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Joseph Cuillier

“If you don’t see it in the world, see that as an opportunity.” Wise words from this week’s guest, the one and only Joseph Cuillier. Joseph is perhaps most well known for The Black School, an experimental art school teaching Black/PoC students and allies to become agents of change through art workshops on radical Black politics and public interventions that address local community needs.

I spoke to Joseph fresh from his move back to New Orleans, and he spoke on how the city feels now in the midst of gentrification and other new developments. We also spoke on his work with The Black School and the school’s principles, the unique studio model that helps fund the school, and how he works to center Black love in such a unique learning space. Joseph is truly building upon a family legacy to help educate the next generation and beyond!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, tell us who you are and what you do.

Joseph Cuillier:
My name is Joseph Cuillier and I’m an artist, a designer, and the founder and co-director of The Black School.

Maurice Cherry:
How are you holding up these days?

Joseph Cuillier:
Good. I am good. I just recently moved from New York City. I lived in Harlem for about five years, and Brooklyn before that for about five years. I just moved to new Orleans after 10 years in New York, and I think I’m much better because of it for a lot of reasons. There’s been a pandemic and people have been trapped in small apartments, in cold climates, and it’s good to get away from that. It’s good to be closer to family, I see my family a lot even though I lived in a different part of the country from them. I would come home holidays and summers, and that was difficult not being able to see my family. Being closer makes it so much easier. And trees and sunshine man, that’s a long way. That’s long way, and good food, and good people, and good music. Everything that makes New Orleans great is healing me at the moment, at this traumatic moment for all of us.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I want to go to new Orleans so bad.

Joseph Cuillier:
Come through and let me know.

Maurice Cherry:
I will as soon as all this pandemic mess is over, and I feel comfortable jumping on a plane I want to go to New Orleans.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. Hopefully sooner than later.

Maurice Cherry:
I know you’ve been away for 10 years, but does the city feel different to you now?

Joseph Cuillier:
It is very different. To be clear, I moved to New York from Houston. I was living in Houston at the time, but both sides of my family are from new Orleans so I would always be here. Holidays, summers, things like that or whenever, a birthday party, it’s family reunion, just to come down and see family. I think new Orleans is going through a lot of the things a lot of black cities and black communities around the country are going through. There’s gentrification, there’s new things happening in this city for better or worse. And I think a lot of people feel frustrated because they’re not being included in the decision-making of the new thing.

Joseph Cuillier:
Or the new thing is coming and that means you have to leave which is messed up. There’s a lot of displacement in New Orleans, and in a way it’s a little bit more kind of celebrated due to the aftermath of Katrina, and the displacement that man-made disaster created. It is very different but in a lot of ways it’s still the same. There the blackness, there’s deep love, there’s deep creativity that is just baked into the city that I don’t think gentrification is strong enough to ever change that. Natural disaster or anything I don’t think is strong enough to change that.

Maurice Cherry:
How has it been kind of working and moving through this pandemic? Was that a loaded question?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s a layered question. A layered question. What does that mean to me as a husband and a father? What does that mean to me as a designer or an artist? What does that mean to me as a person that creates platforms? A person that brings people together to exchange knowledge? First it’s been difficult but not insurmountable. Our family, we found ways to make the best of it. We found ways to still have romance between me and my wife. We have our indoor dates or our out in the park dates. We found ways to meet with folks, meet up at the park, chill on the porch, chill at the patio, things like that. And as a kind of artists and designer it’s been a shift. For me it’s been less about making work and showing work and more about purpose, more about spirituality, more about laying foundations.

Joseph Cuillier:
And before the pandemic we were rolling, I talk in the we because I don’t do this work alone. My wife is my partner in life and in our endeavors, our ventures in the world. Shani Peters, she’s an artist very much in her own right doing really big things. And also just the work I do is very collective, I bring people together to work on issues and problems much larger than one person could address or transform. This slow down gave us the opportunity to refocus and think about the long-term vision for the work. The Black School was in New York, it was functioning as this kind of school that was mobile in architecture, so we would attach ourselves to host other schools, would be high schools, middle schools, youth organizations, art institutions, and we would do programming and collaboration.

Joseph Cuillier:
And now we couldn’t really do that, we couldn’t get people together. I mean we shifted some stuff to Zoom, but it’s only so much that could shift and keep going the way the world was turning. We shifted to thinking about where we wanted to take the organization. After all these years of programmatic success doing the art school, doing The Black Love Fest, doing the design apprenticeship, we felt like we really needed a space of our own. That meant sharing that idea with the people and be like, “What do you think? Is this something you would support?” The response we got was overwhelming yes. Folks came out of the woodwork, we ended up raising 300K to build the community center in my hometown of New Orleans. We’ve raised money for staffing the school, we’ve made all these connections of people who want to support in any way they can.

Joseph Cuillier:
Long answer, the shift, the slowing down, the re-jiggering we had to do to work in this moment meant that we had to do some deep thinking, and some deep listening, and have some deep conversations to really think about, “We’re standing still, how do we see the future? How do we want to see the future?” Because we have a moment now to really think about the future. And for us that meant moving to New Orleans and trying to build a school, trying to build a radical black art school in the Seventh Ward.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s jump more into The Black School, because I’ve been hearing about it for years now from different folks who I’ve had on the show. I was a mentor at… Well, I guess you could call it the mentor. I don’t know. I think they called it mentorship at NEW INC in New York City. I don’t know if that’s where I first heard about it, but I definitely heard about it during my time kind of mentoring and helping advise folks there. I really want to learn more about in essence what this radical black art school is all about. For those who are listening who may not know, can you just talk a little bit about the school and its mission? And we can sort of dive in from there.

Joseph Cuillier:
The Black School is an experimental art school that teaches young folks and old folks black history, design, activism. And the idea is radicalizing our people to envision a future where we’re not just tolerated, but a future that we create, that we build with our own hands so it’s a radical black art school.

Maurice Cherry:
And now there’s a lot of different principles that the school follows, among them self-love, prison abolition, environmental justice, LGBTQIA rights. How are these principles reflected to students?

Joseph Cuillier:
Well, the principles were developed by students. The first workshop we did was we did this community engaged research. This high school in Brooklyn, we went around the surrounding area and within the school. And we asked folks what you love about your community? What you want to change about your community? And what The Black School should teach? And based off of that feedback we got from folks we did this principle, this platform creating exercise, where we just went through the things, the issues, the ideas that folks are raising. And then we distilled them down into these overarching principles. And we’ve continued to add as we go, especially looking back to ancestors, the history, the things that were laid down for us before we even got here. And we took those kind of principles and built this larger kind of I guess rubric to learn from.

Joseph Cuillier:
And that includes self-love, it includes black love more specifically, and includes all the guiding principles of many different black radical organizations. We took inspiration from all these different ways black radicalism has popped up through feminist initiatives, queer initiatives, art movements. And that’s kind of how we came up with the principles, and we share those back in our card deck, we share them back in our website, we share them back in the topics that we explore in the school. Maybe a workshop will be based on this one principle or these two principles. We are making sure our young people know what we stand for, know something that possibly they can stand for, and are aware of a political language to describe the experiences that are happening in the world.

Joseph Cuillier:
They may see white folks from out of town moving into their grandmother neighborhood, they may see the cost of living in their neighborhood going up, they may see the bodega start to sell different things, but they may not know what gentrification is. And they may not know the history or the tactics that folks have used in the past to fight those issues. It’s our idea that we create learning tools, and learning opportunities to share that back with folks so they can know what to do, so they can know that they don’t have to recreate the wheel every time they see a problem. They can just build on what’s already beneath them.

Maurice Cherry:
And now the interesting part about the school is that it also contains a design studio, is that right?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. The Black School studio is full service design firm. We do client work. I’m traditionally trained as a graphic designer. It was a matter of seeing the teaching that I’m doing. Since I graduated that’s not just something I do on the side, but at the center of my practice. And the studio allows me to do that to the greater extent. We do client services, we have experienced upper level designers, but we also have apprentice. And the design apprentice are young folks, high school age who have no experience in graphic design. We teach them the basics, the fundamentals of graphic design, typography, image making, grids, all of those fundamental things. And then we teach them Photoshop, Illustrator InDesign. And then once they know just those basics, then we put them on actual client projects so that they’re learning on the job from seasoned designers.

Joseph Cuillier:
And we’re collectively creating too, because I mean what company doesn’t buy and sale, or trade on black cool? What company doesn’t use black youth culture to move their message forward or sell their products? It’s our idea that instead of having all these people coming into our community take the things we create and sell them back to us, how about we talk to our community? How about we communicate with each other in the ways we know how? And how about we harness the power and energy of black youth culture, a culture that has made it all around the globe and back? And right now black youth culture is the culture, so how about we harness that power? And that’s the idea, that’s the vision behind the design school being rooted in a school… I mean, that’s the vision behind the design firm being rooted in a black school.

Maurice Cherry:
And how do the studio and the school work together? Does the studio help fund the school or what are some ways that they work together?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s the vision. When you’re doing this type of work it becomes very easy to become very reliant on grants, donations. And that may be fine but what happens when funding trends change? Right now black people and black liberation is kind of a hot topic but 10 years ago it wasn’t, we were in a post-racial society. What if we go back to a post racial society quote unquote, and these foundations start funding other causes, other issues more aggressively. I mean is what we’re doing really self-determined? If that’s the case, in my opinion the answer is no. Not to say the money we get from foundations isn’t cool, that’s our money, that’s the money, the wealth our great grandparents have generated for this country. But being realistic we need our own.

Joseph Cuillier:
I believe in black nationalism. I think we need our own everything, but we definitely need our own sources of revenue if we’re going to run a sustainable organization. The idea from the design firm is the design firm can generate income, earn income and fund the school. Now it’s two years old so we’re not there yet. We’re still kind of trying to figure out how it works, how it functions but that’s the idea. But the school and the design firm they’re kind of tied together. And we have students from the art school that come through the design firm. Students that show a little bit more interest, students that maybe want to learn more about graphic design specifically, students that may need opportunity to make some money, need a job, or a seasonal job or something.

Joseph Cuillier:
This is our way of generating income for our community. Because it would be irresponsible to go to black youth and be like, “There’s economic future for you in art.” Because honestly I’m a professional artist, my wife’s a professional artist, and it’s hard to make money out of art. It’s hard for us. We do all these other things and generate income in all these other ways, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable setting some young people that come from disadvantaged backgrounds, that are economically oppressed. I would be irresponsible to tell them, “You know what, you can make a living in art.” I mean you can, but I need to give you the tools, I need to give you the map, and the pathways that I found to make a living in art. And design is one of those pathways.

Maurice Cherry:
Right. I mean, that makes sense, you want to definitely… Especially with kids at that age, they see a lot more than I think we think they do in terms of picking up on patterns and behaviors and stuff like that. And it is one thing to say, “We’re the black school and we want to do these things.” But then also… Or even as you’re saying, making money as an artist but then having to do these other things. You don’t want to lie to them essentially.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. I don’t want to send them out in the world unprepared like what we call real art schools do. Sending their students out in the world without necessarily the tools to do the most basic of things, sustain their lives. It wouldn’t be a radically black art school, it would be just an art school if we did that. We do pay our students. It’s a very different way of looking at schools. We pay our students to learn because we believe our students need it. If you’re not flipping burgers or stacking grocery sales, how are you going to generate income for yourself, for your household, if we’re asking you to come spend this time with us learn about black politics, learn about home design, learn about the nexus, where they meet. We have to be realistic about what the needs are of our young people while they are in our care.

Maurice Cherry:
And then this might… I don’t know, this might be a silly question. I think basing some of this off of my personal experience, but as you’ve been doing this have you been getting a lot of black community support financially?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. We did a crowdfunding campaign to go fund me. I mean, everybody supported, black, white, Asian, Latinx. Everybody supported, saw the vision, but a lot of our support was from black folks. Monetarily, just connections we made. The black folks at Adobe reached out, folks that work there. We found ourselves in very different places, and we find ourselves with a lot of resources that the story being told about us is like we all come from a lack. But there is a lot of resources in our community. [inaudible 00:25:25] showed up with those resources, made what we do even possible. If it wasn’t for the black community there would be no Black School.

Maurice Cherry:
Now, as we’re recording this, and it’s interesting because we were supposed to do this a while back. And I know you were moving and everything, had a bunch of stuff kind of going on. But I had written back then… And just so people who are listening, this was… When was this? About the fall last year I think we were supposed to record initially?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I wrote down about how several major cities in the US have been protesting against the death of black people at the hands of police. Fast forward to now, same thing. And then you of course have all these companies that are committing themselves to at least saying black lives matter. Although it’s now been shortened out to BLM and I feel some kind of way about that, how quickly people just sort of roll it off the tongue. How are you talking about these things at the school?

Joseph Cuillier:
That’s funny that you say it because there is this linguistic activism, insane black lives matter. I never thought about that, shortening it to BLM defeats the point. But you’re right, you got something there. But I’m sorry I was distracted by what you just put on me there genuinely. Say again the end of your question.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. How are you talking about what’s happening now? I guess I could say two black people, but there’s a lot of shit happening to black people right now. But I’m speaking specifically about people protesting against the death of black people at the hands of police, companies that are now kind of coming on and giving their support and saying that they support black lives even if it’s just for show. How are you talking about these sort of metacultural thing at the school?

Joseph Cuillier:
How are we talking about it? It’s hard for me to say specifically to this moment, but generally it’s been a while now that the light bulb came on for me. And I realized that history is a cycle, and you say from fall to now we’re in spring, this cycle has turned over once more. And our folks are in the street, and companies are pandering pretty much to the movement the same way it happened this past summer. This happened when I graduated from Pratt around the same time while I was at school. I was in graduate school for design and Trayvon happened and it was there… It wasn’t there that happened. Everything that’s happening now has happened to a lesser extent. It’s more intense now but it was happening. Then Eric Garner happened a couple of years later.

Joseph Cuillier:
Well, I’m referencing George Zimmerman getting off, because that was a moment for me because I didn’t see him getting off. If I’d only looked at history, of course he was getting off. There was no way he was going to jail if I looked at history. But we get into these moments where we just forget about history, everything’s out of the window, we live in a new world. But history tells us this cycle of black people being brutalized comes to a boiling point and black folks said, “No more.” And white folks say, “Let’s figure this out, let’s make this right.” Then time passes, white folks stop caring, black folks continue to be brutalized, boom cycle continues. That’s why The Black School exists, to be 365 know.

