate, inspire, and uplift all who dare to look deeper. I have a profound sense of responsibility in my heart to utilize my gift of creating as an evangelical tool to spread a message of truth and love.
What has been your most proud moment as an artist?
In 2008 I created a sculpture titled, “Song for John.” It is a 4′ x 4′ x 15′ stainless steel piece located in Hampton, Virginia. I was commissioned by the Hampton Coliseum Central Business District to create a work of art that exemplified the spirit of Hampton. I fashioned the piece made out of 40 words collected from the community, a sort of “word made flesh” concept. Atop the structure are 32 wind chimes, and every time the wind blows, a new song is played by our ancestors in one accord. The piece was unveiled 9 months after my mentor, John Scott, passed away, who the piece namesake, and two months before my mother passed away in New Orleans. Their spirits are intertwined in that piece and it will forever be etched in my heart and mind as one of my most significant pieces.
How did you become represented by Zucot Gallery?
I was approached by Zucot gallery in 2015 following a major show and grant funded project at Hammonds House Museum, in Atlanta, Georgia. Zucot Gallery contacted me to gauge my interest in participating in a group show called “Spectrum.” I showcased a series titled, “The Old Testament.” Old Testament is a body of work that was my attempt to deposit an underrepresented image of Black couples in love, in contrast to the global omission of Black people expressing the full spectrum of there existence in popular culture.
What advice would you give someone who seeks to create professionally?
Throughout my career I have been an educator and mentor to many students of all ages. I have taught middle school, high school, community college, and at 4 year public and 4 your private institutions to students of various ethnicity and my message has been the same; art is work. To be an artist requires discipline, focus, dedication, fortitude, purpose, and strength of character. I think it is imperative to balance your creative output with a business acumen in order to survive in a highly competitive art market. It is important to find your authentic voice and create what is in your heart. I encourage the young artist to seek out a community of artist’s that will feed you intellectually and also provide pathways to navigate the treacherous terrain of the art world. Seek good counsel that will be honest with you and help you understand that you have value yourself and do not allow people to devalue the unique gift you have, to create things that did not exist until you made it.
Where do you see your work/career in the next five years?In the next 5 years I envision the caliber of international museum and gallery shows expanding for my work. I am in the process of growing the interaction and integration of my art with theatre, music, and dance performance. I am working on a nationally touring project with a dance company chronicling the heroics of the Little Rock Nine integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. I will continue to use my work in the faith community as a tool to draw disparate communities together through the cathartic nature of fine arts. I will continue to create commissioned artworks internationally to deposit work in the communal context for the work to be enjoyed for several decades.
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Steve A. Prince is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana, and he currently resides in Williamsburg, Virginia. He is the Director of Engagement and Distinguished Artist in Residence at the Muscarelle Museum at William and Mary. Prince received his BFA from Xavier University of Louisiana and his MFA in Printmaking and Sculpture from Michigan State University. Prince is a mixed media artist, master printmaker, lecturer, educator, and art evangelist. He has taught middle school, high school, community college, 4-year public and 4-year private, and has conducted workshops internationally in various media.
He has worked with several church’s of various denominations across the nation spreading a message of hope and renewal philosophically rooted in the cathartic nature of the Jazz Funerary tradition of New Orleans. To Prince, art media is like languages to a linguist as he adeptly tithers between two-dimensional and three-dimensional artistic practices while working with virtually every age bracket and multiple ethnicities. He is represented by Eyekons Gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Black Art in America in Columbus, Georgia, and Zucot Gallery in Atlanta, Georgia. Prince has created several public works including an 8’ x 8’ mixed media work titled “Lemonade: A Picture of America” at William and Mary commemorating the first 3 African American resident students in 1967 at the college, a 15’ stainless steel kinetic sculpture titled “Song for John” located in Hampton, Virginia and a 4’ x 32’ communal woodcut titled, “Links,” commemorating the 400th anniversary of 1619 and the first documented Africans at Point Comfort (Hampton, Virginia.)
Prince has received several honors for his art and scholarship including the 2010 Teacher of the Year award from the City of Hampton. Prince has shown his art internationally in various solo, group, and juried exhibitions. He has participated in several residencies including Artist in Residence at Segura Arts Center at Notre Dame University, Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Hyattsville, Maryland, the Atlanta Printmakers Studio, and the University of Iowa to name a few.