Interview: Terrance Vann Details Journey To Becoming A Full-Time Artist, The Power Of Museums, And Black Arts

Terrance Vann, also known as Terranceism, is an artist and entrepreneur from Wilmington, Delaware. While enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he began to see the dynamic differences between himself, his peers, and his teachers—privilege, riches, and a lack of authenticity. In this interview, Terrance provides a raw perspective on his journey to becoming a full-time artist, the power that museums hold in the art world, and owning the Black imagination.

“I really want my art to be universal, but distinctly from a Black man. I want it to be somewhat universal to the point where everyone sees a little bit of themselves in it,” says Terrance Vann, an exceptional painter and entrepreneur from Wilmington, Delaware. He continues, “That’s my goal with everything I do, honestly because art is a universal language and one thing Black people haven’t been able to do is be in charge of a universal language.”

Art has always been a treasured gift for Terrance, but he initially pursued his interest in music. He played trombone from third grade until his eleventh-grade year, where he made the decision to double major in art because it is what he refers to as his true passion. With endless possibilities on his mind, he enrolled at the School of Visual Arts in New York City—a decision that wasn’t well received by those close to him. “When I told everyone I wanted to go to art school they weren’t really supportive of it,” he says. “They wanted me to go to the local HBCU where most of my family had gone and they didn’t have a strong art program. I had looked into it but at that time I didn’t see me growing as an artist there.” After uprooting himself from his small town and scrounging up enough money to fund his education at SVA, Terrance was now living in an obscure world that opened his eyes to various disparities. He began to see the dynamic differences between himself, his peers, and his teachers—privilege, riches, and a lack of authenticity.

In this interview, Terrance provides a raw perspective on his journey to becoming a full-time artist, the power that museums hold in the art world, and owning the Black imagination.

Let us know a little bit about your background—where you grew up.

I’m from Delaware. I have family all throughout the state, so I claim all of Delaware. I was raised all throughout Delaware, but mostly from Wilmington, which is like the biggest city in Delaware near Philadelphia. So, that’s where I really got my start with art.

I’ve never been to Delaware. I only know where it is on the map.

I hear that a lot! Especially traveling. I’m usually the first person that somebody’s met from Delaware. Especially the first Black person somebody’s met from Delaware. It’s an interesting place to be from. It’s really unique—right in the middle of big cities and big places. If you’re brave enough to venture out, you have access to a lot of different places. A lot of people don’t, you’d be surprised. But for me it seemed like a pretty cool place to grow up.

Tell us a little about what you do.

My occupation is an artist. I’m really an artist—it’s what I do day in and day out. I’m either creating some designs or somewhere painting on a wall or consulting with people that are looking to do things more creatively. I’m really an artist, but I’m also an entrepreneur. Me and my wife started a business called Vibe Pro—it’s pretty much a way to streamline what I do and be able to professionalize it. I’m somewhere usually ninety percent of the time covered in paint or doing whatever an artist does all day.

That’s great though because there are so many artists who wish that they could do or be an artist full-time. So, it’s great to know that you live that every day.

It’s wonderful. I feel super blessed—it’s not easy. I think a lot of people have almost a fantasy of what being an artist is, but at the same time I do feel like it is a fantasy. I wake up and I have to go out and paint something or I get to listen to my music and vibe out. So, it’s wonderful, but it’s definitely hard work—physical hard work. You really have to be able to get it done, but hey… I cannot complain!

Has it always been that way for you, though—being able to be an artist full-time?

No, but that was my goal I guess you could say. I went to art school in Wilmington. I got lucky enough to get accepted there, but I was doing music actually. I was playing trombone from third to—really all the way up until the end of high school, but my eleventh-grade year I decided to double major in art because that was my true passion. I thought I could do something with it and I went to art college—I went to SVA up in New York City, which is supposed to be this big crazy art college and I ended up really hating it.

That moment where I talked about the fantasy and reality, when I went to art school it kind of—not killed my dream, but it turned me off. I was in New York; it was a bunch of rich and snobby people and you saw how privileged it all was. I got good grades and everything, but I felt like it wasn’t for me—not my scene. I kind of gave up on that, so I stopped doing art. I didn’t want too much to do with it at that time—other than doing graffiti, but that’s another story.

