Malik Roberts Talks 'Blk & Blue', a New Exhibit Opening at ABXY
Malik Roberts, known for his politically-charged works such as “Porky the Pig”—focused on the continuous harassment of people of color by police officials—along with his previous exhibition, “Stolen”, in which he illustrated the contemporary appropriation of black culture, continues to explore current social issues by shedding light on mental health in communities of color. Opening tonight, in the LES contemporary gallery ABXY, artist and music lover Malik Roberts will showcase Blk & Blue–a series of paintings, music, and interactive media. Blk & Blue is inspired by Pablo Picasso’s monochromatic color scheme, mental state, and middle-class depictions known as his Blue Period. Roberts uses shades of blacks, blues, and grays to create somber paintings that reflect the deeply rooted yet ignored mental health issues caused by centuries of oppression and systematically embedded racism.
ABXY, founded by Allison Barker and exhibitionist Malik Roberts, intertwines music as well as augmented reality to Blk & Blue. Each painting has its own emotional score created by producer 1DA that will play through the duration of the show, and audience members will have the option to download the playlist to listen privately. An iPad will be provided for spectators to place in front of Roberts’ paintings to reveal the subjects’ inner truths suffering from PTSD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder based on their environment.
Blk & Blue is opening at ABXY from 6-8 pm tonight. Before you drop by the exhibit, check out our interview with Malik Roberts to hear what you can expect tonight from the artist himself.
Your work is heavily influenced by hip hop culture. Will you tell us a bit about your relationship with music and art?
My family is a very musical family. While growing up all we did was listen to music over the weekend. Everyone had their own playlist so you could tell when my dad was running the music, when my dad was running the music, my older brother he was a real hip-hop head and he would buy every album out. He taught me about actually listening to the lyrics within the music so I could hear the narrative the artist wanted to get across. I started getting into music and art in high school during the Kanye West days when Kashi Kurakami worked on the Graduation’s album artwork. I started learning more about artists because he was dropping names like David LaChapelle, Andy Warhol, and other artists I knew of at the time. This was the birth of my relationship with art and music.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
Picasso, George Condo, Francis Bacon. My earlier work was more reminiscent of Warhol because like I said that was one of the only artists I knew so that’s why you’d see more of pop culture, celebrities, and icons in the work. Condo was a huge influence because he created portraits and I started off as a portrait artist who primarily painted celebrities. When I saw Condo create a different world by using the same base as one would use for a portrait but multidimensional–that’s where my main influence came from.
Your first exhibition was sponsored by Tumblr featuring Gucci Mane paintings you created?
Yes, this exhibition was organized by Electric Circus. I painted a picture of Gucci Mane and the founder of Electric Circus hit me up saying there was one more spot open for the tumblr x Gucci Mane event. I sent over some work that was accepted but Gucci Mane is a huge influence because I grew up in Atlanta.
Is that where you’re from?
No, I grew up in Brooklyn but I went to elementary school and high school in Atlanta.
I love Gucci to death when I got the opportunity it was great because at the time I was mainly painting celebrities and pop culture references but that was my first major show, that’s when I started getting publicity.
Was art something you fell into?
No, I was always an artist and I was never anything else. In school, I was always able to draw. In elementary school, I’d draw Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon for peers to high school drawing on T-shirts. Art was always a passion I had but I never saw it getting to this point after I graduated this was the only route to take because I dropped out of college after studying IT. I thought “I’m not gunna fucking be an IT person.”
So I dropped out and started pursuing art on a technical level. I started studying and practicing to get the skills to become as good as I can be.
What music do you listen to while creating?
It ranges. I usually will involve the artwork I’m creating. Since these pieces are shades of black, blue, and deal with mental health issues I’ve been listening to a lit of Nina Simone and Otis Redding.
Your upcoming exhibition Blk and Blue at ABXY highlight’s mental health in communities of color. What inspired you to bring awareness to this subject?
Seeing how its affected people in our community, family members dealing with mental health, and now that the topic has become more of a topic of an open conversation that people want to have so I converted my art to what has been pop culture to more of an overarching content of mental health. I want to shed light on some of the aspects not the effects but more of the cause of where these issues may have come from. While researching I found that mental health issues are more environmental like the situations you face while growing up, the food you eat, the things you ingest mentally and physically. In our communities, we have food deserts and we have our fathers being ripped away so in some cases there isn’t a stable home environment. When we talk to each other we find that a lot of us don’t have a therapist while other ethnicities have been going to therapy since they were young. I’m not a writer, I don’t create music, so this is my way to express my voice about mental health within my community.
I read your exhibition will have an augmented reality feature that will allow spectators to observe the unseen, will your paintings have further interpretations?
Yes, there is an app on the gallery’s iPad that the audience will be able to download to see the augmented parts of the paintings. A friend of mine from Atlanta 1DA scored the show each piece has music that will be playing continuously throughout the duration of the exhibition. We will also have a playlist available for the audience to listen privately on their headphones. Downstairs, there will be a Real World style confession room where we will pull people in and encourage openness about their mental health experiences.
Images courtesy of Yasmina Safi & Eric Bardin
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