“It was the idea of the gallery owner George R. N’Namdi, but I must also assert that I didn’t just write it because he commissioned me. I wouldn’t never write anything that I didn’t agree with. I agree that Black Lives Matter, and I am glad that this was the project at hand.” – RendaWriter
This past weekend, “Black Lives Matter”, a message that has been consistent in our society because of recent events, resurfaced again, this time, on a huge wall behind an art gallery in Detroit. The artist “RendaWriter”, known for his handwritten murals on many walls from New York to Miami, worked with the N’Namdi art gallery to bring this project to life. I first met Renda during Art Basel Miami last year and have kept in touch with him ever since. He has been hinting at doing some real thought-provoking work so I was excited when he informed me of the mural. We hopped on the phone to get behind the scenes with Renda on the project:
What inspired a black lives matter piece in Detroit? How did this become the topic of painting?
It was the idea of the gallery owner George R. N’Namdi, but I must also assert that I didn’t just write it because he commissioned me. I wouldn’t never write anything that I didn’t agree with. I agree that Black Lives Matter, and I am glad that this was the project at hand.
What’s your process of using words to define your projects. How do you decide on phrases, words and sentences for the particular spaces?
Words have always been my thing. I will quote Jim Morrison, “I’ve always been a word man. Better than a bird man.” I’m actually not so sure that I even know what a “bird man” is (Laughs) but I definitely am a “word man,” much like he was. I just love words. Both , in what they mean, and how they look. I don’t know how to draw, and I am by no means an illustrator, but that doesn’t stop me from being an artist. As a “Handwritten Artist”, I do words, and I love what I do. That is my art. Deciding on particular words or phrases is a process that I don’t know that I can really describe. I just kinda do what I do, and connect with the voice inside of me that tells me the things to say, to write, to do.
“I don’t know how to draw, and I am by no means an illustrator, but that doesn’t stop me from being an artist.” – RendaWriter
I am a student of life, so I study and observe everything around me, process and filter it through my brain, and then what comes out are the phrases and words that I use. “Your Comfort Zone Will Kill You,” “Feel Free to Feel Free,” “Everything is Happening,” “Love is Everywhere,” and “Do something new. Something new will happen” are all phrases of mine. Where they came from, specifically, I am not sure. My soul I guess? The Universal subconscious? Also, I am a big fan of the word “Everything.” (Watch how many times I use it in this interview). I also love the words “She”, “Brevity”, and “Manifest.” My decisions are based on my intuitive feelings, and I guess that’s all I can really say to explain that. I just go with my gut. And I’ll close out this answer by saying, “Go with your gut. It knows what’s up.” (Another one of my phrases.)
Folks seem to focus on race heavy in America, why do you think it surprises folks when someone non-black supports “Black Lives Matter?”
Honestly, I don’t really know. People are people, and they do what they do, think what they think, and say what they say. At the end of the day, I am who I am, and that’s all that I am really responsible for. I am not even responsible for my skin color. Shit, even my beard has like four different colors. I know this: The soul has no color. It is colorless, formless, shapeless, and free of all Earthly definition. I know that there were several white activists that were involved in the civil rights movement and that were allied with Martin Luther King Jr. I just do what I do. I’m not really responsible for what surprises people.
A couple hundred years ago, folks were “surprised” to find out that the Earth was not actually flat, and you wouldn’t sail off of it. Everything is relative, and everything is everything. What we focus on expands. As Wayne Dyer said, “Energy flows where attention goes.” So if we pay attention to the race of an artist, then energy will flow there, and it will matter. If we do not, then energy is free to flow elsewhere. I personally, would like to focus my attention on the art and the message, rather than the color of the messenger. Race does not matter as much as people would like to think.
There is a reason why the cover of the first album by 3rd Base (“The Cactus Album”) did not have pictures of the white rappers in the group. The music was more important. In the Summer I tend to be super dark, and in the Winter I am pale. so yeah, color don’t mean nothing’. I’m an American. but I am not America, and not responsible for what America thinks. America should focus a lot less on race. Let’s quote Rodney King. “Can’t we all just get along?”
Being that your work deals in repetition, what effect so you think the mural will have on the everyday passerby?
I don’t know. I guess it will affect everyone differently. Maybe it’d be cool to have a camera at the wall, to record the reactions of the people. I just write and go.