Long story short, I ended up going back to college for web design and did fairly well. It wasn’t my strong suit, but I could design and learned to code. Ended up getting a job in web design and I worked that job the day after I graduated—literally, the day after I graduated. It was cool for like the first year because I was making some money and I was able to get things that I wanted. Then, the second year it was kind of like a prison, to be honest with you. That’s how I started to feel—chained to my cubicle, the rules got more restrictive, they were laying people off—it was getting real. I was like, man this ain’t the look for me right now.

I started sketching again. I hadn’t been sketching. I hadn’t been doing anything! I would get these fifteen to thirty minute breaks and I would start sketching every single day and I just got back into it. My artist brain turned back on and six or seven months later I quit my job. I fully immersed myself in it for a whole year as I was still working. I was like man I have to get out of here so I’m just going to use whatever my God given talent is to the max and that’s what I did pretty much and I was out of there.

That’s dope. You said that you were in New York and you realized how much privilege everyone around you had and it changed your perception to this ain’t really it. Can you speak a little bit more on what that privilege looked like?

Oh my gosh! It was sickening because I had to take out loans to get there. I had to beg people in my family because they were like art school? When I told everyone I wanted to go to art school they weren’t really supportive of it. They wanted me to go to the local HBCU where most of my family had gone and they didn’t have a strong art program. I had looked into it but at that time I didn’t see me growing as an artist there. I had a free ride—I had a lot of free rides and that’s another reason—I had a free ride to that college playing trombone. I had free rides to play in the marching band, which I had quit at my high school. I already had to get my family on board and it just barely worked, so you know—my family doesn’t have tons of money, so it was a real sell and SVA is one of the most expensive art schools that there is. That’s just the backdrop!

When I get there, though here’s little me from Delaware. I don’t have the most recent clothes. I don’t have this and that. When I got to SVA I literally would see—first of all everybody smoked cigarettes, which if you know me personally that’s my biggest pet peeve. Everybody there smoked cigarettes! You couldn’t even get into any entrance of any building without there being an army of people smoking cigarettes. So as soon as I got there, I was like whoa. But then, I would literally see people take out hundreds of dollars from the atm. Just talking about it to me, they just bought a $500 fake ID and are going clubbing—like crazy rich stuff that people don’t think about. These are some of the richest kids that be going to art school and it’s like a hobby to them. It’s like the biggest F-You to their parents, like “I’m going to art school!” We’re talking about kids wouldn’t come to class for two weeks—they would be partying. I would see it. Want me to go with them and I’m up drawing and painting like my life depends on it. Some of these people were photography majors—they would do it the day of—or video majors, or fashion majors, or they already had connections.

One guy I knew within a few months, already had a gallery internship. He just had a connection like that and I was like yo, I can’t just get people on the phone and get an internship. You start to see what gets people in line for their careers. I was making some connections while I was up there, but it was so much money to keep up with and I was literally surviving off $100 a month. You might’ve had to take the train all the way across the city to meet with somebody. Cereal and milk costs $10—a piece almost. I was just living rough and everyone around me was chilling. It was crazy. They had so much bread—you had foreign students who were there that were from Korea and stuff. My freshman class was mostly insanely rich Korean people and we Americans were the minority in my freshman class. They would have all the newest materials. All the newest paints, like entire sets of paints that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. They would get the best canvases. They were able to get all the stuff like it was nothing—not show up to class. B-S on the assignments.

It was kind of jarring for me because that’s not what I came from, even in art school in Delaware—that just wasn’t the background that I had. I was just like I can’t do this for four years. I can’t even afford to do this for four years, so I was like man I’m dropping out of here. Looking back, I think the teachers also—I don’t know—I was also the only Black student, so I would get some weird push back every now and then from my teachers and it just didn’t rub me the right way. I’m like I’m paying all this money for this? So, yeah… I got out of there and just took a year off pretty much.

That’s crazy though, you said them attending art school is like a hobby, but you’re there as if your life depended on it.

As if my life depended on it! I had to borrow this money. It was crazy! I had to convince my family. They went up with me to tour and didn’t really get it when we went up there—it’s not like it’s a campus that you go to, so I didn’t really have a lot of support so I had to really sell it. When I got up there, yeah it was so crazy seeing these people—they just truly did not care. That’s a lot of universities out there though, not just art school.

