It’s rare that you meet someone that is determined and persistent about what they are doing in their lives, in the society that we live in today. Many artists are tapping out of creating visual images by traditional standards in the art world. Kortez Robinson is not your average artist and he is using traditional ways of creating art with modern colors to project themes that relate to blackness. Sit back and get ready to read an engaging interview that is honest, up close, and personal.
Define your artistic style and how you see it making an impact on society?
Many have said my art is defined by my bold use of color and or lines. Upon viewing some of my work one could say the subject matter varies, but tends to be based on and not limited to my experiences as an African American male. Sprinkle in the plights and beauty of our history here in the U.S.A. and you have what I call esotericurbanism. I can tell you my heritage now means so much to me and our history acts as a motivational force. Yet there is a want to separate from the title of African American artist, but I seldom carry out that goal and it puts a smile on my face because that is how I’m impacting… I don’t want to say society but my community. The people I communicate with, the people I see in the neighborhood. Those who buy and appreciate my art have a connection to me or a direct connection with my art. I feel my art at times will make you dig deeper and draw out emotions, draw out history. At times the feelings or history that surfaces isn’t easy to look at. That’s where the trickster in me comes out. By defusing the message with bright colors, bold shapes and complex compositions, I believe that I’m subliminally doing the things that are hard to look at a bit easier. Our society needs to discuss many issues and I believe my art can help in starting up the dialogue.
How long have you been in the industry and what are the different roles you’ve taken on?
I’ve been an active artist since I was in high school. My first commissions were painting jackets and sneakers with graffiti. When I attended college at The New School of Fine and Industrial Arts, I always took on opportunities to show and sell my art. After graduating I worked odd jobs including continuing a paid internship (painting) for New Jersey artist Nita Shapiro on her line of Fine arts and Home decor products. I’ve also worked in visual retail for years: Mandees, Nordstrom’s, Gap and American Retail Enterprises and Bang Bang were just a few of the places I worked.
The most fun I’ve had over the years is doing Visual Freestyles (LIVE PAINTING) in clubs. I’ve met most of my favorite DJ’s over the years from this thing! Let me explain: Back in 1999, I was given the opportunity to do live painting with the Giant Step Label. Giant Step Sessions were these great parties were Ron Trent was the resident DJ. Each week they would have artists paint on large canvases and more or less we could do whatever we wanted. That was so sweet!! I never did anything like it and I was down! Over the years before then, I would hang out in clubs and be in the corner drawing or painting peoples combat boots but never anything like what Giant Step was doing. At the time, I was knee deep in doing my complex collages. It was sometimes hard to finish the collages on an unprimed canvas or denim fabric. At the time, I was doing the sessions with Newark NJ artist, Jerry Gant. He suggested making faces to simplify my collages and my portraits started to become my trademark. To this day, I get so many requests to do my faces. At times I get bored of doing them, but people love them, LOL! So to give the collages a break I work with the faces.
In 2004, Michael Gutman and I had the opportunity to open Gallery 31 in Freehold Boro. I curated the gallery and we wanted to focus on local emerging artists. We were so ahead of our time! It was an opportunity to showcase artists who seldom got love from the Monmouth County arts establishment. Again, it was my way of forcing the public to see US. US meaning Women, Latino, African American, Gays, Seniors and others who felt like outcasts in the arts community in Monmouth County. It was a great learning experience and I miss the creative forum. It was a social gathering place for creative individuals. I never knew so many artists lived in Freehold, it was beautiful. I’ve had so many great experiences over the years and I would be sitting here for a long time talking about all of my ventures up to today. I’m just getting started!
Are you a professionally trained or a self-taught artist?
I’m professionally trained as an artist and I’m able to use most artistic mediums. I’m currently doing sculpture and doing more photography. Most of my work is mixed media and I’m delving into utilizing sound to go with my work. I’m a DJ and I produce music so it is a natural fit. The music thing is more for me and over the years I’ve been blessed to have been able to use my DJ talents for more than just fun. With the music I’m self taught…That’s why you are doing a story about my art and not my music endeavors, LOL! You don’t want to hear me sing!
