Why do you create art?
This is a question I’ve never really asked myself. That said, I don’t really know “why”, I just “do”. I do it instinctively, I don’t think about it. Every day I’m creating something, whether a new painting on canvas or reworking images I created years ago. I’m exploring and learning new ways to create. In recent years I’ve been deconstructing my original paintings and combining pieces of different paintings to create new, totally different original works. Some of my new pieces are an “assemblage” of images from seven (7) or eight (8) different works. I’m exploring, in a sense, infinity and infinite possibilities.
In trying to answer this question I realize, in a sense, that this exploration of the concept of infinity is why I create art.
Tell us about your favorite work of art that you sold and now regret it.
Answering this question takes me back to the very beginning of my journey as an artist. The name of the painting is “Come Monday”. It was my very first painting, done on canvas board with brushes an acquaintance found in the gutter and given to me. The scene in the painting depicted Black women washing clothes in big cast iron pots, heated over an open fire, in a rural setting. This is a memory from my childhood. My mother gave me the name “Come Monday” because every Monday the women would wash clothes in this manner.
What are some of the responses you have gotten from people seeing your artwork?
Responses to my work have been positive for the most part. Nothing is universally received positively. I don’t let that bother me, I paint/create for me. The important thing to me is that I like it. I once tried painting specifically for someone, worst painting I ever did. I learned my lesson, I don’t/won’t do that anymore.
The work I do now is created as free from outside influences as I can possibly make it. I allow myself to “get out of the way” when I work. I know I’m a conduit for the ideas/images that I present to the world. I spend most of my time alone when I’m creating. This is done mainly at night when there are few distractions.
Regarding particular/specific responses, people marvel at the level of detail that is in my work. My pieces usually take months to complete.
Tell us about your HBCU initiative.
The Steve R. Allen HBCU Gifting Initiative has a dual purpose, to honor and support Black institutions of higher learning. It was created to honor my mother, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Bowden Allen Johnson, and my oldest brother, Arthur Lee Allen, for the invaluable help they provided in supporting and furthering my art career. This help was financial and spiritual. They believed in me and what I was doing even though they
weren’t quite sure what I was doing.
It was also created to help preserve Black culture an provide another form of financial support to HBCUs by way of owning art as a tangible asset. Part of the Initiative is to inform/educate my people of the value of art as a legitimate financial asset.
To date the Initiative has donated close to $1.5 million to HBCUs.
What does success look like for you?
Success for me looks like what I’m doing now. By this I mean working with young people internationally and here at home in the U.S. It means being able to donate work to HBCUs and I’ll work in this way until I’m unable to continue. I embrace my status as an elder and look to pass knowledge on to the next generation. I feel/know this is my duty.
Tell us about your work in Brazil.
My work in Brazil is a continuation of my work with the Steve R. Allen Foundation, www.SteveRAllenFoundation.org. In addition to exhibiting my work there, I work in schools with young people on the elementary, secondary and university levels. There is an introduction to the visual arts with regards to actually creating the work and also to the “business of art”. This is something that needs to begin to be understood. There is
a deal to be exposed to and learned in this area.
What can the world expect next from you?
The world can expect me to continue the exploration of the “infinite possibilities” that life is. This will take the form of creating art, sharing with young people and continuing the HBCU Gifting Initiative.