Joseph Cuillier:
Every day of the year to yell that we need our own. How many times are white folks going to have to tell us no before we realize the answer is no. You want your freedom, you want your justice, you want economic opportunities, the answer has always been no. We ask they say no, we ask they say no, we ask they say no. And the cycle happens where the no’s are replaced to, “Maybe.” The no’s are replaced with, “Okay. Give us some time.” The no’s are replaced to, “Later.” But always behind all of that facade it’s always no. This moment still weighs heavy on my shoulders, it’s not like it doesn’t affect me anymore. But I know that this is just a cycle, I know they’re not going to stop killing us.

Joseph Cuillier:
I just know it and it’s not because I’m a psychic, history tells me. 400 years in this country tell me, if I opened up the books they wrote it’s going to tell me. I just got to take that note and say, “I’m going to build with my people. And my vision and what I would love to see in the world is a black nation for Black Americans.” Of course there’s a lot of black nations in this world, but a nation for Black Americans, that’s my goal. And if that’s not the answer, cool, but that’s the direction I’m walking in. We need all of it, it needs to be ours. What that looks like I don’t know, but we need our own.

Maurice Cherry:
What does it look like to center black love in a learning space?

Joseph Cuillier:
I think it looks like we all have seen it in our own experience. Maybe it’s learning from your mother over the kitchen table, or maybe it’s learning from a grandfather out in the garage and the driveway. There’s all these ways we learn in our community that are rooting in love, and rooting in care, and rotting in blackness. I think we can look to that, go back to history, we look at our personal histories and what kind of learning spaces felt loving, and felt effective? What kind of learning spaces worked for me? You’ll probably think of your living room, you’ll probably think of your kitchen, you’ll probably think of your backyard. That’s where we’re taking inspiration for the architecture of the school. Whether that be bricks or just how we’re structuring the curriculum, how we’re exchanging when we’re in this space, how we’re talking to each other, how we’re laying out the desks.

Joseph Cuillier:
We don’t even have desks, because when I think about the ways I like to learn it wasn’t in the desks. It was maybe over a work table, maybe it was an artist studio and it was over a work table, maybe it was in a circle on the floor. It’s all these other ways that are not being showed or even explored in the conventional school. One way is asking folks what they want to learn, not walking into a space with any assumptions. Before we start a workshop we ask our students what you love about your community? What you want to change about your community? And we may show up with screen printing supplies, or collage materials, we may show up with part of the workshop. But the rest of it, what we’re making, why we’re making it, who we’re making it for, that comes from the students.

Joseph Cuillier:
We are sharing the skills we have and the resources we’ve been able to generate and acquire, but it is an exchange. They are sharing their experiences, they’re sharing their needs, they’re sharing their passions, and that’s the learning community. It goes both ways, it’s not a teacher at the front, students lined up at the back. They are empty vessels, I have the knowledge, I put the knowledge into the empty vessels, they go out into the world [inaudible 00:34:30] repeat. It’s not like that. It’s really about you know about this very specific thing in the world, I know about this other very specific thing in the world, let’s put it together and what could we build?

Maurice Cherry:
Now there’s a third part to The Black School. I know we talked about the actual school itself, we’ve also talked about the studio. There’s this sort of third component to the ecosystem which is events. How have you been able to keep that going even with this sort of pandemic that’s keeping people apart?

Joseph Cuillier:
We haven’t kept it going. We have done workshops which is events, but specifically Black Love Fest, our music festival we do, we just paused it. Right now it’s going on the second year. We do it every summer, so last summer we didn’t do, this summer we’re not doing it. When it comes back it will be in collaboration with the New Orleans African American museum so it will be in New Orleans. The past three years it was in New York city two years, and then Houston at Project Row Houses.

Joseph Cuillier:
If you’re into the black school and the work we do check out Project Row Houses if you haven’t already, because they are the precedence that we’re working off. They’re the antecedent, they are the ancestors when we’re talking about ancestors that have done it, are still doing it. We essentially paused it, which was needed, we were tired anyway before the pandemic even came. And there’s no sense in getting people together and potentially hurting the people that the whole intention of the festival is to care for our people. It would just be a contradiction. And honestly I’m Zoomed out. I’m Zoned out.

Maurice Cherry:
I hear you.

Joseph Cuillier:
No more Zoom so we’re not doing a Zoom festival. I don’t think the intention behind the festival would even translate to Zoom. The intention is a barbecue, a cookout with some guiding principles behind it that we’ve talked about already. We can’t recreate everything in the digital space, we can’t create the real barbecue that we’re trying to create in a virtual space. It just makes sense to pause it, again do some deep listening, some deep thinking, some deep compensation. And then bring it back when we’re ready, when the world is ready for it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, when we started doing… Or we were going to do a live tour in 2020 with Revision Path. I had been talking to a couple of AIGA chapters, and we had started the tour. I started in February in LA, did a show out there in Leimert Park with a local architect. It was great, standing room only. And when we’ve done past events… And I get what you’re saying, it’s the actual space itself that becomes this crucible for fellowship that you just can’t recreate over a Zoom call. Even when we’ve done events in New York, we’ve done events here in Atlanta. And for me the best thing about the event is when it ends, and people are still staying around talking for an hour, hour and a half, the venue-

Joseph Cuillier:
Stacking up their plate metaphorically.

Maurice Cherry:
… Right. The venue’s kicked us out, we’re standing outside and folks are like, “Well, let’s go to a bar and keep talking, or let’s go to a restaurant or something.” That kind of fellowship you just can’t do the same thing over Zoom. When the lockdown sort of first started happening and the chapters were getting back to me like, “Oh, well we can do a Zoom call and we can do this.” I was like, “I don’t want to do that. I’m already Zooming enough for work and I don’t want to have to try to do the same thing over Zoom.” One, because it’s just not the same. What I think the audience gets out of it aside from listening to the people, is to actually meet up with other black creatives in their city that they may not even know about. The fact that the event exists means that people are coming to it, and without that actual physical event then it’s just not the same.

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah. There’s a lot of things the internet can do, what you’re describing ain’t one of them. We haven’t figured that out yet with the internet. I think the intention is to love up on each other, the vision is to create this movement that will get us to where we need to go. When we’re doing the festival in Project Row Houses, Fox News actually came by. The local Fox chapter not the Fox News, but the local Fox station came by. And they asked me, “What is this about? What are you doing?” And I was like, “This is a movement. The purpose of this is to start a movement for black love, and to center black love at the center of what this country is.” Don’t we deserve it? Don’t we deserve to not just be tolerated, but to be loved after all we’ve done to literally build this country, to expand the freedoms and the rights of this country, to fight for them, die for them.

Joseph Cuillier:
I mean I was a little more and more crass. I was like, “The intention is for America to pay reparation, and dissolve, and reconstitute under black love.” I told Fox News that, they did not air it but that’s at the heart of what we’re trying to do. And we’re using the vessel that is the cookout, that is the street art, the public art, that’s some part of our culture, that is the performative nature. You dress up, we sing, we dance, we do all of these things that is just natural to our way of being, our blackness. And I think that it’s worth the wait, if it takes two years for the pandemic to subside it’s worth the wait. So we’re just going to wait.

Maurice Cherry:
Now kind of switching gears here a bit from the school which we’ve talked about for a good while now. You mentioned being in NYC, but you’re originally kind of between Louisiana and Texas. You kind of mentioned you kind of went back and forth a bit. Being in that sort of part of the South, I’m pretty sure art, music, and design were kind of a big part of your growing up, right?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it didn’t look like graphic design or fine art, but it’s definitely been with me since day one. The story I tell growing up in Baton Rouge, where I went to elementary and middle school. And my family we would go to Southern University football games, and it’s a HBCU so we had tailgate. All day before the actual game in the evening, we would barbecue or have a seafood boil. And this was every weekend which is crazy. The amount of food that we would buy, cook, eat with people, it’s crazy that we did this every weekend. I’m realizing that as I’m been growing up, and I am doing seafood boils now, I’m hosting them or I’m hosting a barbecue. But the funny moment that I always remember is maybe the week before the season started, my mom came home with a handful of clothes like the Polo’s and the Tommy’s. The things we were wearing at the time. And the other brands like the Sean John, and all that, and the FUBU.

Joseph Cuillier:
And it was such a moment of joy. I can see now that I was being brought up and cultivated into fashion design. I was being made a connoisseur of design. That may have been the intention consciously, or maybe an intention subconsciously, to have just a big stack of fresh clothes just thrown on my bed like, “Here, now you’re set for the whole season.” And as long as I can remember I’ve loved fashion, I’ve loved clothes, and I think that kind of introduced me to design. But when it came time for me to figure out what do I want to make myself as opposed to not just being a connoisseur but a creator. And I tried fashion, I tried street art, I tried a lot of different things, but graphic design was the thing that I don’t know, just came the most natural to me. And learning about it, learning the history of it, it was fascinating to read about the Bauhaus, read about the International Style, read about the shifts that were happening in art and design in a world that was creating these new ways of thinking, and these new ways of making.

Joseph Cuillier:
And technology too, also being so [cordially 00:44:20] in term with it. And that kind of put me to graphic design to study that. But even with that, the medium, the form making was interesting to me, but I think of myself as the designer that doesn’t really care about design. I know about the Bauhaus, I’ve been to the Bauhaus, I’ve been invited to the Bauhaus but I don’t care anymore. At the time I did, but right now I’m way more interested in learning about Orishas. I’m way more interested in learning about my family history, and how that relates to New Orleans. I’m way more interested in learning about black radical politics. The work I do is me just taking those ways of making and those ways of seeing, and just imply my interest to it. And as a result I think I look a bit different than most designers. Like my career, the things that I make, the things I put out and produce with these skills, in a lot of cases may not even look like design, period.

Joseph Cuillier:
But I think that’s my approach and it comes from those early influences, those early cultivations that my family placed on me. I come from a line of educators. My grandfather Joseph Cuillier, Sr, has a school named after him in New Orleans on the West Bank. There’s reasons for me to approach art and design from the lens of a educator. And it was kind of put into me before I even realized it was there, it’s been there. Growing up in Houston, being around Project Row Houses at the time that I was discovering fine art, it kind of put in pressure in my head like, “Oh, that’s fine art.” I learned about fine art in a city that took a very different approach to art. Thanks to the folks that Project Row, and Rick Lowe, and all the artists, and collectives that came together to create their vision. To be clear, Project Row Houses is a organization that started from this artists being challenged by young people in his community.

Joseph Cuillier:
They came to the studio, the folks from a local high school, and they saw what he was painting and they were like, “We don’t need you to paint about issues happening in our community. We know the issues. Who is this for because it’s not for us. You’re a creative person, how about you do something about it? How about you use your creativity and try to apply that to the issues and see if you could get some moving and shaking.” To have that down the street while I’m in college, and I’m just starting to go to galleries, and just starting to go to art spaces, it kind of made me think, “Oh, this is fine art.” When really it’s this ghetto eyes pushed it aside version of fine art that hasn’t really been supported in the same ways like an object maker is supported in the fine art world. Someone who makes paintings and sculptures. Long story long, the way I came up and where I came up has everything to do with the type of artist, the type of designer I am and I’m grateful for it. I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. There’s been this thing that’s been going around lately around this concept of decolonizing design, where I think the notion is that you’re sort of introducing different sort of design cultures or things. It’s a person’s teaching practice or design practice in order to break them out of particular I would say just Eurocentric design sort of standpoint. Would you say that’s what you’re trying to accomplish with The Black School? Is something similar to that?

Joseph Cuillier:
Yes. And I’m just trying to decolonize not even in a metaphorical sense. I’m literally trying not to be a colony anymore. My wife was talking on this call and she was talking, and it was a group of folks from around the world. I don’t remember the country. Or I would’ve know the callers to even know the country. But it was an African sister and she was saying that decolonization has nothing to do with America. Africa we were colonized, what y’all got over there is something different. But really the opposite is true. I mean, not the opposite but we are still a colony. The colony never ended, we never decolonized. I feel like design, the tools we have to transform are tools that we can use to just de-colonize, period.

Joseph Cuillier:
I do believe decolonizing design is a part of that. We got to learn about the contributions of black folks to the design discipline. But we also have to learn about the contributions of black folks, period. We got to learn about the contributions of black folks to revolutionary thought. We’ve got to learn about the contributions of black folks to cultivating land, to building economic engine systems. And I think that will help you as a designer of course, but I think it will help us to the eventual goal is liberation, freedom, justice, these bigger ideas. Because I think design has that power. I have a deep faith in art and design, not the art world or the design world, but the actual mechanisms, methodologies, the act of creation.

Joseph Cuillier:
I think we can not only make it look sexy as far as revolution. I think we can make it look good because we have the skills to do that, but I also think we can do it if we use design in ways that are decolonized. It doesn’t have to be all about client services, that can generate revenue, that can generate income, that could generate economics in a community, but it also can be about… There’s an issue of gun violence, maybe we can design our way out of that, and it’s not going to be about typography. But there’s this certain set of perspectives and approaches that we use in design that can translate to bigger problems we see in our communities.

Maurice Cherry:
What is it that keeps you motivated and inspired these days? I mean, I feel like… And just for people that are listening to this, we’re recording this the week of April 19th, we don’t really know… Both Joseph and I don’t really know kind of what may transpire the next few days, that by the time you listened to this podcast might’ve already set some shit off. But it’s a rough time for black folks right now, which is an evergreen statement these days. But what keeps you motivated to keep going?

Joseph Cuillier:
Family for sure. Baby got to eat so got to get up and do what you got to do to make sure that happens. I just got this book and I just came back from Jackson, Mississippi. Freedom, by Edward Onaci, I think he pronounced it. And it’s inspired by another book of the same name, Dr Imar Obadele. And Obadele was a part of this black radical organization called the Republic of New Africa. And their vision was to take the southern states of the United States, so from Louisiana to Georgia and build a independent black nation. Which is one of the most creative, imaginative visions I’ve had or I’ve witnessed for black liberation. I’m super inspired by the work of those folks. At the moment that’s what I’ve been reading about. I just came back from Jackson, Mississippi, where they tried to get it going. And we obviously don’t have a black nation in the borders of the United States, but they got…

Joseph Cuillier:
Or folks inspired by that movement have bought all of these properties in West Jackson. We’re staying at this co-operative for New West Jackson that owns 67 properties in the hood. And they’re building farms, they’re building housing, they’re building economic engines in the space to employ people, to bring money to the space that has been all but abandoned. Isn’t crazy. Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, and if you drive around Jackson you come away with a clear idea that white folks in Mississippi don’t care. They do not care that it’s their capital, it’s like 90% black. And all you got to do is roll through West Jackson and you can see how much folks do not care. You would think, “Oh, this is a image of this state that we are projecting out to the world.” That does not matter, not to the white folks in Mississippi. And this cooperative has…

Joseph Cuillier:
Like you turn the corner onto a block and it’s like just walking into a oasis after walking through hundreds of miles of desert. It’s beautiful, the houses are beautiful, the land is beautiful, the people what they’re doing, and their vision for the world is beautiful. That’s one of the things that is inspiring me. I’ve really been into kind of reconnecting Afro spirituality, Afro spiritual practices like the hoodoos, and the voodoos, and Orisha based Yoruba kind of religious concepts. That’s been super inspiring to me today, I mean for the last couple of years. But right now it’s something I wake up thinking about, going to sleep thinking about, and it’s a lot of different things. My mind goes and gets pulled in a lot of different directions. Like yesterday my tufting gun arrived in the mail. You know what a tufting gun is?

