It’s time get to know another artist a little better. This month I reached out to Dominic Clay. He is a great artist, the Curatorial Assistant & Senior Docent at the Houston Museum of African American Culture and he is also one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. On top of that, he is very knowledgeable and conversations with him about racial issues or black art are always very enlightening and interesting, especially for a non-American black like me, that has lots of opinions to spare and might not always get it!
1. WHERE ARE YOU FROM? I am from a very small town in East Texas, called Karnack. It’s still a very small town with a population of maybe 800 people.
2. WHEN DID YOU START CREATING? I don’t have a date when I actually started creating; It was one of those things that just happened. I was always a creative, even as a kid. I remember always waiting for the funny papers and trying to draw the funny papers.
3. SELF THOUGHT OR ART SCHOOL? I never was a studio painter. It was always based on art history, art education or art aesthetics. Everything I’ve been taught is art academia. In college, my mentor Dr. Curtis Watson would give us his key to the art studio downstairs and we would spend hours in there painting. We nicknamed it the dungeon.
4. HOW WOULD YOU CLASSIFY YOUR WORK? Lately, I have been doing a lot of pop culture pieces. It’s really taken up a lot of my time. Right now you can call me an Afro-pop artist. As an Afro-pop artist, I use my subject matter to expose truths of African-American history hidden behind the cloak of mainstream culture.
5. HAS YOUR STYLE CHANGED OVER TIME? I wouldn’t say my style has changed. I explore a lot. My last series, “Mountain of the Moon”, I tried my best to only use neutral colors; starving myself of a high color palette. But now on my newest series of works, I’m appreciating colors and tones and hues. I did that on purpose. I would say my style has evolved and it happened sporadically. I think it found me rather than me looking for it.
6. BECAUSE OF THE UNFORTUNATE HOMOPHOBIA PREDOMINANT IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY, HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO OVERLY EXPLAIN SOME OF YOUR WORK? I recall a response I received from a piece I did call “For the Love of Melanin”. People couldn’t understand why I could or even wanted to do a piece about a man’s body, a man’s anatomy. They automatically I assumed I was gay for painting a 48” x 48” nude form of a man. The piece was experimental. Not just an artistic one but the social one as well. I wanted to explore the Black male response to an image of themselves and see if they would participate in the hyper-sexualization of their own bodies or could they liberate themselves an look upon a piece of art with a notion to respect and appreciate the form. There was no frontal nudity nor was it erotic art. Needless to say, it was not the latter.
7. DO YOU HAVE ANY ARTISTS YOU LOOK UP TO, OR THAT YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO COLLABORATE WITH (PAST OR PRESENT)? I have a few. My mentor, Dr. Curtis Watson is one of my favorite artists. He was an expressionist artist. He did a lot of abstract and even sculpting. My all-time favorite would have to be Charles White. Most recently, I would have to say I’m really loving what Kehinde Wiley is doing. Kara Walker is one of the greatest of our generation. Locally, we have great artists living within our city. I won’t name anyone that I would like to work with simply because I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out. Houston’s art scene is booming right now and full of exceptional artists that it would be unfair to even attempt to decide where to start.
8. WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR WORK TAKING YOU? Harlem. It is personally very important to see my work in Harlem. It would be where our predecessors showed their art. Where Elizabeth Catlett exhibited art. Where Langston Hughes wrote masterful poems. Where WEB DuBois wrote stage plays.
9. PROUDEST ART ACHIEVEMENT? The establishment of Bert Long Jr. Gallery of Houston Museum of African American Culture. I am humbled to be part of the process in aiding community artists in receiving the recognition their art and works deserve. There has been a problem in the last few years for mainstream Black artists in White spaces. But the space I offer is sacred to us and allows them to be them.
10. ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG ARTISTS TRYING TO LEAVE MARK? I would tell them to not abandon their identity within their work to make sales or because of social media likes. Take that time out to find your relationship with your artwork. Ask yourself the big questions. When this is accomplished, then you will see those changes. I promise that you will develop a stronger artist statement and even a strong artist’ talks.
Ciao for now!