You have a unique perspective as a Moore faculty member, as somebody who is new and visiting. What are your initial impressions of Moore?
Moore is trying to really think about Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA), and making this a more inclusive culture and community. I hate to say it, but looking at other institutions, Moore is the only one, from my perspective, that is trying to do that—taking the lead on getting more BIPOC students. This population has the most women, nonbinary and/or Black students that I've ever seen at a school. I see how DEIA is getting incorporated into the classroom, which is good, because I've been at institutions where you have one DEIA class, and it's like, same old, same old.
One thing that touched me at Moore is when this student came up to me and said, “Are you teaching here?” And I said, yeah, and her face lit up. And then other Black students started to come up to me and say, “I want to take your class.” So they're really excited to see another Black professor here that's in their field that they can relate to. I only had one Black teacher in an art class. That's all I had. So I know how that feels: ‘I want to learn what this guy knows. And maybe he could relate to me.’
This semester, I’m teaching two Color Foundation courses and a Life Drawing class. My first-year Color students are really feisty and funny, and then in my Life Drawing class, they're focused, quiet and reserved. The sophomores in the Life Drawing class really have an idea of what they want to do. That keeps me focused on trying to design ways to enhance their drawing skills, to help make that happen. The Color students are a little bit anxious, so I made a curriculum where it's fun to mix colors. I brought in my wife, who wore this colorful dress, and I had them mix colors to match the dress. I made it like a game show; I said, ‘okay, we have two teams, and you each have three minutes to mix this color.’
I just got approval to take my Color students to see The Woman King, so that they can be inspired to create their own textile and design. The way the movie depicts Black skin and the colors of the costumes are so inspiring. In my Life Drawing class, one day I said, “Okay, you’ve been drawing the model. Let’s take a break. Design your own Dungeons & Dragons character. It has to be you, and with your favorite Pokémon.” I got booed and yelled at in class because I said my favorite Pokémon was Charmander. They all said, “Booooo, that's so basic.” [laughter]
In general, the whole culture, from the faculty to the students, is really tight knit, which is what you need. Everyone respects each other and for me, that’s a culture shock. The College is also a well-oiled machine. I wasn’t just thrown into the classroom; I'm offered a lot of support, and that makes me feel like I'm part of the family.
Illustration students at Moore are a very diverse group. Are the creative fields becoming more diverse and inclusive, and if so, is that opening up new opportunities?
I am seeing a lot of different networks like HBO, Showtime, really putting a stamp on Black voices. A lot of different stories are being told and they're bringing in diversity, like with Disney’s The Little Mermaid. Some people hate it—I don’t know why a mermaid, a fictional character, cannot be anyone—but culture is starting to change.
HBO has a show, Milestone Generations, about a group of black artists that worked for DC Comics. They branched off in the ’90s—and DC supported them, actually—to start their own company, Milestone Media, and to create a diverse group of superheroes. They were doing well, and then all of a sudden the popularity faded and DC wanted to go a different route. They lost their voice. I remember picking up a comic about a Black superhero that was fighting with Superman; he had similar powers and was from another planet. It was great! So what happened to him? Right? There’s another documentary on HBO, called Black Art: In the Absence of Light, which focuses on David Driskell, the curator and artist. It does a good job of showcasing today's Black contemporary artists as well as work from the Harlem Renaissance—things I was never taught in school.
Trickling down to the classroom, I see a lot of young Black artists who want make the new Pokémon or make their own type of monster, and all that stuff inspires me. I definitely see, especially on the East Coast, a lot more artists of color embracing their nerdiness and wanting to create a Black story. After George Floyd, I've seen a push for joy in the Black arts. Often Black people are expected to share stories of pain, not fantastical things. People tend to want that sad story. But now we're at a point where we can show that we have a lot more to give than breaking the chains and overcoming obstacles. We’re a culture of creativity, just like everybody else. Black superheroes, soul music, sports, you name it; we can do it all.
Based on what you've seen so far, do you feel that Moore leading the way in preparing students to take advantage of these new opportunities? What do you hope to pass along to your students, to help them succeed in the future?
Walking in the Dining Hall, I stop and look at students’ work, and I love what they're creating. I saw a drawing of a little young black girl with Afro puffs, punching a monster. To me, that shows a sense of freedom—they have their own style and tell their own story.
I don't think other institutions are preparing students for the future. And I don't think that they have the capacity or willingness to change the way they critique students’ work. I also don’t think they prepare students enough for the business life. And that's something that students really need to prepare for: how to run your business, how to stay on task, how to create an invoice, how to basically run your art life. I hate that stigma about artists—that they’re broke or don't have a job, “starving artists.” Some parents believe that art is a waste of time, and they want their kids to get into the medical field instead. But don’t forget: it was artists who worked with scientists to create that artificial heart valve. To figure out how it fits, you need to have that design background.
I hope to share a lot of my own triumphs and mistakes with my students, as well as my business background and the things I went through. I went to San Francisco Art Institute late. I got a scholarship when I was 20 but I didn't go because I couldn't afford the school and I didn't have any student loans or any credit. My parents always worked but money in the house was tight, so they didn't have the means. So I worked from 22 to 35, and then I started going to school. Looking at the younger students, they are more anxious and hard on themselves. Whereas people my age, we're like, ‘oh, this is life. We've been knocked down a little bit, we pay bills, we’ve experienced life.’ For students that have just left the house for the first time, they have a lot of pressure on them. I want them to remember: don't get burnt out, have fun, take a break. You don't have to just work all the time. Take a walk, enjoy life, but then know that you're doing art for a reason. Think about your story, what you have to share. Art is supposed to be fun. It's hard work. But it's still fun. So, don't be too hard on yourself. Keep it simple, work hard, and things will happen.