Where are you currently showing and explain the theme behind the work?
I’m currently showing at Vonda’s Kitchen @ 183 West Kinney St. Newark NJ. The exhibit is called Esoteric Urbanism and the art is going to be up till mid May. I’m going to be curating another exhibit their early summer featuring other artists and photographers. I don’t have the details in stone, but one thing is for sure, Vonda’s place is really nice!! Not only that, but the food is really good. I’m known for having really nice openings in regards to the food, atmosphere and interesting people! Friday April 12th I’m in a group show called, ” SOUL OF THE MESSAGE” at The Passage Theater Co. @ the 219 Gallery, 219 E Hanover st., Trenton, NJ. The online flyers should be up by weeks end and print flyers in the coming week.
The theme is “Esoteric Urbanism”. That is my visual Brand! So the work really embodies my demeanor over the last 15 years or so. I have sculptures, portraits, themes that touch politics, crime, fucked up hair cuts and African American Cults. My pride and joy in this show are several pieces I did over the last 2 months. “One is called Sounds of Blackness” where I took random objects I had around the house and put them into a dresser drawer. The other three are collages, again in the dresser drawers. I found them on the street and as soon as I saw them, I knew what was going to happen! The one with the articles on the Kennedy assassination is another favorite. It also has pics of bullets and guns I cut out of a book written by “Maj. George C. Nonte, Jr. Well it turns out he was one of the gun experts that worked on the Kennedy assassination investigation. I’ve been saving the book for a while just to put the text and gun images in a painting with those Kennedy newspaper articles. So when I get suggestions that some of the collages are too complex and people won’t get it. I just point them in the direction of one of my portraits and call it a day.
Who (and what) has influenced your work?
WOW!!! Can I have fun with this? Marva C. Robinson (MOM), for the trips to the galleries and museums, African art, King TUT, the Picasso prints and books. Donald J Robinson (DAD) for making clay instead of buying me toys, MARKERS that most 10 year old kids shouldn’t be using, Demmick A. Peace (Brother) for introducing me to the Paradise Garage and the difference between underground and mainstream, the funky posters and photos of beautiful women on the bedroom wall! Kieth Haring for the lines and spontaneous creativity , Basquait for hitting the canvas like he was taking no prisoners and breaking boundaries in the art world, Parliament Funkadelic for Pedro Bell, Malcolm X for making me want to know about our history and personal change, Patrick Nagle, KRS ONE for making me wanna know about Graf, Patrick Green for showing me how to do Bubble letters, Jacob Lawrence for collage, Essence and JET magazine for the beautiful Black women to draw, Prince for arranging everything, Mr. Ted Bonavito for making me experiment with collage…if it wasn’t for TED collage would of been just another thing I did in college! … Hugo Bastidas for pushing me to do fine art and thinking outside the box. Bernardo Corman for making me want to do something besides painting. Naked women, House music, Poetry, Violence, Good sex, Music videos and movies, Lynchings, Hip Hop and Jazz, Dinosaurs, EYES, SLAVERY, peach cobbler, my Daughters, Colt 45, Macs, weave, urban decay, sunsets, TRICKY, The Black Panthers, Kara Walker, old news records, newspapers and magazines . These are just a few things that came to mind! Funny its either I’m more at ease or I’m really tired right now. I hope my having fun isn’t an issue right now.
What are you currently reading that is art related?
I’m not reading anything that is art related. But, I am reading “Hope on a Tightrope” by Cornel West. That Brother is really deep and a bit touched. The ego in some people amazes me. That includes my ego as well …I’m really glad the CD is missing from the book. Listening to Mr. West rap would be like meeting that star you always wanted to meet and the fantasy in your head is so much better than the real thing.
History books always inspire me and they are usually randomly placed around my apt. Lately the one novel that has really triggered something is The Confessions of Nat Turner.
I would love to see Nat Turner on the big screen, his story is so interesting.