What are some of the comments you’ve received from folks while working?
One lady said, “Thank you for writing Black Lives Matter.” Then she handed me $4 and said, “Buy some paint if you need to.” Another woman said, “Shouldn’t it say ‘All Lives Matter?'” I just said, “Nah, it’s supposed to say ‘Black Lives Matter'” and smiled and continued writing. Lots of people have just plain said, “Thank you,” and many people have asked to take pictures. I’ve heard all kinds of things from all kinds of people. That’s the gift and the curse of doing public art. Public art is like anything else that is public. It’s subject to the public and the bell curve of public opinion. My role is just to create it and then let it be. I am an artist. Nothing more. Nothing less.
How do you feel about activism through art? What are the biggest rewards of being able to paint your thoughts publicly?
Honestly, I have never really cared much for personally taking any kind of role in public activism until now. I understand that creating this mural has placed me into a position of activism, and I am definitely cool with that. I accept the role I am now in and I accept both the criticism and the praise. It’s all good. And when it comes to the criticism, it just reminds me of my own personal platform and that is LOVE. I represent LOVE. Love for the opposition. Love for the oppressor. Love for all mankind. Love for family. Love for animals. Love for all things. Love for EVERYTHING.
I guess the biggest reward for painting my thoughts out is the attention it brings. I’m not gonna lie, I am a Leo, and I love attention. If people are paying attention, then I have done my job as an artist and fulfilled a certain inner need as a Leo. The best reward is just to wake up everyday. I wake up feeling grateful, and that’s just how I live. It works for me, and I recommend an attitude of gratitude for others too!
I love how the background is black and writing is white juxtaposing the two together to emphasize the “Black Lives Matter” message, this to me shows that with both colors working together, we can exhibit greater message. Was this the intention?
It wasn’t the intention, but all coincidence has meaning.
“Again, I reiterate: The mural says “Black Lives Matter,” and that is all. The rest is up to YOU.” – RendaWriter
Detroit has been through a lot of financial, political and communal ups and downs lately, how can this mural and art as a whole help to revive the city of Detroit and make in an epicenter for change in America?
I don’t really know that I am qualified to predict what role this mural will play in the revival of Detroit. I’m an out-of-towner, and I guess only time will tell. All I know is that I am very grateful to have had the chance to create it, and I do love Detroit and certainly see how it has earned the title of “America’s Comeback City.” In the immediate area around the mural in Midtown Detroit, I see lots of construction, lots of growth, and lots of new businesses popping up. America is a great country. Detroit is a great city. Life is great if you choose to see it that way, which I do.
Any last words about the mural?
Yes. Black Lives Matter. That is what the mural says. And that is all that it says. Nothing more. Nothing less. It does not imply anything, nor does it provoke anything. People are free to derive from that whatever they will from it. Everything is subjective. The way things (especially art) are interpreted is up to the viewer, and how a person interprets a piece of art says much more about them than it does about the art. Anais Nin is quoted as saying, “We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Let’s marinate on that for a minute. Again, I reiterate: The mural says “Black Lives Matter,” and that is all. The rest is up to YOU. All I did was write 3 words over and over. I love “Everything” and everyone. I am love.
#BlackLivesMatter – A #HandwrittenMural by #RendaWriter in #Detroit #Michigan at #NnamdiContemporary #NnamdiCenter #WorkInProgress #RendaWriterArt #TravelingArtist #Art #ModernArt #ArtPress #ArtNews #ArtBlog #ArtBlogger #ArtOfTheDay #ArtWorld #StreetArt #DetroitMurals #RW15 #BlackLivesMatterDetroit
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Badir McCleary Editor in Chief
Badir McCleary is an independent consultant. He holds a M.A. in Arts Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art (Los Angeles/London) where he focused on creating art markets and with an undergraduate degree in Internet Computing from Cabrini University focusing on e-commerce and digital trends. Badir enjoys working with artists and consider them crucial to informing his practice.
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- Soul of A Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983, A Research and Review Essay April 13, 2019
- “Configuration” at 2018 Scope International Art Fair Miami Beach December 4th – December 9th, 2018 December 2, 2018
- Relational Chemistry: A Introspective of Urban Experience October 12, 2018