If you go to the Peet’s Coffee on Fruitvale, right across from Farmer Joe’s Market, you will probably see this brother. You’ll see him holding court at a corner table, surrounded by people listening intently to his theories of hidden global networks and wide-reaching social change.
After noticing him for more than a year, I finally approached him and ask him if I could do a portrait. We didn’t speak for more than 10 minutes, but it was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in a while.
The man in this drawing told me I should refer to him as American Sultan, Dr. Bey. Dr. Bey is an unrepentant conspiracy theorist. But while most conspiracy theorists I’ve encountered lean toward the negative, Dr. Bey has an optimistic vision to share. He believes that recent events—like the activism surrounding the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the changes in the Congress, and shifts in leadership and migration worldwide–are ushering in a new era of positive social transformation. In our relatively brief conversation, Dr. Bey told a tale that wove the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton, the waves of migrants leaving North Africa, and the leadership of Germany and France into a sweeping vision of a coming golden age; and he did all of this at a time when the most optimistic and progressive thinkers have lost all sense of hope.
Since I spoke with Dr. Bey, I’ve returned to Peet’s coffee several times. He’s always there, wearing his fez and surrounded by a diverse group of admirers. As curious as I am to hear his theory of the moment, I am usually in a hurry; and to really have the true Dr. Bey experience, you need to take your time.
This is a portrait of Bay Area African American artist Courageous. One of the most talented and prolific artists I’ve ever encountered, Courageous works in paint, sculpture, pencil, and even furniture making. It seems that every time I see one of his new works, it reveals another medium or subject in which he has achieved artistic excellence.
Check out his Mesart website for an overview of his work. Click through the portfolio pages, and linger for a while. The works on this site provide just a glimpse of Courageous’s range, but you’ll clearly see that this is an artist who embraces risk, who has carefully honed his technique, and whose love of Blackness knows no bounds.
One of the best parts of living in the San Francisco Bay Area has been the opportunity to connect with so many other artists of color. This drawing is a portrait of William Rhodes, a local sculptor, and mixed-media artist whose work is included in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington, DC. In this drawing, he’s dressed as I saw him at the opening of the Making a Scene exhibition at SOMArts, in San Francisco. Click on his name (above) to view some of his amazing work.
At the “Making a Scene Opening,” SOMArts, summer 2015.
SOMArts really knows how to throw an opening. From “Glitterbomb” and “Making a Scene” (both in the summer of 2015) to “The Black Woman Is God” (in the summer of 2016), SOMArts openings have drawn huge crowds of art lovers from across the Bay Area. I think it’s because SOMArts group shows include a diversity of artists, each of whom draws their own community of friends and family. Even those openings that have been overwhelmingly Black or LGBTQ draw on a richly diverse array of identities within those respective communities. There’s something about these events that feels so Bay Area. As much as I whine about missing my beloved Northeast, the art community in the Bay always reminds me of why, since coming to Oakland in 1999, I’ve decided to stay put.
I met Karl Reeves, the man in this drawing, at the opening of my June 2015 show at SoleSpace. He was kind enough to invite me to his pop-up art and retail space, to record a short film on my work. Many thanks to him and to the Veudo Child Crew for the opportunity to share my work in this way. A relatively recent emigre from the midwest, Karl is an artist himself, as well as the creator of the Art is for Lovers gallery in Bronzeville, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A true force for positive change in the Milwaukee art scene, we are fortunate that he has chosen to make the SF Bay Area his home.