How did you craft your style and what makes your style you?

It’s funny you say that. I was just thinking about that today—I’m working on a design and I’m thinking, how did this… how did I…? But, I would say a lot of it comes from watching a lot of cartoons as a kid. Drawing Dragon Ball Z, stuff like that and my cousins were artists, so it was pretty cool. They would give me little tips, but I didn’t really have a style because I was always drawing other characters.

When I went to art school that’s where all the cool hip artist kids went and some of them were getting into doing graffiti and I just kind of got into it. I don’t know how I got into it to be honest with you. I got into doing graffiti and started to take it really seriously—just studying it. It’s a real sub-culture. A lot of people don’t know to be in graffiti you really have to study it almost like it’s a course or something. You have to really know the culture because your card will get pulled if you don’t know the culture. I learned to stand out in graffiti you have to come up with your own style. You have to stand out so when you write your name people know that that’s you. I would just try weird stuff—weird colors or weird patterns, just stuff that I didn’t really see. After I went to art school—like going to SVA I did learn stuff, it wasn’t all for nothing. I formed this style where I learned the formal way, but I did the graffiti way and I merged the two together. That’s really where my style comes from—it’s literally half graffiti and half fine art. That’s why I go by Terranceism because I really wanted to create my own ism with art so wherever you may be, you’re like “I know the guy who made that” even if you don’t see my signature. I give a lot of credit to graffiti because you have to stand out. You have to be original.

Has painting and graffiti always been your main creative mediums?

At first, I was really like an illustrator—that’s what I majored in at SVA so I would draw constantly. I actually wasn’t that great of a painter. I really did my first painting in art college and I think I ended up with a B in painting, but the teacher and I definitely butted a lot of heads and I wasn’t really refined. I didn’t hit my stride with painting until probably five years ago when I was at my job and I was like man I’m just going to dedicate every off moment that I have to painting because I would see that painters were the ones that were paid and getting gigs. That was like the legitimate art form, so I was like I have to learn painting because drawing is so small. For me to do a piece this big [opens arms wide] and draw would take me weeks and weeks and weeks, and I could do a painting maybe in a few weeks at that size, so it just seemed like the way to get a bigger idea out.

How would you describe the difference from painting on canvas to painting murals? In terms of the type of paint you use and prepping your surfaces and whatnot.

Painting on canvas versus painting on a wall—it’s much more controlled on a canvas. You’re in full control when you’re in the studio. You can move the canvas how you want to move it, you can stand up, sit down, kind of look around—that’s like the biggest difference. One of the things that got me into making murals and how I got better at making murals is actually trying to not have there be a difference in it. So, what kind of led me into doing murals is I started doing live paintings as performance—as gigs. I needed some money because when I quit my job, I was doing anything.

That actually led me into painting murals because you had to get really comfortable in the public to paint—people want to come up to you, they want to talk to you. It’s not like you can move around the room. Instead of painting in the studio where you can change the lighting and do all that—I’ve painted at clubs where it was pitch black. Painting live I got super comfortable and you had to paint big so people could see it—and you had to paint fast because people wanted to see it completed while you were there. I had to learn how to paint really fast, paint big, and be uncomfortable. You can’t move the building so you’re just out there and have to figure out a plan that works for that wall because other walls require a different plan. As I got further along it definitely got more complex. I had to learn how to repair walls, prime walls properly, and do all types of stuff like that.

What types of paint do you use for your canvases and murals?

I’m an acrylic painter. That’s really what I like to use on both surfaces. I use a lot more spray paint with murals, but I use some in the studio when I’m just painting on canvas. I use acrylic paint because it dries quicker, it’s cheaper, and there’s more colors if you ask me. It’s easier to mix colors. A lot of people like oil paint because it stays wet and they can really get into the details, but I challenged myself to make the acrylic look like oil. I had to come up with different techniques because with oil paint you should have ventilation in the room, you need to have turpentine, the paint is five-ten times more expensive for the little tiny tubes that you get. So, if you want to paint something big, which I like to do, it takes a lot of oil paint. The brushes for oil paint are fifty bucks, hundred bucks, so to me it makes it hard—especially for a Black artist to be an oil painter because you have to get all this stuff and even if you don’t get the stuff it can be kind of hazardous. So, I stick with acrylic and the same thing with murals—I use almost the same paint, just bigger tubes or buckets, or acrylic house paint. Acrylic paint is definitely my medium. I want to learn oil, but I don’t have the patience for it—not yet at least.