Joseph Cuillier:
It’s a rug creating machine and it looks kind of like a gun, but the gun shoots yarn through a back in fabric you would use to make a rug. That’s one thing that I’ve been super inspired by. In that instance, buying that comes from my still love and interest in fashion. And it’s showing up in my practice as like I’ve been making these textile art works lately for the last few years now. I’ll create a collage, and Photoshop, print it out on fabric. And then sew it together, or make some new kind of construction out of it, some new kind of architecture out of it. That’s super inspiring to me, riding my bike is super inspiring to me, my wife and daughter. I lack no shortage of inspiration which is a good thing and a bad thing, because it distracts me from finishing one thing. Get super excited about something, then move to the next thing, then move next, but I’ll always come back.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Has there been a piece of advice that has stuck with you over the years as you’ve gone through life, as you’ve built out the school and everything?

Joseph Cuillier:
It’s hard to call anything to mind specifically. I think there’s lessons learned that may not be succinctly wrapped up in statements of advice. With certain lessons you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t, which sound depressing. But it’s taught me that you might as well just do what you want to do, because either way you’re going to end up at the same place. You might as well just say F it and be who you want to be, do what you want to do. Because I mean you could fake it, and be unhappy, and still not reach where you’re meant to reach.

Joseph Cuillier:
Or you could just live in that thing and deal with the initial discomfort of just being in your skin, and being who you are. But I think eventually you will end up where you need to be. I really believe in purpose right now more than ever, because I’ve been forced to sit down and think about that a lot. I believe what’s meant for you is meant for you, can’t nobody stop or take that. But it takes time for folks to really figure out their purpose, and it’s not just like a goal, it’s a moving target. I say figure out what that is for you, and live that unapologetically. Just go hard.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work do you want to be doing? How do you want to… I imagine of course you’ll still be wanting to build out the school, but what does 2026 look like?

Joseph Cuillier:
Whoa, I think I need to put some pen to paper about that very soon. But hopefully the school… Not hopefully. What it looks like is the school will be built, will be functioning, doing art and civic engagement initiatives with our local community. That may look like our design workshops, or apprenticeships, or a community garden where we’re feeding ourselves food from the land. Hopefully it looks like me still creating, making things. I think of myself as a person who does two sorts of things, or artist or designer who does two sorts of things. I make things, object making, and I make experiences, platforms, producing and sharing knowledge.

Joseph Cuillier:
And I see those as two different kind of sides of a coin and hopefully I have a balance. Right now it’s real tilted towards the platforms, the community building, but I would love to spread it out a little bit more evenly. Hopefully The Black School is up and running to a degree where it’s second nature. We have our rhythm, we have our stride so it allows me, frees me up to do all the things, follow all those inspiration, and passions, and pursuits that kind of make me happy, and fill me with joy and fulfillment.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you, and about your work, and everything online?

Joseph Cuillier:
On Instagram, you can follow me at Joseph Cuillier first name, last name, or at The Black School. On the interwebs you can go to my website, josephcuillier.com or theblack.school. Not .com, not .org, .school, so theblack.school.

Maurice Cherry:
All right. Sounds good. Well, Joseph Cuillier, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Really thank you for talking about the school, and really how you’ve built it out, what you’re trying to do in the community. I’m glad that we were able to spend a lot of time really diving into what it’s about, and its structure, and of course what you’re trying to do in the community. I think it’s something that is super important and I really want to see kind of where this goes from here. Thank you for coming on the show, I appreciate it.

Joseph Cuillier:
Thank you, brother. Appreciate you, appreciate what you do. You’re building this platform for folks like us to just share knowledge, share experience, share space, it’s super appreciated.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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Brevity & Wit is a strategy and design firm committed to designing a more inclusive and equitable world.

We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.

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Azarra Amoy

We’re back across the pond this week and having a good ol’ chat and a spot of tea with one of London’s most brilliant artists — Azarra Amoy. It was a good time to catch up with her since she just got a new studio!

Azarra spoke on how art is like her diary, and she walked me through some of her inspirations and talked about growing up in London and even spending time in Bangkok before transitioning into her current artistic career. Azarra’s colorful, kinetic designs are a welcome sight during these times, and may also inspire you on your creative journey!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right, so tell us who you are and what you do.

Azarra Amoy:
My name is Azarra Amoy, and I am a multifaceted RS and designer, creative thinker and a student of this crazy world we call life. Or shall I say, yeah I work as an artist, and I’m also a part-time designer. So I work with presentations for a creative agency called Empire. So I do that three to four times a week. And then the rest of the days is all for art.

Maurice Cherry:
Nice. What is the feeling in London like right now?

Azarra Amoy:
Quiet because we’re back in lockdown. So we’ve been in lockdown just before Christmas, which was a bit mental because it was literally a last minute thing. They were like, yeah, you can spend Christmas with your family. And then literally three days before they’re like, no, everyone’s on lockdown. Basically all the presents you bought, send them back.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh no.

Azarra Amoy:
You aren’t seeing your family. So I don’t know how many people actually stuck to that. But right now, I feel like a lot of people are fed up because this is our third lockdown. And it’s just like in and out, in and out. But I’ve just been trying to keep myself busy personally. And check up on friends, family, and try and find some normality in this.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you been doing just kind of overall this year so far?

Azarra Amoy:
So far this year it was quiet. I literally took time out for myself. I was like, before everything gets a bit crazy or if it does get a bit crazy, I just want time for myself because the end of 2020 was a bit nonstop crazy for me work-wise. So it’s just been nice just to just chill, let me think. Write down some goals that I want to achieve personally and professionally. And just take time, eat right, detox from all the drink and food that I ate over Christmas period and just yeah, just reboot.

Maurice Cherry:
Did you I guess … Can you talk about just some of those goals you might have for this year?

Azarra Amoy:
So one of the goals was to sort out my studio. So I moved out of my last studio just before Christmas, and I needed to find … It was a bit last minute.com. And I’ve been trying to find places, but it’s really hard because we’re on lockdown. So it’s through video calls and just trying to work out through pictures if it looks okay. But luckily yesterday I got the keys to a new studio. So I’m really excited to get in there and just fix it up and make it my second home.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice.

Azarra Amoy:
So it’s a bit hard sometimes working from home, separating from work and personal time.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, congratulations on the new studio.

Azarra Amoy:
Thank you. I’m really excited.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s one thing that I’ve been thinking about over this whole pandemic quarantine thing, is I got to get my own space. I like my apartment where I’m at. And I’ve worked out of my apartment for a long time. I’ve been doing the working remote thing since 2009. So I’m not unfamiliar with it, but the difference is that I had the option to leave the house.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
I could go and work from a coffee shop or work at a client location or travel or something like that. And granted, right now our restrictions aren’t super strict at all. I’m in Georgia, which honestly has been open since last May. There’s been … We had three weeks of lockdown in April. And then we’ve kind of been open. To that effect, our rates are super high because people have been traveling and just coming and going as you please. But as I’ve been working, I was out of work and then got a new job. And I’ve just been thinking, I really want my own space. Granted, my apartment’s nice, but I really want to have that separate workspace that’s just for creativity.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. It does make a difference. I miss having my studio space. I was like, I just need to get something.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Azarra Amoy:
But luckily I found a place that’s really nice. It has a balcony and all sorts, so I’m just really happy.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh nice. So what do your days look like now with lockdown and the new studio space and everything?

Azarra Amoy:
So I usually have a routine, I get up early, do a little meditation, work out. So I’m addicted to spin at the moment. And I login to work at 9:30, so I work three to four days a week depending on how busy they are. And yeah, I login and I usually have schedules set out for me already. So I just crack on with the work. And my team is really small, they’re really lovely. We all have game nights and stuff, and just try and make it as normal as possible. And yeah, I do that until 6:30, and then I usually eat and then spend time on personal projects, whether if that’s just me just trying to do a sketch or a digital collage, those are sort of my go-to things that I do.

Azarra Amoy:
And I do them without even noticing that I do them, if that makes sense. Some people chill and watch Netflix and stuff. But for me, doing a little sketch, a little doodle on something is my chill time. And not everything that I create, I show. So basically I always say that my art is like my diary. It’s like what I feel in the day, or something that’s on my mind because I’m not really … I feel like I’m not a great communicator with words, but I communicate well when I draw. So that’s my output.

Maurice Cherry:
I got you. What are some of the projects that you’re working on right now?

Azarra Amoy:
Art-wise or work-wise as a designer?

Maurice Cherry:
We’ll say art-wise. We’ll say art-wise.

Azarra Amoy:
So art-wise, I’m working with a publishing company. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to mention them yet, but looking to do some illustrations for a children’s book. So I had just recently done a mock-up of stuff. So I’m just waiting on feedback if they’re liking the direction that it’s going. I’m trying to do some personal paintings because fingers crossed with COVID, I will be able to have a solo exhibition, which has been on my list for forever. And last year was meant to be the year, but obviously with what happened, it was a no-go. So I’m hoping come October, that will happen. So I’m just slowly putting their stuff into motion.

Azarra Amoy:
And I’m going to be on a panel for a studio space that’s in Brixton, London. And I’ll be on the panel for their residency. So I’ll be helping select who gets a year’s residency with them. So I’ve been working with that team just discussing a few things. So that’s what I’ve been doing art-wise.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, you’ve got your hands full with a lot.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. I try to keep as busy as possible.

Maurice Cherry:
Do you usually have sort of a limit of the number of projects that you try to take on?

Azarra Amoy:
I listen to what my body tells me, if that makes sense. So if I feel like I’m really run down, then I have no problem just saying no to whatever project comes. It’s like, no, sorry, you need some you time just to just relax. So I just go off on how I feel, and that’s how I take on the work.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So these are … Just the projects you mentioned between a book cover, personal paintings, doing this panel, talk to me about how you approach a new project. It can be any type of project. What’s sort of your thought process when it comes to that?

Azarra Amoy:
I guess with a lot of projects that do come my way, they usually come to me because they know my style of artwork. So for example, I feature a lot of black … All the women I feature in my artwork are black women. Me myself, I’m a black woman. So yeah, I think it just comes from … I’ve been lucky enough to be able to navigate where the direction of the artwork goes because they know my style. So they know that’s the sort of direction, and what I’m trying to portray and uplift black women in the artwork that I do. So that sort of is usually the base. And then from there, I just then add on what the client wants, if that makes sense. And yeah, and then from there I usually do a mock-up. And then they give feedback.

Azarra Amoy:
So that’s how I’ve always really done it. So and usually I research into certain stuff. So right now, I’m really interested in the black Madonna, which is religious, the black Virgin Mary.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Azarra Amoy:
Let’s put it that way. And I’ve been looking to the history of that, which is really interesting because these countries that are really popular with the black Madonna are not exactly the most black-friendly places. So it’s really interesting how they worship this idol of this black Virgin Mary. But in day-to-day sort of experiences, they’re not like that with people of color in real life. It’s just a weird, she’s allowed to be worshiped, but if you put a black woman in front of them, they’ll do anything to put them down, if that makes sense?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Azarra Amoy:
I just go off of what surrounds me, what comes to mind, stuff that I see [inaudible 00:12:42], things that I see in movies, magazines, blogs that just trigger something, and I’ll just start researching.

Maurice Cherry:
We’ve actually got a church here in my neighborhood here in Atlanta called Shrine of the Black Madonna. It’s a church, it’s a cultural center. They do events and stuff there. So I’m familiar with the concept that you’re talking about. Do you usually try to have some religious iconography in your work, or is this just a particular … Or is it a particular figure I guess you’re kind of obsessed with right now?

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah, it’s just a particular figure that I’m obsessed with right now. So yeah, not all work features, but it just … I don’t think I have any religious features, no, in my work. So this is just something new that I’ve come across that I find really interesting, and we’ll see where it’ll take me.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Is there anyone out there that you would love to collaborate with?

Azarra Amoy:
Oh. I guess right now it would be interesting to … I have no one in mind, but there are a lot of people that I have collaborated with have been London-based. So it would be nice to collaborate with people from different countries to gain their experience, to understand their experience and how it’s similar and how we can collab. Does that make sense?

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah.

Azarra Amoy:
But I can’t think of no one from the top of my head right now.

Maurice Cherry:
From looking at your style, your style actually reminds me a lot of another mixed media artist that I had on the show. God when was that? That might’ve been about two or three years ago. This guy in … He’s in New York. His name is Kendrick Daye, D-A-Y-E.

Azarra Amoy:
Okay.

Maurice Cherry:
He does kind of this similar collage mixed media kind of work. So your art reminds me a lot of what he’s doing. You all have very sort of similar styles in terms of I think the color and the elements. I think your work at least from the work that I’ve seen, there’s a lot of play on symmetry.

Azarra Amoy:
Yes.

Maurice Cherry:
With portraiture and things. You try to have a lot of symmetry, which I think is really nice.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. I like the whole kaleidoscope kind of effect in my work. So there’s always some sort of symmetry as much as possible.

Maurice Cherry:
What would you say is the hardest part about what you do?

Azarra Amoy:
Knowing when to stop. As an art issue, always something try to over-perfect. And I speak to my cousin every day, and there’s this painting that I’ve literally been working on for about two and a half years. And I just don’t know when to stop. I’m like, no, it’s not right. It’s not right. And he’s just like, it’s never going to be right. Just show the world. The art is amazing. I’m just like, no, it’s not ready. And just know when to say, okay, that’s enough. It’s never going to be right sort of thing. And you can always add … The beautiful thing about art, you can always add to it. Just because you start and you show the world, doesn’t mean that, that’s the end of it. You can add on to it. You can take away. You can make it into something completely different.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s true. That’s true.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
So kind of switching gears here a little bit, were you born and raised in London?

