In Conversation With...
“Money tried to get me, but I had already found my greatness.”
Some refer to me as a Contemporary Artist, which is fine. …I guess you can say I am a very strange, highly creative person who wants to think completely out of the box. I want to be the person who talks the most about the things you don’t hear about. I use my art (Cotton Series, Geisha, and Buffalo Warrior) as my voice.
I first came to New York in 1986 after retiring from being a gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University where I attended on scholarship. Very soon after arriving, I met Jean Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Basquiat, on a vibrational level, scared me because I never saw death walking and he was that. He was fascinating because no one really cared about him, on a human level-as a person, and that is how he moved through the world.
In 1987, I moved to Paris, France with barely $300 in my pocket, a sketch pad, and a Jean Paul Gaultier jacket -my only nice piece. I managed to find a place to live near Notre Dame. I ate too many baguettes to count because money was non-existent. To survive I did fashion illustrations for JOYCE magazine and for designers Christian Lacroix, Emanuel Ungaro, Azzedine Alaia, and Yves Saint Laurent. On the surface [it was] glamorous, but fashion places you in a tough living situation because you are always chasing your money. Thankfully, Paris had some angels that adopted me. One of whom was a high-fashion model featured in the very first cover my work appeared on.
My goodness, what a vision. She was stunning and a godsend because she showed me how to be ‘of life.’ In that time, I learned to make love, and enjoy great food and wine. To this day Gourmet Gourmand on Rue Cite is one of my favorite restaurants.
Christian Lacroix changed my life. He told me that I was a painter. No one had ever said that to me before. Until that point, I knew myself to be a former gymnast who could sketch. I was desperately trying to find something to be great at –not good, great! I found it in painting.
The MANTRA (Voice in My Head)
My father, Reverend Theodore Guest, showed me how to live and to write my own narrative because he wrote his right in front of my face. A decorated WW2 sergeant in the US Army, he designed his life by hand –a gospel minister and part-time race car driver in Niagara Falls—and in doing so he made me a very spiritually wealthy person.
Two things he used to say to me, “Let the wind blow through you because if you break up you will crack,” and “Learn how to Live.” At the time I did not know exactly what he meant, but as I got older and experienced the world on my own (New York, New York and Paris, France) I came to understand that the only person qualified to put a label on you, to define you, is you. So when I see my brothers call one another n***a claiming ownership of another’s derogatory definition- I feel the weight of how far we still must come.
It is my mission to make certain we know our worth and stop n***a-fying ourselves. My life, my vision, my work puts me in front of Kings and Presidents so I am aware of my power so I continually ask myself what is it that I do to remind our people of who they are; that they are Kings and men of honor and respect. When I am not painting, a lot of my time is spent thinking about how to minister to people through my work. It is how Buffalo Warrior, my graphic novel, came to be. How to reprogram our image and reflections of self. I must remind myself to always speak through compassion, not frustration or to sound better than. My father’s words “Let the wind blow through you because if you break you will crack up,” provides me the peace to be open to the life’s journey of this missive.
I don’t sleep like a normal person. My hours are unconventional so I follow my body.
3:00AM I awake and walk about my home like a spirit to look at my painting in the moonlight. The world is quiet then so the piece that I am working on can talk to me and tell me where it needs to go. We have a conversation for a bit before I go back to sleep.
8:00AM I am officially awake for the ‘responsibilities to life’ part of my day. First thing I do is have water, and then maybe a cup of coffee that either I brew myself or walk across the street to a café. I used to be a breakfast person, but now that I am in my 50s I am not anymore.
10:00AM Out the door for meetings if no client appointments. The trick of my life is to address those ‘responsibilities of life‘ things (pay bills, take meetings, check in on my sons) as efficiently as possible so I can get to my canvas. My Grandmother would always say, “Chaz you have to learn how to eat with the birds” (i.e. my life moves in automatic). What I am feeling is what I am going to do. I don’t take notes. I listen to the information of what the Universe is saying to me and I go with it. That is how my life generally goes.
1:00PM Lunch meeting – Usually my first meal of the day. Typically, it is with either my literary agents for my graphic novel (BUFFALO WARRIOR), my art dealer Patrick Painter, or producers/executives working with me to expand the world of Buffalo Warrior.
3:00PM Around this time I start to get antsy. The position of the afternoon sun starts to change. It’s always the best light to start painting so I began thinking about when I can get my body in front of my easel and canvas in order to use nature’s light to mix my colors and prepare the space.
7:00PM The stage of my studio has been set to start painting; a nice bottle of Bordeaux, some Coltrane, Miles or Rachmaninoff for the ears and my phone –out of eyesight, but not off. Painting is a solitary endeavor, which is not always good, so I don’t shut my phone off and depending on who is calling I may step out for food. There is this little Japanese place in my area.
11:00PM Again I allow my body to be my guide. I paint until I am tired. If there have been no interruptions then I start to wind down before midnight and go to sleep
3:00AM I am back awake when a work is talking to me (in my dreams) and in appreciation for another day.
The MEDITATION (when you think Legacy + Heritage)
The elimination of the word n****r from all culture. I have been trying to speak to the superpowers that we have as brown and black people to define ourselves.
Fathers by Robyn Price Pierre. This season, as you know I created the 2018 ICON MANN LEGACY Award that was given to former Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. In the gift bag was this gorgeous book of black men with their children. It’s a powerful thing to see in its density and greatness like that. I know that life, those lives, because we are fathers raising and loving boys and girls to be the authors of their own life’s narrative.
Stevie Wonder (Conversation Peace, 1995): I rediscovered this album and it had me sweating while painting. Initially, I thought I had forgotten all of the lyrics, but with each note I started to remember. I promise you I sang every song. I was in NYC and I remember being in the space of pulling my life together. Zuri (my oldest) had just been born. I was a struggling artist and was very much aware that I needed to get my shit together. When I sing these songs, I am at my greatest power. They remind me of what I overcame.
Collecting the Masters
Romare Bearden + Henry Ossawa Tanner, both painters created works that I would not only be moved to have them hanging on my walls but also works that speak to my heart and my soul in every way; subject, color, composition. Everything is there. The spirit of the paintings.
Gordon Parks We met from a mutual friend who told Gordon that he has no excuse not to meet me. She said that I reminded her of Gordon. He and I used to go to The Metropolitan Museum together. He taught me how to appreciate various styles. I did his last portrait, purchased by Bob and Faye Davidson.
5 Things I Can’t Live Without
Travel. Kyoto, Japan, I will one day call it home. Ghana, I was invited to paint King Otumfuo Osei Tutu II last year
Magasin Sennelier – an art store in Paris on Quai Voltaire. It is from the early 1800s. They carry Raphael brushes and the best hand-mixed paints from Blockx, Williamsburg or Old Holland.
Yohji Yamamoto, in 1990 when I was in NYC, I saved my money and bought a pair of black Yogi pants with a white stripe. I still have those pants.
Giorgio Armani, I was still in NYC 1992. I remember selling a painting and immediately running out to by my first suit. That was around the time of Richard Gere’s American Gigolo. Man, that movie changed my life because he folded his clothes. He had beautiful things and was super organized. I got the message.
Zori sandals from Japan.