Murals are so mystified because they don’t see them get done often, but it’s always a process. I find murals easier to do actually than painting at home, but the way I look at it is bigger brushes. I tell people that all the time—bigger wall, bigger brushes and the problem is solved. Rollers instead of brushes might need to be used, but you get a big brush and you’d be surprised how big you can paint. So, everything is just scaled up, but when painting on canvas you’re sitting in there by yourself, it doesn’t happen overnight and you get to certain points where you hate it. It messes with your nerves. You don’t know when to finish. You’re just sitting in there by yourself. A lot of times doing murals I get energy from other people, “hey that looks great, man!” or people coming up like “wow, I’ve never seen somebody do that!” It kind of gives you extra energy whereas in the studio it can be kind of exhausting sometimes.

Do you have any influences in art?

For sure! A lot of them honestly are graffiti artists that most people haven’t even heard of—local graffiti artists to be honest with you. A lot of graffiti artists have talent that is so raw and they find ways to really refine it and it’s just—even today most of the top artists are street artists that started with graffiti. It gives you a chance to really be competitive. A lot of the people I look up to are graffiti artists, but when it comes to traditional art—Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dali, Picasso—a lot of the main artists I was inspired by because they were the first one to do something. That’s what I love seeing—people that are the first ones to introduce a style or to bring a new vibe in.

That reminds me of Basquiat, who is one of my favorite artists. Like you said, being one of the firsts to create his own style. He didn’t give a fuck about what others thought. He was truly himself and he brought that to his art and I appreciate that. Whenever you think of your own art, what do you feel that it represents and what do you hope that people take away from it?

I really want my art to be universal, but distinctly from a Black man. I want it to be somewhat universal to the point where everyone sees a little bit of themselves in it. That’s my goal with everything I do, honestly because art is a universal language and one thing Black people haven’t been able to do is be in charge of a universal language. We’re not really in charge of music, we’re not really in charge of any art scenes, so I think once Black people kind of get more control of the arts you’ll start to see a lot of change that just naturally happens. Arts are the things that penetrates—it goes right to the heart. That’s my main goal—to create something that’s triumphant that anyone can look at and it speaks to them somehow.

Fine art speaks to everyone. It’s so magical to recreate something so pristine and so clean. Everyone is marveled by that for the most part, but street art is the rawness—that extra drip. When you’re talking about Basquiat, he’s the one who introduced that to the world. I think everybody in their heart of heart, somewhere in their personality wants to be a little on edge, even if it’s just a tiny bit—they want to be a little bit edgy or almost street smart. If I can just continue to refine that concept that’s what I’m working towards. That’s what I hope people get when they look at a piece of mine or something that I’ve created.

That’ll keep you ambitious because it’s a very ambitious goal. It’s achievable, but it’ll keep you ambitious for sure!


How have you navigated the creative landscape in your city?

I created it. I had to create it. To be honest with you, when I started getting active in Wilmington through my art there wasn’t really an art scene, especially not for young people, not for Black people. Every first Friday we would have what they called the Art Loop, which was historically white. It was mostly white artists for a long time. You would see some Black artists on the Art Loop, but in very traditional styles. I never really even went to the Art Loop because it didn’t seem like my vibe, but through necessity once I quit my job, I was looking for any opportunity to work. I was knocking on doors, I went to the museums—I showed my artwork to the museums because I didn’t know where to go—there were no scenes. There was no culture. In Philadelphia and some cities there is a pathway.