Azarra Amoy:
Yes I was.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, tell me about that. Did you kind of get exposed to a lot of art and design growing up?

Azarra Amoy:
Most definitely. My parents are both creatives in their own way. So my dad paints. And well, he enjoys painting. He’s a painter and decorator by trade. And my mom just dabbled in everything I guess. I guess that’s where I get a lot of my creative talent from. So she was a hairdresser. She was that crazy mom who had the bright hair, then green hair, and then orange hair. Every time she turned up to pick me up from school, her hair was always different colors. So she was the crazy, cool art mom. And she’d done fashion, yeah just around the house little DIY projects. Whenever she was sewing, she always used to set me little tasks to do. So I’ll make a pencil case from scratch. Make little bags for myself.

Azarra Amoy:
Just stuff like that. So and I think she got that from my grandma because my grandma’s like, “You must know how to sew. It’s a key thing because you don’t have any money or you don’t have anything, at least you can sew the clothes on your back.” You can make curtains, you can make a chair, you can do whatever. As long as you can sew.” So that’s one of the skills that was drummed into me from a very young age.

Maurice Cherry:
So it sounds like being exposed to all this so young, did you have a feeling that this is what you wanted to do? Or was this just a part of your world?

Azarra Amoy:
It was just a part of my world to be honest. I didn’t even think of it as a career choice or anything like that. It was just a way of life, and it only hit me that actually this is what I really want to do as my career choice was not until I moved to Bangkok and I went there to work in doing something completely random. I was working as a governess, which is like a nanny almost for a family out there. And I was just getting really down. I was like, no, this is not being homesick, this is something else. And it just wasn’t clicking to me. And then one day I was just sitting on the sofa and I was like, I know. I know why I’m so down. I know why I’m feeling a little depressed.

Azarra Amoy:
And I was like, I haven’t picked up a pen, I haven’t drawn anything. I haven’t made anything. That’s what it is. So as soon as that popped into my head, I jumped in the bike taxis, I went to the nearest shopping center and bought up a whole load of art supplies. And it just that feeling of just being creative again, I was just like, yeah, I’m coming back home and this is what I’m doing.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Were you studying abroad? How did you end up in Bangkok being a governess? That seems like such a random kind of departure from what you were doing.

Azarra Amoy:
So my friend was actually working as a governess out there. And she’s like, oh, there’s this family that’s looking for a governess. I’m going to put your forward, do you mind. And I was like, I have no experience in this. She’s like, it doesn’t matter. Go interview and if they like you, then come over. And I was like, well, this is a bit out of my comfort zone. I was tempted to say, no. But I felt like it was one of those things that in a few years time I’ll kick myself like, why didn’t you just take the opportunity. So I went with it, and I had about three interviews with this family. And they’re like, yeah, just we’ll pay for your ticket. Apartment’s paid for, just come over.

Azarra Amoy:
And I was like, oh okay. And I stayed there for a year, and yeah, it got to the point where I was just like, this is not where I’m meant to be. But I absolutely love Bangkok. There’s a place in my heart for Bangkok.

Maurice Cherry:
You are the second person that I’ve interviewed recently that has had some tie or connection to Bangkok. That is so … Yeah I just interviewed an artist in Washington DC here named Reggie Black. And he spent four years in Bangkok as a designer and doing talks and stuff like that. You let me know because you were there, was Bangkok a really creative city?

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. There’s loads of stuff to do. It’s like the city that kind of, it doesn’t sleep. Which is not like London. London, people always think that London’s busy and stuff. But come a certain time, things just shut down. But Bangkok’s just, they have a night market. There’s just lights, there’s culture, there’s just artwork everywhere, music. It’s just a really nice atmosphere. So yeah, definitely I would love to go back to Bangkok under creative or creative reasons anyway.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Now you went to the University of the Arts in London. Can you tell me what your time was like there?

Azarra Amoy:
Oh, I was there for a while because the University of the Arts, they have different campuses.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Azarra Amoy:
So, well different colleges under the University of the Arts. So the first one I went to was the Art College in Camberwell. Camberwell Art College it’s called. And I had done a foundation art course there. So that course is just to help you build your portfolio and understand which direction you want to go in creatively. So you do a bit of fashion, a bit of graphic design, a bit of sculpture, painting, et cetera. And then from there you branch off into which field you’re more comfortable with. So that was my first college, and I actually went into graphic design. And now looking back at it, I was like, why did I do that? Because I was really interested in sculpture, but I thought, oh, how can I make money as a sculpture?

Azarra Amoy:
I’m just thinking, I think people are in your ear like, how can you make money from being a sculpture. Graphic design makes more sense. So I went down that route. And then I ended up in London College of Communication, which is where they do mostly sort of graphics, digital courses there. And I had actually done a foundation degree, which then turns into a full degree if you did the final year. So I had only done two years of that. So I have a foundation degree in graphic communication. And I was like, I actually absolutely hate this. So I was like, but I want a full degree. So I managed to sort of blag my way onto another degree course, which was something completely different, magazine publishing.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay.

Azarra Amoy:
So I spoke to the head of the course. I was like, “Yeah, I’m really interested in doing this course. I have experience.” which was not true. I was like, “Yeah.” She was like, “Oh okay.” She looked at my grades. She’s like, “Okay, you can join the course, but over the summer you have to do some coursework to make up.” And I was like, “Yeah, that’s fine.” And she’s like, “Okay.” And I made it happen thank God. And from there, I graduated in magazine publishing, which is a weird course because it’s a bit of design, a bit of PR, marketing, all of the stuff that you need to know basically of how to run a magazine.

Azarra Amoy:
So by the time I graduated, it was that weird shift between print into digital. So I was like, this course was mostly about print. And now I’m graduating and everyone’s transitioning to digital. I was like, what is going on? I was like, all the places where I had done work placements at, their print … All the prints of their magazines were being shut down the department, the print department of their team. So I was just like, everyone’s just shutting down. I don’t know anything about digital. So I think that kind of scared me and I just sort of was stuck for a while thinking, what am I going to do next? I don’t know anything about digital. Should I take a course or something?

Azarra Amoy:
And I think I was stuck in a rut for a long time. And I just continued at my job that I was doing during uni, which was working in retail. And that, that’s when … After that, that’s when I went to Bangkok, and that just opened my eyes.

Maurice Cherry:
Okay. Well, it sounds like that trip to Bangkok was what you needed, if you were at this point where you had went through all this school and you were feeling stuck.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
A change of scenery will do it.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah, because over here I saw they sort of sell you a dream. They’re like, yeah, once you leave uni you’ll be able to get a job. And that’s what I thought. I was like, yeah, as soon as I go through it, I’ll be able to get a job easy. No. Not like that at all. Everyone I speak to, they’re like, yeah, we saw the same dream. And then it hits you. Life hits you.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I know that feeling all too well. I graduated … Well, I didn’t go to design school, but I graduated with a degree in math. And I really had no career prospects lined up after school. I was still working like you. I was working the job that I was working while I was at school, which was just selling tickets at the symphony. Just selling to old white patrons that wanted to hear Chopin or whatever. Telling them where to sit and stuff.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
And it wasn’t until a few years after that, that I sort of ended up falling into design. But yeah, sometimes that’s how it is. School’s … And that’s not really I guess the fault of … I don’t want to say it’s the fault of the schools. It’s really the fault of the market.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Just because you come out with a degree, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re ready to go right into working somewhere because maybe you need a portfolio or maybe the school that you have has a different reputation that this company doesn’t go for. So I don’t know, it can be tricky. I know it’s tricky here in the States. I can imagine it’s the same way overseas as well.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah, definitely. It’s not easy. And as you said, it’s true, you can’t blame the institutions for the lack of opportunities once you leave. But I think with the course I was saying, the foundation degree course, that was meant to be heavily work experience-based. And when we joined, everyone was like, where’s this work experience? Because we were meant to have industry teachers come in every week.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh.

Azarra Amoy:
To teach us from different companies and stuff. And we literally had one the whole year. We’re like, this is not what we signed up for. And we were all meant to be allocated sort of a mentor from the industry, which they were going to provide. So there was meant to be a mentorship scheme and stuff. But yeah, it didn’t work out that way.

Maurice Cherry:
Wow.

Azarra Amoy:
But here I am. I found my feet.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So you went to Bangkok, you worked there as a governess. You didn’t like it. That sort of sparked you wanting to become a designer. And you came … Did you come right back to London after that?

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. Straight back to London.

Maurice Cherry:
So what was your plan once you got back?

Azarra Amoy:
I had saved some money whilst doing this job because I didn’t have to pay rent or anything like that. So I had saved, and I was like, okay, I’m going to give myself a year to really try and get this running. And if there’s no progress, then I’m going to have to really rethink this. So when I came back, I was just applying for sort of any artist call-outs and stuff like that. And I was just … I just began painting. And luckily I had a friend who used to do an evening called Arts Meets Music. And he was like yeah, why don’t you display some of your artwork at one of these events? And I was like, amazing, jumped on it. And then from there, that’s how I met people. And someone told me about, oh … Some of my artwork [inaudible 00:27:32] murals.

Azarra Amoy:
Because my paintings are such large scale paintings. And they’re like, why don’t you do murals? So I was like, oh, I never thought of that. I just thought street art is murals. Spray paint, I’d never touched a spray can in my life. How can I do this? Well, let me just apply for a call-out that I saw, which was local to me. And I actually had a dream that told … People think I’m crazy when I say this. I actually had a dream about it. And I was like, I woke up from this dream and I was like, yes, let me do the application now. And I actually won. And I was like, oh, this was a sign. So I had done it, I was like, okay, I’m going to literally win this because I’ve never spray painted in my life.

Azarra Amoy:
And the mural actually came out really nice. And it’s still there in Brixton until this day. And from there, people just started contacting me. “Oh yeah, do you want to do a mural here?” “Do you want to do a mural there?” And I was like, wow, I was really not expecting this. And I found a new passion for something else as well. That’s how I got into the murals.

Maurice Cherry:
And speaking of which, that’s the mural that’s … People can see that in the cover art for this episode. The one that you’re standing next to.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s quite a mural. So you worked on all of that by yourself? Or did you have a … Did you work with another artist or anything?

Azarra Amoy:
Yes. So this, the mural that you’re talking about, I worked with another artist called Lynette [inaudible 00:28:49]. And I worked with her on two other projects as well. So the person who created the project, [inaudible 00:28:57], she knew both of us. So she knew that we worked together, and she wanted two artists who had a good relationship who can work well together. And she’s more of a calligraphy artist. And I’m more of a sort of paint now, visual graphics. So both of our styles just seemed to work together. So she commissioned both of us to do the project. And yeah, and it worked out amazing. I’m really happy with the outcome.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, it’s a beautiful mural. It’s a beautiful mural.

Azarra Amoy:
Thank you.

Maurice Cherry:
And I’ll make sure that I will link so people can see the full thing because with the cover art it’s just sort of cut off in that square. As I was looking through your website and looking at your projects, one project I saw that I really liked was the work that you did with MTV. How’d you end up working with them?

Azarra Amoy:
So they contacted me last year about the award. And they’re like, it’s a really short turnaround. But we really love your style, and really think that it will suite … My art style will suite the award winners. So all the award winners for the … It was … Let me get the name off the award. Generation Change Award. All the winners are black female women or women of color, sorry. And I was like, well, I paint women of color and I paint women. So I was like, yes. All these women who have won, so it’s Raquel and Willis, [inaudible 00:30:23], Louisa Brazil, Kathea … She’s going to kill me for pronouncing her name. [inaudible 00:30:32] and [inaudible 00:30:33]. Sorry, my pronunciation of the names are terrible. And yeah, these women are amazing. They’re doing so much for our generation, for the future generation, fighting. They’re all amazing activists within their field.

Azarra Amoy:
I was just so excited just to be asked just to create something personal for them. So all of the awards … Each of their awards is hand-painted and customized to them. So it was a very special project. I was very happy to be selected and honored.

Maurice Cherry:
So these days when it comes to big, high profile projects like that, are the projects coming to you, or are you seeking them out?

Azarra Amoy:
Luckily they seem to be coming to me. I have no idea where MTV saw my stuff from because when they contacted me, they showed me some of the artwork that they liked. And I was like, this is so random. It’s literally just random artwork that I just posted on Instagram, not thinking anything of it. Just, oh, this is what I’ve been doing during lockdown. Here’s a painting sort of thing. Just didn’t think about it. And those are the ones that they selected. So it was interesting because I would’ve thought it would be something that … Like another big project that I’d done before or something like that. But no, they contacted me. I was very lucky.

Maurice Cherry:
Who are some of your influences? Like I mentioned, the work that you’re doing, this sort of collage work is very vibrant. And certainly very unique. Who influences you or what influences you I should say?

Azarra Amoy:
As I said before, a lot of the collages and painting that I do are stuff that I do daily. So they just represent my mood. It could be influenced by a song that I’ve just had on repeat all day that makes me feel good. I’m like, oh, I’m going to do a collage on that. I know it sounds typical, but literally the women that I have around me are amazing from my sister, my mom. A lot of the other artists that I work with are mostly females. So yeah, they push me and inspire me constantly.

Maurice Cherry:
At this stage in your career, you are doing these large scale projects and things of that nature, what does black art mean to you?

Azarra Amoy:
Black art for me is a place to be free. It’s a way for me to share my experiences and also hopefully uplift other black women. I think that’s important because representation especially in the art world … I don’t know about in the States, but over here the art world is very white male-based. These institutions are very white man, paint a sculpture sort of thing. And that’s even projected in the education within the art education when I was at uni and school. So for me, it’s about representation, authenticity, and just uplifting. That’s what art means to me. It’s just being free.

Maurice Cherry:
What is sort of the London design scene like for you right now? Being on lockdown, are there ways that you’re able to connect with creatives?

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. So I’m part of … What’s that group’s … I sign up to online courses. So one of the courses that I use is Black Blossoms. So it’s an online art school. And you sign up and there’s different art courses. So every week there’s a different course. And I’ve been literally killing those. I’m right now, the course that I’m on is the Art Revolution in China, which is really interesting. Just opening up my eyes to different genres of art that I just wasn’t exposed to. And having these other women in these blossom art groups, and all of us just sharing opportunities like oh, someone’s contacted me to do this, but I just don’t have time. Any of you sort of have any idea of someone or if you want to do it? And we’re just sharing contacts, sharing opportunities because everyone’s just trying to eat. Some people have been made redundant from jobs and stuff. So I think, I feel like there’s a real sense of everyone coming together and just trying to help each other out.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. That’s a good thing that you’re able to kind of use technology as a way to reach out to people and to sort of have that fellowship and that … Also the ability to kind of work together. I don’t know if you collaborated with anyone solely on a virtual level with any work?

