The human experience is one filled with irony. Those first moments of existence, we are seen as pure but deemed born into sin. We’re taught from a very young age that we’re all uniquely unique, but are then carefully crafted to be the same as the next. Before you know it, you’re living the same life as the one before, living someone else’s “truth.”
Artist Adewale Alli knows this all too well, and through his art, offers a chance…an escape from the imposed sociological sanctions of society. With his trademark “red eyes” and color-centric pieces, the Baltimore artist invokes an unsettling sense of urgency in introspection. His work beckons the viewer to reach into their subconscious and acknowledge the things buried deep.
Take a peek at the conversation I had with the CAN First Patron artist below as we talk about his evolving relationship with color, his inspirations, and his favorite set from the Black Spirituals installation.
What led you to adopting art as a career and lifestyle?
That is a long story!!!! Let’s just say it became an overwhelming passion I could not ignore, and it’s in my blood.
What medium do you find yourself working with most? Is there a medium that you would like to incorporate more into your future works?
These days I’ve been working with polyurethane. It’s a very interesting medium. I get to play with form and texture, [and] it really feels like I’m creating, not just painting. I would love to incorporate fire. I’m a pyromaniac; I have this crazy obsession with creating fire. I believe fire is a very misunderstood element.
How does your creative process begin?
It alway begins with a dream. Dreams are weird because they are our brain’s way of telling us secrets we withhold from ourselves when we’re awake. I like that I can steal those secrets and stories and turn them into something I can show the world. So I wake up, jot down what I can remember, and set out to share it with the world the only way I know how.
“Who” or “What” is inspiring you the most these days?
For who, I have three people that inspire me: ASA [Jackson], Anselm Kiefer, and Bram Bogart. And for what, I believe that would be my progressive understanding of the cosmos as it is, not as it is described.
There is a clear shift from your past works to your more recent works, specifically with the implementation of color. What was the catalyst behind that change?
I have always wanted to explore with color, but I’ve always been afraid of it, so I wanted to challenge myself. I believe that my relationship with color has evolved over time and is still far from being complete. Previously (depending on when you began following my work), my use of color was juvenile, bleaker, and more focused on form.
Now, I am realizing that color is not a tool but a language artists and non-artists alike use to convey meaning and messages to the masses. I found myself immersing deeply in the way humans use color to communicate, from artificial uses like the red in stop signs to instinctual uses like the red in blood…both meant to warn people. The study of color, and all of its uses, helps me to learn and create anew.
I’ve recognized shifting red eyes to be a staple in a lot of your paintings. Is there an underlying significance there?
The quintessential red eyes! Those have meant so many things to me over the years I first adopted them. I don’t think I could tell you what they mean to me now, but I can tell you the feelings they elicit in my audience and why I like them.
I’ve been told that the red eyes make people uneasy, wary, suspicious, and conscious of their surroundings. I’ve also been told that they cause people to look at their surroundings then into themselves to see if they’re missing something important. I feel all those feelings every day: doubt, concern, and curiosity. I like that the meaning (no matter how arbitrary it may be) can be conveyed to the audience in so many interpretations.
Do you have a favorite set from the installation?
The Red Room!!!!! The energy in that room is unbelievably intense, and I love it!! It is also my favorite color to look at.
What is the biggest thing you hope for viewers to take out of Black Spirituals?
I want people to leave this installation feeling the same way I felt, pure awe. Artists put a lot of their life into making pieces and telling stories. We do it for the artistry and love for it…sure, but also for the validation from our audience.
I want the people that go in and come out to feel like they found a piece of themselves in there that they never knew they were missing. I want them to feel even more connected or embedded in the human experience and be thankful for that.
Featured image (“Born Of The Sun”) is courtesy of Adewale Alli
There are still a couple of dates left for Black Spirituals. Be sure to get your tickets here!