There are people you can talk to. There are whole entire institutions there to uplift artists. We don’t really have that in Delaware. If we do it’s for artists statewide, which are mostly white to be honest with you. So, I just started knocking on doors and somebody told me, “hey, do the Art Loop. It’s free!” I was like it’s free? Because everywhere else they take commission. The museums were talking about fifty percent commission, thirty at the least. You go to galleries you have to wait a year to show if you’re lucky—if they choose you. They were saying, “yeah in this magazine they have all the businesses that participate. You can call them and schedule your show.” And I was like what? And it was totally free, which I thought was unbelievable. You could call one of the venues, which were mostly restaurants or venues that wanted foot traffic, schedule a show and make your own show. I didn’t know that this was revolutionary to do.

A friend of mine was organizing a show and it fell through, but he had a friend that was opening up a tea shop and they wanted to be on the Art Loop king of as the Black nation for the Art Loop. She had just opened like a month prior, so nobody really knew about her tea shop and I did the first Art Loop of the year. I designed all the flyers, I named the show myself, I organized it, made my own prints to sell—I had made a book and I did this all at work when I was working because we had Photoshop and all that. So, I made all this stuff and the show came around and it was huge success and nobody took any commission out of it. It was mind boggling to me! I sold artwork. I sold print. I made like $1,500 bucks and that was actually while I was still working and that’s when I knew I could quit my job. So what did I do? I called every single business. I did it ten months out of twelve months. Every single month I went to a new location, had prints for sale, and just kept doing it because there was no limitation—nothing!

This created a whole revolution in what artists were doing because people just started copying what I was doing. Which, I used to get a little upset about, but in retrospect I can’t really blame them. So, people started calling and setting up their own shows and self-promoting. That just changed the whole game because then once you could self-promote Black artists came on the forefront. It literally happened overnight. For three or four years I was literally like a rockstar. Anywhere I went people knew who I was. Artists would come up to me asking me questions out of the blue. People would come stop me on the street. I didn’t really have to do too much after that. After that first year of putting in work it became demand—people just wanted me to do work for them so people would go there because I was developing a following. That was kind of out of my control and then by my third year I was working with the art museums and doing all types of stuff. But I was working hard though. I was working harder than anybody that I’ve ever seen at that time. Harder than anybody I’ve ever seen. Any occupation! I don’t care if you outside with a jackhammer—I was working harder than them! But at the same time, I put so much time in that my skills jumped exponentially. So I was painting twelve hours a day some days, everyday. There was no weekend. There was no day off. I was painting every single day for about three or four years straight.

To one side you might paint too Black to the other side you might not paint Black enough—they want to see it raw. It looks too fine art-ish. That hampers the imagination of what you can come up with because things stop seeming realistic.

Earlier on you mentioned how Black people don’t have our own thing. You mentioned music—we’re not running our music. When I think of art, I know for a fact that it’s a very white space. Going to college it’s a very white space. Like how you mentioned about your college experience. So, what is the importance of elevating Black voices in art?

It’s everything. It’s everything because owning Black arts you own the Black imagination. So, owning the Black imagination for instance in music, one of the genius things that white people did was stop people from creating their own record labels in the beginning. They’re like we’ll promote you. You just have to do what we want you to do. We’ll give you the fame. We’ll give you everything. You just have to say and do the things that we want to see you do. So, what sells? Sex and violence—that’s with everything in our culture. It’s in movies. It’s in all these different things. Hip-Hop was not based on that in the beginning, but once they got a few and elevated them everyone else wants to be like who’s elevated. So, if you can’t really elevate yourself or if you have to even acclimate to something else to elevate yourself, then they’ve won essentially.

One thing as far as in the Black art space—it’s almost fetishized. They want the Basquiat look. They want that raw childlike look, which doesn’t always cross over to making you a skilled artist, or respected as a skilled artist. But at the same time galleries can set an aesthetic that they want for Black artists. That’s the power they have. So, they can set an aesthetic and then all galleries will follow and if you’re a Black artist that isn’t on that trend—that little pamphlet that you mailed in, those little jpegs that you sent in… they open up one and may not even look at the rest.

So, that’s the power of these galleries, which has changed now because of social media. That was the big shift, but even a lot of artists that become successful on social media don’t really have the structure or the know-how to legitimize it to move forward with it, so that’s why galleries are still important. If we had tons of Black owned galleries that had million-dollar donors or had these kinds of representation we might be in a whole new space. I kind of wanted to distance myself from just being a painter after a while because I saw—it’s basically not a lot of freedom there. To one side you might paint too Black to the other side you might not paint Black enough—they want to see it raw. It looks too fine art-ish. That hampers the imagination of what you can come up with because things stop seeming realistic. Like, I want to paint this, but it’s not realistic for me to paint that.