Azarra Amoy:
I worked with a team who I had done murals with in the past. And I was actually scheduled to do a mural with them summertime last year, but it didn’t work out. So in the end, it ended up being a digital project. So from there it’s just, it was all online-based having to work from that sort of platform, I wasn’t able to research how I usually research sometimes. So especially if I’m doing artwork in a certain location or reference if it’s referencing a certain location, I usually go out with my camera, take photos. I just spend the day there, really just take in the atmosphere, but being obviously locked in the house, I’ve just had to find other ways. So YouTube, and watching old documentaries on the area, just trying to gain as much information. Trying to put out contact people via Instagram, which is a bit wild. But just people who you see off on the area and you can try and, “Hey, this is a bit weird, but I just want to get an understanding what this location means to you.” Or get as much interviews and stuff like that, which I’ve never really worked that way.

Azarra Amoy:
So definitely even after we come out of lockdown, I think I’ll be using those forms definitely to my practice.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Sounds like you picked up a new skill over the pandemic.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. Which is cool because I’m literally … I’m a person who keeps themselves to themselves. So it’s definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone having to talk to people. And even doing interviews, I don’t like my first Instagram Live at the end of last year. And I was like, I’ve never done this before. I was so nervous. And just doing radio shows as well I’ve been doing. So it’s been practice. I’m not great at interviews, but I’m getting there.

Maurice Cherry:
Practice makes perfect, let me tell you. Just the more that you’re able to do it, the more comfortable you’ll become. That’s really the best way to do it. You get more comfortable, you end up kind of being able to pull on … Particularly if you’re talking about different projects that you’ve done. You’re able to kind of pull those narratives out really easily. So if I could give any advice, I would say, take all the opportunities that come to you because each of them is just a way for you to get better at it.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. Definitely. And it’s just fighting the inner demons as well because it’s so easy to sort of self-sabotage. Be like, oh, I don’t want to do this. It’s out of my comfort zone. But you just … I just push myself all the time, and just be like, come on Azarra. Come on. Do my little speech to try and motivate myself and be like, you’re going to look back at this and think, oh, what was I panicking about? It’s so simple.

Maurice Cherry:
Because the flip side to it especially I think with doing a podcast interview is that the audience is vast and varied and diverse. There may be someone that’s out there listening that is like you. And is like, oh, well if she’s doing it, then I can do it.

Azarra Amoy:
Yeah. And I hope there is someone out there. You can do it.

Maurice Cherry:
How do you define success right now?

Azarra Amoy:
Success for me is doing what I love. Yeah. Doing what I love and getting paid for it, which is the dream. So I’m always selective as well on what I work on. If it doesn’t feel right, if it doesn’t sit right with my core, or if it doesn’t feel authentic to me and feels forced, then I try to avoid it in a sense, but not restrict myself at the same time. So for me, it’s just what brings me joy at the moment because especially in times like this, you have to be selective with your energy. Even though you’re not being around a lot of people, it’s draining. So just trying to find happiness in everything.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you think your life would have gone if you weren’t a working artist? What else do you think you would’ve been doing?

Azarra Amoy:
I can’t even imagine that life. Something creative definitely. But maybe in a different field. For ages, I wanted to be an architect. Which is completely random. And I was actually so close, I applied for it at uni and everything. And I just last minute changed my mind and done the art foundation course because I was like, I haven’t explored all that’s out there creatively. So for me to just rush into being an architect doesn’t feel right at the moment. But yeah, probably an architect or maybe something with children. I love kids, so a teacher. There’s one. I probably would’ve been a teacher.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What sort of work do you want to be doing?

Azarra Amoy:
So I would love to be working full-time as an artist, and hopefully have my own creative agency and be doing what I do full-time. Even though as much as I love being a presentation designer, I would like to have more time to do projects that I really well. Whereas, working as a presentation designer, you’re restricted by what the client wants, Gram brand guidelines and stuff like that. It’s very sort of corporate, I would say corporate design. Whereas, as a creative, if I had to … My agency, I would be able to be selective and really push the boundaries and collab more with other people. Which is definitely on my list of things to do. Just get myself out there and just learn and work with other people. That’s the big thing for me, learning new skills as well. And just bringing that all together.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. Well, just to kind of wrap things up here, where can our audience find more about you and about your work and everything online?

Azarra Amoy:
So you can check out my website, which is azarraamoy.com. And I’m also on Instagram @AzarraAmoy. And also on Twitter, which I don’t tweet that much, but just in case. It’s, ThisisAzarra. That’s my Twitter account.

Maurice Cherry:
Sounds good. Well, Azarra Amoy, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you really for kind of sharing your creative journey and showing how you can really sort of find creativity in sort of the most seemingly unlikely of places. You were a governess like you said, in Bangkok. And you decided, oh, this is what I want to do. But no, the art that you’re creating is so vibrant and beautiful. And I’m just really excited to kind of see where you go from here. Hopefully one day we will be hearing about that exhibition that you’re planning.

Azarra Amoy:
Yes, definitely.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah, so thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Azarra Amoy:
Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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We accomplish this through graphic design, presentations and workshops around I-D-E-A: inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.
If you’re curious to learn how to combine a passion for I-D-E-A with design, check us out at brevityandwit.com.
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Reggie Black

Reggie Black is a true Renaissance man. He’s combined his talents as a multimedia artist, designer, speaker, and mental health advocate into an experimental playground he calls all things progressive. Whether it’s a hand-lettered design project for a client or a public art installation, Reggie is navigating through this time and letting his passions light the way.

Reggie and I really had more of a general conversation than an interview, and we touched on a number of issues: staying productive in the midst of uncertainty, the role of the Black designer during this current time, and making space for creativity to flow. It’s a little something different for our 8th anniversary, but I think you’ll enjoy it all the same.

Thank you all for keeping Revision Path alive and thriving!

Transcript

Full Transcript

Maurice Cherry:
All right. So tell us who you are and what you do.

Reggie Black:
My name is Reggie Black. I’m a multimedia artist and designer, Principal of All Things Progressive. I work primarily in hand type, which is this very distinctive style of hand, a hand type fonts that I’ve created and worked on through repetition for years to carve out as my distinctive language. And I use that to share and articulate thought provoking messaging through all mediums, whether it’s print, installation, all sorts of medias to just really raise questions and bring about thought to the public and our questions and just really highlighting the vulnerability and transparency of everyday life.

Maurice Cherry:
How have you been doing so far this year?

Reggie Black:
This year good. Man, I think we had an interesting ride in January. It feels like every Wednesday was like a different year, with being here based in D.C. and seeing what transpired on the Capitol and then the following week, getting a new president and then the following week. So this year not bad, but in general, Maurice, all things considered, I feel like with everything going on in the world, I feel like health is a luxury. And if you have that and family and employment, you can get up every day and just be grateful for that. I’ve been trying to focus more on that than the larger questions for now, if that makes any sense.

Maurice Cherry:
No, that makes a lot of sense. As you sort of, I guess, approach this year, did you have any resolutions or goals that you wanted to accomplish?

Reggie Black:
I’ve been dancing around this question and I think it’s clearly a result of what we’ve experienced in the pandemic, just living life without really, I won’t say without really questioning things, but I’ve been thinking about what is enough and that’s not the resolution, but I think it is a gateway to patience and intention for me. And I don’t really know what resolutions they have become, but I know I’d definitely as 2020 has told us all how very temporary everything can be. And then also quite how very transparent the world can be. I’ve been really thinking about, what’s the intention behind my life and what I want to do and being very specific about the work I want to share with the world. And then also, who am I as a person? Because to be perfectly frank, I feel like during the pandemic a lot was lost, a lot of business slowed down.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t realize that a lot of my life was connected with the work. So I had to go on this path of relearning myself and being with myself and spending more time with myself because it was normally, I guess, pre-normal times it was travel, travel, travel. So you didn’t really get that much time to have a lot of introspection. Been dancing around with those few things.

Maurice Cherry:
What are your days look like now?

Reggie Black:
Still, early rising. I’m an early riser. I get that from my grandma. And for me, I’m up, there’s meditation, there’s journal writing, which is very essential to my day, gratitude writing. I bought a WaterRower last year during the pandemic, when I realized that I was probably going to stay out the gym. So I’m doing that. Still, in work every day, still working on design projects. What I am learning is that it doesn’t have to be as aggressive as I used to think it was. And so, there’s breakfast, these conversations with my wife, conversations with my son. Breakfast coffee, I’m starting to buy more coffee table books and design books just to have time and reference material around the house to browse at and look. And so I’m doing a more of that.

Reggie Black:
It’s more research, more deconstruction to reconstruct a lot of things, just tons of notebooks all around the house I’m just jotting random thoughts and really, trying to document this process to be able to look back on it and think about where my mind was during the times and in between watching comedy on Netflix and stuff like that. So yeah, just trying to stay human in it all, still working, but realizing that we don’t have to be the machines that we once thought we did in order to get things done.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I feel like this past year has been a very interesting sort of, I don’t want to call it an experiment, a tree of this, I guess, on how our relationship to work is because I think one thing it’s amazing how quickly we’ve seen the disappearance of the American office space because of the pandemic. There were so many things about being in one spot and collaborating in person. And now all of that is largely been replaced or at least supplanted by Zoom calls and Google Meet calls and just conference calls and things like that. And sort of re-examining what it means to work collaboratively, what it means to work asynchronously, what it means to work across great distances, is something that I think a lot of people have had to contend with.

Maurice Cherry:
And to your point now with us depending on where you live in the country, being in one place that now is not just your home, it’s your gym and your kids’ school and it’s date night and it’s like, all these things rolled into one. That will cause… I hope it causes people to think and re-evaluate about, what is important? But yeah, this past year has been something for real.

Reggie Black:
That’s very true. Did you have a studio that you traveled to throughout the day? Or you’re doing everything in home or… That’s a very interesting point. And I think it takes a lot of… I think screen fatigue is becoming more real than anything and this idea of what home is, is being redefined. So just curious, are you in and out of a few different spaces, separating work from home? Or…

Maurice Cherry:
Before the pandemic, sure. So I’ve been doing this remote work thing since 2009. So by the time, I hate to say it, but when the pandemic first happened, I was like, “Oh, I can do this standing on my head.” I was like, “I got this, this ain’t nothing.” But what’s different is how other people now have to acclimate and adapt to this time, which is what I didn’t necessarily consider when it all first started. I don’t have a space. I have a corner in my bedroom where I work and I’m able to mentally… Well, I’m now able to mentally separate work from home largely through… I think I mentioned this on the show before, but I have smart lights in my apartment, so I have different lighting modes that will signal to me. Okay. This is the work lighting mode where all the lights are on and I’m working, but then this is relaxation mode where the lights are dimmer.

Maurice Cherry:
And I know this is for watching TV or something like that. And so the lights will come on and off at certain times and stuff and that just lets me know like, Oh, I need to switch gears into doing something else or I need to switch to another mode.

Reggie Black:
I love that. Yeah. That’s perfect. I love that. Figure out where you got those smart lights from. I love that. That’s a beautiful way to transform the home, right. Because it has become all one thing and I love what the pandemic has done for creativity to get people to think about collaboration. And that was really spot on when you talked about the American office and what that will look like in the future, because although I do think that office is where a beautiful place for meeting and collaboration. I wonder if the office was also this cage, that suffocated people’s imagination, right? Because you can contribute to your company from home in a way that activated certain creative senses that you probably couldn’t do in the corporate headquarters because of the culture that was embedded in there.

Reggie Black:
So it’d be interesting to hear or see or study or something, what type of new results are being generated from people being at home versus going into an office every day. Is there a difference in the modality and the thinking behind problem solving at work? I would love to just see how that could transform the workplace and the office in company culture in general.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I think we’ll start seeing profiles like that certainly like within a few months. Because I feel like that’s when companies at least last year started saying, “Okay, well now you’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future.” And some companies they were just kicking the can down the road, they were like, “Oh, well we’ll be back in the office by the fall. Oh we’ll be back here by the winter.” And it’s like, no, you still will be at home. The last company that I worked for and it’s funny, we’re talking about the American workplace, they really prided themselves on having a great office space. I know about this because I wrote about how great their office space was, about how it had these different modes inside the office for working. And we’ve got this terrorist and we’ve got this.

Maurice Cherry:
And at the time that I was working there, we were about to expand up to a higher floor that was going to give us more space, more desks, a sunlit reading room and all that stuff. And then the pandemic happened and shut all of that shit down. They just halted construction and then I think it was about two months after that they laid off my entire department. I was like, Oh, well. Fast forward to now, and this is only [inaudible 00:14:09] I know just from people that still work there, they’ve actually sublet the office now, there’re no plans to go back anytime soon. It was something that the company really prided itself on, almost as much as the product itself, they prided themselves on having this really great workspace and now they don’t have that.

Reggie Black:
That’s true. Wow. That’s interesting. Yeah. We’ll see, a lot of things aren’t coming back, the reality of this all, and I wonder where the home office not the home office. I’m sorry. Yeah. I wonder where the home office lands and then I’ll also wonder where the corporate headquarters, where do they begin or what’s the new future for them? We’ll see, we will see. I think that the longer we’re in this situation, the harder it’s going to be to get people to return back to work. I do feel that way.

Maurice Cherry:
It will be. I know that from experience, it will definitely be hard to go back into an office because… So back when I had my studio in full swing, I would spend days sometimes inside of a company’s workspace or I’d work out of a Starbucks or something. I had the freedom to move between different spaces to work. But I did largely work at home and it wasn’t until I wound my studio down at the end of 2017 and got a job. And even that was a remote first job because the company was headquartered in New York and I’m in Atlanta. So it was still a remote first job.

Maurice Cherry:
But there would be times where we would have to go to the office, whether it was onboarding a new employee or we had our onsite for the year or something like that. And it was so stifling for all of us that were remote workers, it was just so stifling being in that building, list like going to meetings and stuff. It’s just the chairs aren’t like our chairs at home and the snacks aren’t the right snacks, it’s why’s it so cold in here? It’s all these different sorts of things. It was certainly difficult, but…

Reggie Black:
Which all play… That’s so interesting that you mentioned that because I feel like all of those small things that we overlook are what contribute to our productivity and where we can teleport ourselves to produce work. Right? Like if you don’t have the right chair or the right environment, a large percentage of the day is all about getting comfortable to be able to perform. And so it’s interesting. I think that it’s all interesting and we’ll really see new definitions of what commercial spaces and home offices, how they overlap and one supersedes the other.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. And to answer your earlier question. So I don’t have a separate studio space.

Reggie Black:
Got it.

Maurice Cherry:
But I want one now.

Reggie Black:
Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
Hands down, I want one now. So I’ve started already looking even just at places in my neighborhood. I don’t need a lot of space, I just want a separate discrete space for work that’s not my home.

Reggie Black:
I’ve transported and teleported into the guest bedroom. So my wife was like, “Listen, I don’t think we’re going to have any guests. So let me just go ahead and and take this over.” So it has to become the nook that I’m able to get a lot of things done and to your point to have something completely separate just to come in and make this the work studio and the office. And it’s cozy for me, it feels really good to be here. I’ve got accustomed to getting up every day and making breakfast and then coming to work. It’s weird, all these things that I have to mentally do to get prepared, like get up and get fully dressed. I can’t sit around the house in lounge wear and sweatpants. I’m up fully dressed every day as if I was going outside.

Reggie Black:
And even if nothing really, really happens that day, if I just get on the keyboard and peck away at a few emails, I feel like I’ve done enough to keep myself motivated for the next day because of what I have noticed is that for me, it’s all or nothing. I’m either super inspired or I’ve watched too much news and I’m just depressed for a week. You know what I mean? There is no [inaudible 00:18:38] in-between. So in my head, the thoughts are, well, how can I keep myself inspired to focus on the things that are in the pipeline and the things that I am working on? Instead of creating this home retreat, where I can bounce back and forth between the news and calling a friend.

Reggie Black:
I still have office time where I like do not disturb hours. And just to try to have some structure and regimen in place that allow support to constantly exercise mentally to make sure that I’m in a space to produce something. And if I show up that day and I end up with nothing, then that’s what it is. But at least I like to carve out that landscape to be able to do so. Yeah.

Maurice Cherry:
That’s super important now, because you have to impose those structures when you’re working from home, because your home is the place where you really don’t have that structure. Home is where you’re supposed to after work, you let your guard down, you have a glass of wine, you relax, you chill. It’s hard to really shift between work mode and relaxation mode in the same place. So you have to put… I time shift a lot of my emails. I have a booking link, if somebody needs to reach me, it’s not like, “Oh, can I pick your brain?” No, you can pick an appointment and we can get to something maybe later on in the week or something. I have to really segment and regiment my time pretty strictly now during this pandemic that I really didn’t have to do before, but it is important to do that.

Reggie Black:
It is. And I think because we will find ourselves doing things, the busy stuff. It’s like, Oh, well, I can watch a movie and cook a nice lunch or do laundry or clean up or straighten up. But like you said, home is comfortable. And so the things that we do at home, aren’t typically figuring out a way to stay productive and work. And so the moment escape and slide off to even just go to the kitchen to get a glass of water or something, right. It’s like you think of something else that could be done while you’re at home, when really it’s supposed to be the working hours. And so I think you’re spot with having those regimens in place to keep supporting and listen, the reality is, because I don’t want to sound like I’m super buttoned up but there are some days I just don’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, all right, I’m sitting right here and I’m going to binge watch a few things all day for the next couple. You know what I mean? And that’s just the ebb and flow of where we are right now. It’s okay to not be productive. It’s okay to not want to create, all of 220, a large percentage of it, I couldn’t muster up to produce work. I just couldn’t because the social tension, black brothers that look like you and I were being killed pretty much every day, it felt like in this country. And so the things that my creativity was fighting for, it didn’t feel important. It wasn’t important. It’s not important because it’s like, if we’re not doing anything to contribute to shifting the climate of racial tension in this country or whatever your cause is, climate change or food deserts in the country or economic disparity, whatever it is, if none of that is really happening and you’re not contributing to that, it’s like, all right, well, what I’m doing is invalid at the moment.

Reggie Black:
And so I don’t want it to appear to be like this time is a priority productivity training camp, when you have to be as productive as you can. No, if you gain a couple pounds, no out this thing, everything is okay because we’re all dealing with this differently. And it is something that none of us have experienced before. I spent a lot of time talking to my mom on Facebook not Facebook, FaceTime. And I’m starting to enjoy those conversations more because she’s like, “Listen, I’m 72. I have no idea how people are dealing with this. We’ve never seen anything like this before.” So it’s interesting to talk to an older person to hear what they think about where we are at the moment. And it’s like, this is the most mental exhausting time periods because life was open, it was everybody could be and do.

Reggie Black:
And so however people are dealing with this thing is perfectly fine. I just feel like for me, I’m trying my best because I spent a lot of years in depression, I’m a recovering alcoholic. I’m almost what, somewhere in between six and seven years sober. So I’ve struggled with anxiety, I struggle with mood disorders, all sorts of things. My ability to stay strong in this moment is really predicated on a lot of, I like to call them tricks that I have to impose on myself, to keep me moving and keeping me motivated.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. I’m the same way with having those tricks. I’ve basically had to give myself a routine. I wake up every morning 7:00 a.m., from seven to 8:30 it’s me getting ready for work. I’ll water the plants, make some tea, all these stuff. And then for me, I’m completely in work mode from 8:30 to 4:30. I don’t answer any other emails or anything, everything is focused just on work. Because for me, I know that I’ve got stuff to do usually right after work. I end work at 4:30 and then I’ll start doing interviews at five o’clock, or I have other calls or something else that I have to do after work. So there’s my eight to 4:30 time, which is work. And then there’s my five to maybe 11:30 or midnight where I’m working on other stuff.

Maurice Cherry:
I try to put that split in there, so I know this is when I need to shut this off and then turn this on. Even like I was telling you about the lights, the lights help me, those are tricks too. 11:30 all the lights in my apartment are off and whatever I’m working on, it’s like, “Okay, I should probably go to bed now.”

Reggie Black:
Yep. That’s the thing too. And I love how you’ve underscored the home. Right? We don’t want it to become like, because it’s so comfortable, we can go throughout the day and not really identify the things that need to happen. And so you find yourself at being midnight and you’re still working. You’re like, “Wait, but I’m supposed to be in bed too.” So it’s tricky, the home can transform and become whatever you want it to be during this time period. If you engulf yourself in work, you’re going to feel so comfortable that you don’t realize that you’re working that much. Or if it’s become an oasis of relaxation, you’re going to find yourself struggling to find a spark that gets some things done. And that’s why I said just having some system or a few things to keep you in line of break that, like you said to have that break in the day. Because we’re not active as we used to be.

Reggie Black:
We’re not commuting, we’re not moving our bodies, which I try to do a lot. But I have several free friends who just do walking meetings only. They refuse to sit Zooms and they refuse to sit on Skypes. So they take all of their meetings on the phone. It’s straight, I’ll get your Zoom call in number or you can call me on my cell phone and they walk the neighborhood while they’re having a meeting and take notes on their phone. You know what I mean? To find balance, to stay active, because like you said, if we’re just sitting in front of screens every day, you got to think about what that’s doing to our physical health as well. So that’s something I’m going to try to incorporate this year as well too, just moving more and getting back to it because yes, I row at home, but I still think that there’s something about getting up and getting out and physically moving your body and walking. I don’t know if [inaudible 00:26:17] or YouTube workout.

Reggie Black:
So I have a Peloton subscription, I don’t have the bike. I have the classes that you can take online, but you’re still in front of a screen, following the trainer. And so it’s much different than walking to the local grocery store to get groceries and physically moving your body. Something that happens there that just we’re missing with being dormant for this period of time.

Maurice Cherry:
The walking meetings, that’s a good idea. I’ve watched something on the news recently that I think scientists were saying that the biggest byproducts of the pandemic is going to be just how much people’s mental health is being affected, whether it’s like you said, depression, anxiety, et cetera. I was out of work for half of 2020, and during that whole job search and everything, it was a lot to deal with. Especially when you’re also seeing with other things happening in the world at the time, like you said, the social unrest, the former administration and how they’re handling all of this, it’s just like, there would be days I would just get high and just play video games all day. And that’s the day, that’s all I’m doing.

Reggie Black:
I think what I’m trying to say is that all of those days are just as important as having super productive work. Because I don’t think we’re in this space to judge what day is superior than others, because I feel like now more than ever, we’re seeing the value of life and just how important it is. And so whatever you do with that day, it’s a success, because you could not be here. You know what I mean? You just couldn’t be here. And so to have that, we got to somehow undo this badge of honor that America has imposed on us, this busy badge of honor. And I’m on that same quest too, there has to be a balance of being a human fucking being, and also being able to produce and do work. You shouldn’t be consumed by work all the time.

Reggie Black:
And the walking meetings is actually from a good friend of mine, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. She’s a good friend of mine, we met during Ted years and we’ve just become really cool and some of the best closest homeys ever. And when I heard her tell me that I was like, “Wait, you don’t do what?” And she’s like, “Nah, I got to move my body.” And so I’m constantly grabbing things from people that inspire me and makes sure that I can keep finding new ways to just to stay in this fight. You’re right. It’s a mental fight that we’re more in term with than anything.

Maurice Cherry:
Let’s talk about work. Tell me about the studio. When did you decide to start All Things Progressive?

Reggie Black:
Man, All Things Progressive. It’s a love child of mine that I’ve had in my head for a few years. And I’ll tell you why a few things contributed to the thought, working as a solo artist, I feel like when there’s not a studio or some formal structure, business structure is what I’m talking about now. When there’s not some business structure formed, what happens oftentimes I feel like when you’re pitching for larger work or larger clients, it’s weird. And this is a trick that I’ve kind of… Not even a trick. It’s like a professional hack that I believe is really stupid, but also very important. It’s a legitimacy thing. Most large companies won’t choose to work with you if you’re just a solo artist. And so it’s like, Oh, well either they don’t take you serious or they don’t think you’ll have your terms and conditions in place.

Reggie Black:
Or a lot of times they want you to be the artist when you’re saying no, I have a multitude of services that I could provide. And so, yes, there’s Reggie Black that’s the hand type artist. That’s the multimedia designer that can do a lot of the beautiful things with my hand and with type and with abstracts and all the things, but then there’s also a part of me that can do the very beautifully graphic design products or package design or identity systems, right? I have two sides of my brain that allows me to do both. And so what I realized was that in order for me to be able to empty the tool bag and access all of the things that I’ve been able to accumulate throughout the years, through beautiful mentorships and just countless hours of trying to figure this thing out, I said, well, what if I put a business structure in place that allows me to separate, if someone wants to hire Reggie Black for the bold and visceral hand type that he produces, that’s one thing.

Reggie Black:
But if there’s a graphic design job or book cover job or anything that separates it and takes me away from Reggie Black, it’s almost like a personality. And then it evolved into just having a few collaborators that I could work with and I can hire them for various projects and almost became like a think tank. And so 2018 is when I officially formed it. I had the name for a while, I didn’t really know what to do with the name, but really it’s just about trying to create value and spark things that move forward and work with clients that want to have a bowl perspective on where they’re going and what they would like to do. And so with All Things Progressive, it’s really just an experimental playground for companies and businesses and clients that want to figure out how to redefine their perspectives in where they’re going and what they want to do.

Reggie Black:
And we assess each project as such and I like to look at everything that’s going on in the market place, within that particular genre of industry that I’m being hired for and go the complete opposite, because I think that there’s a clutter that’s happening in every industry where people are just copying and regurgitating what is successful in the industry. And then when that trend ends up dying, you see all the businesses that have led themselves down that path die with it. So I’m always about how can we go the opposite direction? And that’s what All Things Progressive that every project we can assess, it’s like, all right, well, if there’s a book cover design, the author speaking on self-help well, let’s look at every self-help book cover and go the complete opposite direction.

Reggie Black:
Because it’s very easy to follow the herd and end up in the clutter. But I think it’s brave to say, well, sure, yes, I am a smoothie company that I’m thinking rebranding [inaudible 00:32:41] like, well, do we have to use green? Do we have to use the colors of vegetables? I’m always about how can we push something in the opposite direction of where people think it should be? What if we do the impossible? What if we do the unimaginable in every case and see where that experimental plate side of our human instincts take us.

Maurice Cherry:
Have you been finding that clients have been more experimental during these times?

Reggie Black:
Yes. Because what I think, Maurice is happening is that everybody is realizing that everything… And I think you and I talked about this previously, everything needs to be redesigned. And right now, while the world is figuring out or trying to figure out where to go, I think this is a beautiful time for everybody to shake things up. I don’t know if we were living in like no one’s under scrutiny right now. Right? You can do something that’s completely left field and it’s completely okay because we’re all trying to figure out a way to move our businesses forward. Because what we thought worked, we saw something as large as COVID come and hit us and realize that, Oh, I might need to figure out how to not be so comfortable. And so experiment and play as becoming a part of almost the culture of companies now, because what they’re realizing is that one, you have to fight for attention now because everybody’s home.

Reggie Black:
Everybody has four to five screens at home, whether it’s the TV, the iMac, the iPad, the phone. So attention is at an all time high and everybody’s willing to consume information. And so what are you going to do to separate yourself to at least just to garnish a little bit of that attention, or take a little bit of that in the marketing department or a product that you’re building or campaign that you’re about to launch? What’s going to make your messaging stand out a bit more just to hold the attention of somebody that’s scrolling on Instagram for 10 more seconds, that it would, if you were doing things differently? And so I was just talking to one of my design friends. We talking about how you see a lot of the large, I guess old guard companies doing identity system re-brands, GM just did it, Kia just did.

Reggie Black:
There is another one that I thought was important as well. Even the CIA just rebranded. Right? And so you’re watching so many old guards realizing that if we don’t do something differently, there’s a possibility that we’ll become Blockbuster. You know what I mean? When they was completely avoiding what Netflix was trying to say or Blackberry, when they had the largest market share in mobile devices and they thought that we were all going to love Qwerty keyboards forever, then we got the iPhone. And so no one is at liberty to rest and relax in this moment of uncertainty. I think if things are in certain, let’s push on certain ideas. If things are unorthodox, let’s push unorthodox ideas. And that’s what I’m really excited about. What’s going to land when the smoke clears from where we are? And if it does land, will you be able to tell a story that was innovative and different in the midst of all of the smoke that’s happening?

Maurice Cherry:
That it’s good that companies, I think now are starting to be open to this, they almost have to. I think at this point they have to.