That’s sad though. But I also feel like when people think of Black artists it’s like this—I don’t know—they expect you to paint “Black” things if that makes sense. So it’s like “Black” art looks like this. “Black” art is this. But why can’t I be an artist that paints what I want in the style that I like?

So I got caught in a paradox a few years ago that was exactly that because a few years ago there was a trend of Black art going viral on social media and I was already painting Black art. I didn’t know it was Black art. I just only painted Black people—I didn’t think about it, you know? I was just only painting Black people, but I painted a few paintings that went viral and I was like okay, that is what they want to see on social media. You have to think—the average person sharing something on social media isn’t some art enthusiast. They just see something that speaks to them in that moment and will share it. So I kind of got caught up in that—creating for social media because that was giving me a following that I could then leverage. But, then what I found as I would move up in whatever ranks I guess you could say—in the actual reality scene, not on social media—that stuff was kind of looked at as cheap—not cheap, but it was looked at as obvious. I was in this paradox where if someone’s offering me a contract to do something that’s worth real money, they’re saying “hey, could you tone it down a little bit?” And I’m just like ah, that’s not really what I’m trying to do. I’ve had people literally ask me “can you paint other than Black people?” People would literally ask me this. And I’m like, well of course I could do that. So, the people that were in charge of galleries and museums that offer big amounts of money or more legitimate money, they weren’t really interested in that style. They were interested in the traditional style, but then on social media everybody’s loving it and people are buying cheap prints. That’s that scene. They want the ten to fifty dollar print and they might buy a t-shirt that has your painting on it.

I don’t feel like the flip side of being a Black artist is amplified or spoken on much—

You want to know why that is? And not to cut you off—because so few have been there! That’s why! So few have been there that it’s not enough people—nope. That’s what what I found. I though the goal was to do Art Basel and I did it and I was like yo, it’s tough. But it’s not all doom and gloom. That means there’s big time opportunity, too. That’s how I try to look at it.

I’m not too well versed on the museum life, but that’s like a culture in itself. Basically how you said—they set the standard the they want and if you don’t fit it then hey, you don’t have an opportunity. You don’t have a chance.

And I’ll tell you exactly why that is that a lot of people don’t know because they haven’t seen it with their own eyes. I’ve literally had seats at the table. I’ve had that spot and you want to know what it is? Everyone needs money and the same people got the money. Museums need money. Organizations need money. Everywhere needs money and the people that have the most money are people that want to see their vision reflected when they donate that money. So, it’s like these museums be strapped for cash. These galleries are strapped for cash. They have patrons—people that sign up to be patrons of the gallery. Museums—patrons. We’re just now seeing—and it’s like rappers and entertainers—enough Black patrons to elevate to even get to the point where it’s challenging some of these museums and some of these places to have more stuff to sell to these people. That’s where it’s starting to shift now, but anything that’s a little edgy and not edgy in a captivating way, but edgy and can make you a little uncomfortable—that stuff they’re like whoa, I don’t know about that. I have to ask what the donors think. I have to ask what the higher ups think.

That’s a thing that stops a lot of Black artists because they get offended by that and they don’t know what the real industry is. I’ve been offended many times. We have the right to be offered by a racist system, but we also have to educate ourselves to move ourselves past it no to wait around to get the information, but to actually learn it to elevate ourselves before they allow us to. By the time they allow us to do it it’s already a wrap—they already have it worked out. It’s a tough space to be in.

Nobody wants to feel like they got a ball and chain on them. Some of these artists that work for galleries they got a ball and chain. They can paint a whole collection and bring it in and they’re like we don’t like it you have to do something else.

That’s like the opposite of what you think being an artist is. It’s like oh I have this free will. I do what I want. Everything is from the heart. What I want to see reflected is reflected. And then you just get slapped in the face—like eh, not quite!

And you see a lot of artists—even art that you’ve seen—that you believe are successful… they don’t have too much because they’re refusing to unhinge from that lifestyle. They want to wake up whenever they want. They want to not go to meetings or whatever and that’s great, but at the end of the day it’s just going to be tough. It’s going to be very tough. It’s all about balance, I think. And that’s with everything. You have to know how to balance and having the information allows you to navigate that.

Just like Jay-Z been telling people for years. Some people hate Jay-Z, some people love him. He was one of my favorite rappers growing up and I watched an interview where he was like I told y’all everything that I was about to do and why I was doing it. In every album I told y’all why I was doing it and why it was important for me to do that to get to the next step. And when you go back and listen to it, you’re like wow. It was all about ownership and independence. That’s what it was always about. It was never about flashiness. The flashiness was the symbol that you did it. You can wear a big chain and be in the office. You could drive a big fancy car and be a normal Black man as people would see. But he told you the steps he had to do to get to that point. He came into the game half independent already. He never signed a 100% deal, ever. Any entrepreneurial artist—if you go back and look at their interviews they had to struggle to hold on to their independence. That was the main struggle of their artistic career. But you know, that gets me fired up—just the challenge. I wish other artists saw that so they could—well, you see it now in music. Everyone has their own label. Everyone has a distribution partnership—stuff like that, but we’re not quite there with visual art. That’s something I think about.

What is something that you think needs to happen for Black artists to be in these spaces to get this information? Because a lot of us don’t come from wealth, so we can’t afford to go to these prestigious art schools, you know? So, what needs to change?

The number one thing… straight up—reading. Not enough people get curious enough about the thing they don’t know about to just open up a book about it. Like literally, man… I wish I knew how to do this. And they might look online real quick and then they get overwhelmed because there’s so many things to look at or so many videos, but open up a book, man… wow! Aesthetics are the number one thing that control our visual reality. It’s not even art or design. It’s aesthetics.

I had an aesthetics class and literally people drooling on their desk. Nobody cared. The teacher didn’t care because it was kind of a pass through course—it wasn’t the main course. He would give us reading assignments from the book and one of the reading assignments blew my mind so much that I had to read the book. I was shocked how many answers were just in there. Little things that you don’t think about that can change the whole course. He started the class off like why do you think the McDonald’s arches are the way they are and nobody thinks about that type of stuff. Why are the colors in a fast food place the colors they they—why is every fast food place red and yellow? It’s because they don’t want you sitting around. It’s called fast food. If you’re sitting there all day there’s no server. They don’t want you sitting there all day. And he said something like, the golden arches are the golden arches because you can see them in any weather. Isn’t that amazing? It could be raining, it could be a blizzard, it could be anything and you could still see the golden arch. In fact, they’re one of the pioneers of just putting a logo up in the sky—just on a pole.

That’s how aesthetics rule our life and that was all—the book was 200 pages long. It wasn’t a huge book, but it’s little stuff like that. Just reading a book and asking a question. I used to get on my teacher’s nerves because I would sit after class and ask him a question or I would say hey, do you know anybody that could tell me about that and every time he knew somebody. I just had to email them or go down the hall and talk to them. A lot of people get nervous or get caught up in why they shouldn’t do those things. That’s what I think as Black artists we have to go and do. Black artists—go back and study the old masters. It doesn’t matter if they’re white, man. They discovered something about art that’s still in museums today. That’s still selling for a hundred million dollars. It’s something to think about. You don’t have to know their whole life, but look and see what works. I think that’s majorly holding us back because we wait until we see what somebody successful does and we try to replicate it. So, the buck always stops at the trendsetter and the trendsetter is going through what I’m talking about right now trying to figure out—I’m just trying to do my thing.

If you really want it, something will always magically appear. Whether it’s an idea, opportunity, even the energy will always magically appear into your life. I’ve experienced it—seen it happen in others.

Thank you! Oh my gosh, I’ve enjoyed this conversation.

[laughing] I’m long winded!

I appreciate those in-depth answers. [laughing] That’s what I wanted. My last question and I’m not going to hold you too much longer—how can we stay connected with you?

Follow me on Instagram, that’s definitely number one. Check me out on there. I’m always posting something. Friend me on Facebook. I tell people to friend my personal page and check out my company’s website—Vibe Pro. If you want to see some of the things that we’re doing and stuff like that professionally, check out some of the work I do there, too!

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