Reggie Black:
I think they realize that either two things happen, the brand story expires, or they realize that they aren’t the only players in the industry that they thought they were. And so they have to and they have to innovate in a way that respects the customer and respects their consumer base, but also figuring out a way to tap into new consumer basis too. Right? That’s what we’re seeing happening and everybody’s scrambling and trying to figure it out. And to add another layer on it, everybody also now realizes something they should have realized or been able to… Excuse me, identify years ago is that they had to have a social responsibility. And now we’re seeing a scramble where everybody’s trying to figure that out on the fly.

Reggie Black:
And it’s like, Nope. If that was built into the culture beforehand, you wouldn’t have to hit the panic button, when you see something like George Floyd happen. When you see something like our sister Breonna Taylor happen, when you see something like the former administration wants to put the wall and immigration and family division on the borders. If there was one company that I sincerely love is Patagonia because they’ve been that way for a while, that the CEO and the ethos of that company has clearly stated that, this is what we’re going to speak on and we’re going to speak on it regardless of what the social times are. And I think that the commercial structure has existed in a space of reactionary approaches. And I think now we have to figure out a way how to be more proactive, like Ben & Jerry’s is doing a good job, but Patagonia has clearly put their foot down in so many instances saying like, this is where we are and we’re not going to waiver about it.

Reggie Black:
And then what ultimately happens is that you see something transpire socially and they’re the first ones to respond. Nike has always done a good job, Wieden and Kennedy and their marketing teams over there, everything about their campaigns are beautiful because they’re always thinking about how can we make sure that we’re on top of what’s happening socially? Because our product typically lives in urban cities where black people and people of color are affected. And so we have to make sure that if we are speaking to the Colin Kaepernick situation, if we’re speaking to social or racial injustice in this country, we have to make sure that we’re ready to be able to articulate that at any moment.

Maurice Cherry:
No. I was just thinking, I think it was right around the time this year started. I’m like, I wonder how companies are going to react to not just Black History Month this year, but also Juneteenth. Because I think a lot of folks will say non-black folks, I think a lot of folks just discovered what Juneteenth was last year. And for many people, this is going to be a free paid holiday for them. I’m like, how are people going to jump out the window, trying to show how woke they are this year? I wonder. We’re recording this at the start a Black History Month, so that remains to be seen. But yeah.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I agree with you. I think and that goes back to the point that I was just trying to make, in addition to support what you just said, I feel like they weren’t considering it to begin with. And so they are in panic mode because what today’s we’re recording this on February 1st, as you just said. And so they got four, five months to rally up to figuring out how to structure things. And then you’re seeing companies in Black History Month trying to rollout these large beautiful campaigns that they probably thought about two weeks ago or yesterday. So I don’t know, man. I think what it really boils down to is equality and diversity in the workplace and in the companies, when you look at a lot of the companies, VC funded companies, tech companies, everywhere across the board, people that look like you and I aren’t represented at large numbers.

Reggie Black:
And so you have a specific voice that’s speaking for the entire company, that’s offering a product to the world that it’s as diverse as America is, which we know that that doesn’t land well. And as a result of that, you end up seeing messaging that’s off and messaging that’s tone deaf. And that’s why they always have to hit the panic button because they’ve overlooked that women need to speak and be in positions of power. Black men need to speak and being in positions of power. So that there’s a diverse language and it’s not just coming from a white millennial, who started a company with X amount of dollars in C funding and they’re just doing it to be cool. We have to figure out a way ensure that people have a social impact model built in before they even get started.

Reggie Black:
Sure, we want beautiful products. Listen, I’m a student of Japanese culture and beautifully designed through and through and Herman Miller and Scandinavian design. I love all the things, I love all of that, but what I love most importantly is being able to… I love Nina Simone’s quote, “Art must reflect the times.” And I think that now companies have to identify that and figure out a way to catch up to speed, but then also realize that it’s not black people’s responsibility to solve the overlooking of what white people have dragged along in this country. It’s not our job to fix that. That’s the work they have to do.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. No, that’s very true. Very, very true. So I know we’ve just spoken at length about a number of things. I want to jump into some of the projects that you’ve done. You just recently… in this conversation, you mentioned being in Southeast Asia for a while. Let’s start there. What brought you to Southeast Asia?

Reggie Black:
The entire family and it’s a trio of us. There’s the wife Shante who I love dearly, we’ve been together for forever and there’s my son, [inaudible 00:41:59], we were looking for a life change. And 2014, there was an opportunity for my wife to take a job in [inaudible 00:42:07] with their company. And we wanted our son to go to international school and then to be quite frank, I think I was hitting a wall here in America. At that time… We talked off the record a little bit, at that time that’s when Sticky Inspiration was deplaning and there wasn’t a lot of momentum happening there anymore. And we’ll talk about Sticky Inspiration later to draw back and connect the dots. But I was just out of a lot of opportunities and things weren’t really looking as promising as I thought they would.

Reggie Black:
And I felt like let’s just go away and start over, at least for me, my wife’s career was successful. My son was entering high school. So everybody was engulfed in this new chapter and we left, 2014 we moved and moved to Bangkok. And what I did know is that it was an opportunity for me to set myself apart, but it was also an opportunity for me to go and to discover something. At that time, what it was, I had no idea. I had no idea that Asia and Southeast Asia in general would birth largely the design sensibility and the style and the projects that would give me the platform to be able to come back to America. So when we got there, it was like, Hey, well, this is the new terrain that you have to summit if you will.

Reggie Black:
And so I didn’t have any relationships there, I didn’t know anybody there, but I knew I wanted to start to get my work out internationally. So it was just a matter of me just doing the groundwork and meeting people. And clearly, for the record, I didn’t speak Thai. I didn’t speak Japanese. And a lot of the places that we went and a lot of the pitches that I was submitting for, there was a lot of rejection. Recently as of last year, I just got an artist manager, which is my friend, Alison Beshai. Who’s now my artist manager, but for my entire career, I think the last 15 years it’s just been my wife and not just managing this thing and figuring it out. So everything that we were submitting for and trying to make happen, we weren’t getting any responses.

Reggie Black:
And so you and I had a conversation about starting where you are. And so I was the only thing that I knew was that one, I love coffee. And so there was a community there that was creative. And then also there was the coffee culture there in Bangkok that I loved. And I just started going to the same coffee shops every day, every day, that was my routine. I would go there. I would do a couple of hours in illustrator. I would write a little bit, I would read a little bit because this was this new path that I was trying to figure out. And funny enough, what happened is that I realized that one of the coffee shops also had this multimedia function where it served as an art gallery. And so I literally, after so many months and just going to the coffee shop every day, I was like, Oh, I would love to have an exhibition here one day.

Reggie Black:
And the owner [inaudible 00:44:59] at Ink & Lion, shout out to them because they were really gracious here you are, you have a black man coming to Bangkok in a Thai owned coffee shop and multimedia space, they took a chance and was like, well, let’s do it. And this was 2015, so we got there in 2014, it took me about a year to really go outside. As vibrant as the world sees Bangkok, to be quite honest, I was somewhat afraid of it, Because there’s 20 million people there at capacity when the city swells up on a midday Tuesday afternoon from the commuters. And it’s a huge city, we’re talking New York City, maybe times two, there’s 20 million people that swell up in that city every day.

Reggie Black:
So I just think the hustle and bustle of it and the foreigner mentality that we had to experience being black, which is whole another podcast we could record for, all of those elements frightened me a bit. And so I took this route of familiarity and I guess, did the things that I knew. And when that one opportunity for an exhibition started, there was some local press that picked it up, the numbers are few BK Magazine who did a really good job with doing a story on me there. And we’re all talking Thai publications. There is no English and documenting English culture or foreigners that come there. I started to land placement and notoriety in the Thai creative community. And so one thing led to another, one exhibition happened at a coffee shop and another exhibition happened during Bangkok Design Week.

Reggie Black:
And then another exhibition happened at another space and it all just kind of snowball. So it ended up being three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, which was a combination of our… When we were there, we were traveling a lot. So we would just go to different places for family vacations. And I was like, Oh, I want to show here. I want to show there. And it was just tons of groundwork, tons of rejection, the ecstasy of a gallery that I showed out in Japan, Diginner Gallery, they took a chance on me as well. So I think there was a lot of people along that way and along that journey, that was gracious enough to see the potential of my work. Because it wasn’t always like what it is now. There was a lot of discovery of me trying to find a voice.

Reggie Black:
So the work that I showed in 2015 looks completely different than the work that I produce now. And so going on that journey and having that rejection and being this kind of an ambassador for myself, it was basically like, alright, you’re here by yourself. You have to figure out a way to believe in your art and the things that you’re making because no one else will. And so three exhibitions in Bangkok, one in Tokyo, and then it landed to meeting some really cool guys Marble Print & Clay in Hong Kong. And so within that four years, it was a matter of what five exhibitions internationally, which started to garner a lot of attention back in the U.S. because I was sharing everything on social when people were seeing the momentum happen, but it wasn’t the case before I left.

Reggie Black:
So I was like, well, maybe it’s time to go back. And then the family now we decided to come back four years later, here’s where we are to the modern day. Yeah. It was a journey. It was a real journey. And I’m grateful for all of it because I think that it was something that I personally needed to go through to really just trust myself, that thing for a long time. I didn’t want to call myself an artist nor did I ever really want to own the role as an artist, because I always thought it was like, you have to have all paintings and a cool studio and large canvases to work, but I’ve always worked in language and I’ve always used messaging as the art form. And I didn’t know anybody that ever did that before. I didn’t learn about the Barbara Kruger’s and Jenny Holzer’s, and Hank Willis Thomas and the beautiful art that they produce on a public scale.

Reggie Black:
I just knew that there was street art. And then there was art that you experienced in the galleries. I didn’t know that there was a hybrid of the two, Paula Scher who works a lot in graphic design. So it was just also of discovery that I knew I had to like go on to carve out the space. If it didn’t exist, it was a testament of being able to trust myself enough to create it.

Maurice Cherry:
Before we were recording, I asked you, was there a point that you feel like your work pushed you to that next level of awareness? And it sounds like this is when it happened, this time when you were in Southeast Asia.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. I think you’re right, Maurice like 300%. And at the moment I didn’t realize it because it was just so much groundwork and we never… As creative as we never come up for air to assess the things. But what did start to happen there throughout our travels, we would go to Japan. I would pick up Sumi brushes and Sumi ink. And it was almost like the art started to be influenced by the cultural tones that we started to experience. So if you’re in Korea, and you see this beautiful art being produced in a certain way. All the tools that I use are pretty much Asian inspired. And I’m pretty sure that I use all of them wrong. I’m sure that I don’t use the Sumi brush properly. I know I don’t use a lot of the Sumi inks the way that they’re supposed to be properly used in traditional Japanese and Chinese calligraphy.

Reggie Black:
I don’t use them properly. And what I did lean into was that, I knew that my family and I, we were very fortunate to be a black family and have the opportunity to experience and travel throughout Asia. And pretty much all of that side of the world. We we went to Australia, we went to New Zealand, we traveled a lot. And to my wife’s credit, she was like, well, if we’re here, we might as well make it happen because this is a long trip. And we need to experience and see this. And so the travel started to really inform the work that I was making. And all of what you see now is a testament to having that. I like to call that an artist residency to go away and figure out because most people don’t get that time.

Reggie Black:
And so I’m very fortunate, you get into college and then as an adult, it’s like, all right, go out into the world and pay your dues to society, be an adult and pay your bills and go to work. And so what I realized is that my ability to have that four years to incubate and produce and create at that point, I had to figure out a way to make sure that, that time spent there would be able to produce a lifetime of projects and opportunities that I could make it feel like it was all worth it.

Maurice Cherry:
Yeah. So I’m curious, there’s a lot of things I want to ask you about now that you’ve really been going deep into a lot of this stuff. I was looking at your latest installation called No Records. Can you talk a little bit about where the idea came from for that?

Reggie Black:
No Records. Man. I think so many things happened last year, but I think that, that’s Alison and I that’s our highlight of the year, our pride and joy that we were really excited about. And Alison has been a great friend of mine for over 10 years. And it transpired from a good friend of mine, Amanda always like to do names when [inaudible 00:52:18] opportunities happen. So it’s like you’re giving people the credit and shouting people out along the way, because there’s this weird thing where people feel like artists are just making it alone and it’s bullshit. Nobody is making it alone. Somebody always reaches out to you, giving you a nudge or an opportunity comes from the great vine, which is essentially a person, being like there’s no, Oh, I’m just out here doing it by myself.

Reggie Black:
And so a good friend of mine, Amanda, that I also had met from the TED Residency! during that time, she reached out and said, Oh, the Dyckman Farmhouse in New York, saw your work and they’re looking to highlight this story of slaves living in New York. Because a lot of times when we think about slavery, we only equate it to the South. And we don’t think about the amount of slavery that transpired in New York City. And so when they presented that opportunity, Alison and I, we looked at the project and said, if we can’t say anything bold, we don’t want to be a part of it. And when the Dyckman house, they sent us over a lot of their archival documentation, a lot of the things that they had kept on record, but to be perfectly honest Maurice, there wasn’t any records. There wasn’t anything on file. They tried to have a lot of information that they thought was valuable to document the lives of the six slaves that lived in upper Manhattan and they didn’t have it.

Reggie Black:
And so hence the title, No Records. Because we said, listen, we can’t pretend to tell a story that is false, if the institution has pretty much given us the goal and letting us know that they didn’t even have any records. And so slaves lived here, what we were learning is that people were living in Inwood community, which is where the Dyckman house is like 207 and forgot the cross street Broadway actually. And people live there in that community every day. And they just thought that Dyckman house was like a farmhouse as an artifact or something. It’s like, no, this is where slaves lived. And we wanted to highlight that and really put that on display. And so that’s why I said, the language and the messaging has to be clear to allow people to really get what has happened here.

Reggie Black:
We don’t have to sugar coat it. We don’t need to dress it up. We don’t need to make it appear to be anything than what it is is that slaves lived here. And Alison and I we talked about it a lot and we were really thinking about the messaging. And then when we learned that there’s also a very Spanish speaking population in Inwood community, she said, well, let’s do it in Spanish too, because I feel like we have to start making art accessible and to translate the communication so everybody can be a part of the conversation and at which was my first time doing that. And I thought that it was probably my favorite part of the deliverable of the project because it invited everybody into the conversation. So at the installation, the night of the installation, there were beautiful conversation with people from all walks of life because the art was accessible and people walked by whether they saw it in English or Spanish, they was able to get it immediately and have a conversation about it.

Reggie Black:
Not being able to really know that this was something that had happened and they lived in the community. They didn’t even know that this existed. And so for me, it was about accessibility and being able to make a clean statement that this is what happens and let’s not overlook this. And throughout learning that I learned a lot of the names and places in New York City are named after slaves owners, because that’s what it was. So I lived in [inaudible 00:55:58], but I didn’t know [inaudible 00:55:59] and was a notorious slave owner. I just loved it because I lived there and the culture’s there. You know what I mean? Home of Biggie Smalls and home of Jay Z. And I lived in Brooklyn for three years and it’s another huge part of the story that gave me the skin that I needed to keep pushing forward.

Reggie Black:
And, but I didn’t know that [inaudible 00:56:20] was in the history was rooted in slave trade. And so we overlook a lot of the things by default, I think, because we tend to focus on what we deem is cool, but we don’t really utilize the resources that we have to outline a whole story. And so for that project, for me, it was like, listen, I want to make sure that I don’t leave anything uncovered here. So let’s talk about it. But most importantly, let’s make sure that it’s extremely plain, so everybody can understand it.

Maurice Cherry:
And you did that right near the tail end of 2020, is that right?

Reggie Black:
Yep. Yep. That was the end of December, December 7th, I think was the installation night. We were going to postpone it. We were going away to 2021. There was a lot of back and forth with the logistics. And I said, I think that this is an important conversation that needs to happen now. And mind you, where right off the tails of such a devastating year for black men, women, black trans, everything was transpiring in this country where police brutality and just the unjustice in this country. And I said, if we’re not going to do this now, what better time? Because I think for some odd reason, let’s just say, non-black folks feel like that this is a temperamental temporary issue. When the reality is this isn’t going away. There is no special time to talk about these things.

Reggie Black:
And it’s something that you and I have to experience every day. There is no vacation for being black. You don’t get to wake up and turn it on and off when you want to, this is the life that we live. And so if this is the life that we live, let me make sure that I’m doing what I can to highlight the things that we go through. And was it always this way Maurice? Possibly, possibly not. I don’t feel like I did my due diligence to make sure that I was highlighting the things of importance. And so when I was looking at a lot of the projects that we had on the table last year, and it was assessing things, I noticed the change in me too. I was like, you turn on the news and you see this thing happening nine minutes and 17 seconds or whatever that the exact time was when the gentlemen stood on George Floyd’s neck for, Breonna Taylor was shot in her sleep.

Reggie Black:
You look, and you see these things. And then I will have to show up to the iMac the next morning and try to design something that was beautiful to sell a product. I started to feel disconnected. Yeah, I’m a black man, but am I really using my voice to highlight the things that define the black plight in this country? And the answer was I wasn’t doing my best. And so now I’m trying to make sure that I need to make a conscious effort. My messaging sends a symbolism and it’s inspiring and it’s thought provoking. And I do a lot of work in mental health in Outland articulating that messaging and outlining that conversation. Right. But that’s a very colorless thing.

Reggie Black:
We can all experience that because human emotion is colorless, but when it comes to specific black issues, am I doing enough? My wife has, which is why she’s my wife. She’s like, listen, we all have more work to do. And when she said that to me, that was like another pivotal moment in my life. All right, you got to do more to make sure that your voice and your platform is being used and executed in the right way.

Maurice Cherry:
So something I definitely get from really from this conversation and really just from how you talk about your work is that you’re a very deep thinker. It’s not just about doing the work, but you’re really set on finding the intent and the drive behind it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current climate? And I’m asking this for two reasons. One, I think certainly now with this increased awareness that people have about black creatives. And I would say just the struggles of black people in general, I hate that we had to get to this point this far along in human history. But one there’s this increased awareness, but two, just here on the show, one question I asked every guest last year was how are you using your skills to create a more equitable future? So I’m posing this question to you, and I’d love to get your answer to it. How do you see the role of the black designer in this current time right now?

Reggie Black:
There’s two folds to that. I think that forever, I feel like we’ve been overlooked. Like you just say, right. And I think we’ve been overlooked, but then also we’ve been undervalued. And I think we’re only called upon when it’s time to clean up something or when it’s time to make something look cool. Like when you look at the makeup of the black community and the black culture, we run the world, we run shit, we validate what’s cool. We make it cool. And then the world grabs it, right? Hip hop is the fastest growing genre in the world. And it’s only like 35, almost 40 years old. It’s a very young genre, but it’s [inaudible 01:01:19] the world. Right. And so we look at our ability to have cool, but then we look at like, we don’t own things and we’re not in positions of power.

Reggie Black:
And so for the black designer right now, I think what’s important is for us to say, okay, here’s my place in the world. Here’s my position, here’s a corporation at wants me to work or collaborate with “them”. Right. And if that’s the case, we have to make sure that we’re saying the things that are important to amplify, the topics and issues that are affecting our communities. And I think that’s the role. It’s okay. Because that’s another thing that it’s a lot is that we feel like artists aren’t supposed to be compensated properly. We need to be properly compensated for the things that we contribute and the value that we contribute to messaging. And then also we need to be able to say the things that feel good and speak to our people.

Reggie Black:
And I think that we can’t be used as pawns in the system to tell a story that isn’t accurate to how we believe. We have to reflect the times, which what I was just talking about my work, I was realizing that I was speaking to one thing when in fact the world was on fire and I’m a black man and in any given moment, I could have been shot as well. And I’m not saying that you have to abandon your bread and butter and what you’re known for. Both things can exist, but I feel like somehow they want us to exclude a specific messaging for a specific messaging. And I’m saying no, that they both need to exist right now. So it’s our obligation as the black designer to make sure that when we speak on these things, we’re making sure that we amplify a point that needs to be said that can’t be said by a non-black person.

Maurice Cherry:
What do you make space for these days?

Reggie Black:
I’m trying to get better at self care. I know it’s a hot button topic and everybody’s trying to explore it and define it for themselves. But for me I’ve always been a very inquisitive child. I’ve always been like you said, and thank you for that compliment, man. I’ve always been a deep thinker. I get it from my mom who isn’t as I guess won’t say talkative, but she’s a woman of few words, but the few words that she says are super impactful. And so I picked that up as a child from my mom who was just very intentional about what she says and why she says it. And so as a result of that, I’m trying to be intentional about how I treat myself and how I care for myself.

Reggie Black:
And I’m spending a lot of time and introspection asking larger questions as I get “older” what do I want this life to really look like for myself? And how can I give myself enough love that’s detached from the results? And just really thinking about where I want to go and how I want to impact the world. But before I get there, how do I impact and change myself? Because I think we go out with the Superman cape on every day to stand up and design and raise questions and fight for causes, which are all beautiful. But I think sometimes we go out half empty. We’re not completely together ourselves.

Reggie Black:
And as I’m going on this journey, I don’t believe that you could be of complete service to a cause, a company, a client, if you’re not really at whole yourself or have a beautiful sensibility to be able to compartmentalize that, to show up and do that work and then go home and figure out a way, how to sort your own personal stuff up. So I’m really just trying to figure out one, who am I outside of work? And then how can I bring that guy to the work to be able to impact it more?

Maurice Cherry:
What do you think you would have been if you’d never became an artist and a designer?

Reggie Black:
Funny enough, man, I’ve always wanted to be a business banker.

Maurice Cherry:
A business banker.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. A business banker venture capitalist. Like one of those guys Goldman Sachs with the suit on. And don’t… I won’t say don’t ask me why, ask me why. Yes. But then there’s two points to it. I wanted to be it because growing up, I felt like that was the only way, which I do feel like it’s still important, but economics is the way to freedom. And so growing up, I was like, well, let me pursue a career money, one, because that’s what a lot of my teachers told me. And that’s what was like, Oh, you need to go… And growing up without it. It’s like, well, that’s what I want. And then two, I feel like there’s not a lot of space for creative venture capitalists.

Reggie Black:
I know that the full premise of it is to fund companies to have a return, to build more companies. But I think we’re doing a huge disservice to excluding the currency of creative intellect. And somehow one thing that drives everything, but it’s the last thing to be compensated for. So it’s like we can bill big companies to connect us as fast as we need to be and share our most valuable moments. But we overlooked the importance of the everyday creative that’s trying to get an idea off the ground. And so I would love to in a perfect world start a creative venture capitalist fund where there’re these micro grants that small entrepreneurs and innovators and thinkers can apply for and receive. And I know it exists in the world.

Reggie Black:
There’re so many beautiful people doing that work Backstage Capital, who I love, she’s doing an amazing job, Arlan Hamilton. There’s so many companies that are doing that work, man. But yeah, I think that’s what I would have been, man. It’s the impossible for a lot of us. And I’m always looking to explore the edges and go on to extremes or a DJ.

Maurice Cherry:
Or a DJ.

Reggie Black:
Yeah. Or a DJ. Because I love music. And I’m still got to execute fun in your life. So on a business side, super serious side venture capitalist. But outside of that, I think that a DJ of some sort.

Maurice Cherry:
I think it’s interesting that certainly other countries do a lot to sponsor artists or to fund the arts. And I feel like we used to have that here prior to the last administration. Hopefully that will come back. Or we start to at least see some more investment from, I think the government towards artists. But yeah, I would think even celebrities or other businesses or things like that, you probably see this too. There’s so many big names that expect free creative work.

Reggie Black:
Sure. And that’s the part that has to be dismantled because art and creativity is the one thing that communicates every element of our lives, but it’s still one thing that’s always negotiated. Right? Everything we interact with is designed by somebody, the homes we live in, the cars we drive, the clothing we wear, there’s a designer, there’s some creative intellect that’s going on behind that. But for whatever reason, like you said, we’re always the ones that are like, Oh, well just do this for exposure. One of the person that I do have to highlight and give the credit for, somebody that I would like to, if in a big sky dream Pharrell Williams, I think that he does a beautiful job and he just launched the new, Black Ambition incubator to do this very thing.

Reggie Black:
And that’s give the black and Latino X, co-founders an opportunity to launch businesses and stuff. He’s clearly doing something that I would love to do, but in a large wish upon the sky, he’s the one person that I would love to meet and work with to some capacity. Just because his ability to see, listen, I’m a kid from Virginia Beach, Virginia. And I connect with that story. I’m a kid from Northwest, D.C. growing up in 80s pre-gentrified D.C. when it was very rough to like and see yourself to transcend this place outside of what society deemed for you to be. And so there’s a connection there as well.

Maurice Cherry:
Where do you see yourself in the next five years? What kind of work would you like to be doing?

Reggie Black:
That’s a loaded one, man. I don’t know; no one knows. Right? But I think because I don’t want to perceive to have all the answers. I don’t know what I will be doing, but what I would hope is that my work will land in places that could inspire people to use their voice. If All Things Progressive could work with clients that could inspire a new generation of business, I feel like that’s what I will be doing. So maybe it’s in the aspiring business and that’s not a business, but maybe I just need to be in a position to ignite new ideas and birth new generations of ideas, maybe it’s this venture capital thing. I know Reggie Black the artist will always be able to produce beautiful, innovative things that I love and believe in.

Reggie Black:
But I think in the next five years, somehow focusing on impact and that could be with the black artists fund that Alison and I were working on to carve out and creating a platform. I think me personally will probably I won’t say, take a back seat, but I’ll be thinking about more how I could use my platform to amplify the voices of others. To some regard I don’t know what it looks like.

Maurice Cherry:
Well, just to wrap things up here. Where can our audience find out more about you and all the work that you’re doing, where can they find that online?

Reggie Black:
iamreggieblack on Instagram. iamreggieblack on Twitter. And my website is, Iamreggieblack.com. So out of those few places you can find me. It’s where I’ll be man. And then before we get off, I just want to thank you for the work that you continue to do with your platform Maurice because it’s super important. And I want to thank Ashley for recommending me to be here because I think that iron sharpens iron, and I think that the work that you do connect so many people to give them the hope to see. And that’s a point that I want to make as well before we go off, the ability to see what you’re doing is a huge void that I missed in my life because I didn’t meet my first black designer until I was 25.

Reggie Black:
I didn’t know that this was a real thing. I didn’t meet anybody that could work Photoshop or Illustrator till I was 25. So your sessions and your interviews that you consistently put out to the world is hope for somebody that’s listening to this, like the little Reggie that could have been listening to this 10, 15 years ago to see that this is possible. I think that the translation and the gaps that happen here, are all exposure, people don’t think that design of some black kids, or people of color. They don’t think that this is possible because we don’t see anybody that could do this. So thank you brother. I really appreciate you, man.

Maurice Cherry:
Oh, thank you. And thank you for coming on the show, for not just sharing your story, but also really going deep into the thought that you put into the work and also the messages that you want to put out there in the world. I really feel like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Reggie Black in the future. I think certainly just based off what you’ve been doing so far, I can’t wait to see what you come up with next. So thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.

Reggie Black:
Thank you, man. As long as I’ve been doing this, I feel like I’m just getting started. So thank you so much for acknowledging that. And I’m looking forward to just staying a student and stay open. And if there’s any way I can support further banger, you know where to reach me, man.

Sponsored by Brevity & Wit

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This week, I sat down with Samuel Green — a product designer at Airbus Aerial in Atlanta, GA and a visual artist. Samuel is also the owner of Studio Mobius, which they call “a small creative group composed of like-minded humans who think differently.” Samuel’s trajectory hasn’t been a conventional one, but that didn’t stop them from achieving their goals. If anything this proves that there is a multitude of different paths for people to take to get to their destination.

Our chat covered many interesting topics including impostor syndrome, higher education, and creating a design directive in a very engineering-based environment. Give this episode a listen if you want to hear an insightful point of view on the future of design and how to carve out space for yourself in this competitive industry.


Revision Path is a Glitch Media Network podcast, and is produced by Deanna Testa and edited by Brittani Brown. 


Jarrett Key creates works that transcend multiple boundaries. As a fine artist, Jarrett uses hair — like, literally painting with their entire head of hair — to make pieces that are full of life, passion, and tension. Speaking of tension, I just happened to have the chance to talk to Jarrett during a particularly tense time in life right now — graduate school!

We started off talking about what it’s like adjusting to being back in Providence, Rhode Island, and Jarrett spoke about the decision to return and what they hope to gain from this experience. Jarrett also listed their artistic influences, remembered life growing up in the South, explained what people tend to get wrong about art, and more. According to Jarrett, everyone has a story to share if they take the time to dig deep and discover what it is. Hopefully this interview inspires you to do just that!


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