I was first introduced to the work of Serge Gay Jr. by Dead C, when he shot me a link to the Monster Fresh preview for Spoke Art’s “Bad Dads” exhibit in San Francisco last October. Serge had contributed to the Wes Anderson-themed group show and, after being immediately struck by his work, I decided to start digging a little deeper. What I discovered was that artists like Serge are embarrassingly rare for two reasons:
1) He’s an African American artist on the brink of serious success, and…
2) He’s broaching stardom for his talents in more than one medium.
Not many people will argue with the fact that the newer outcrops of pop art, pop surrealism, and the like, have proven themselves to be more inclusive and accessible to artists of color than average. At first glance, there is little doubt that there is a strong mix of major contributors to the scene, from various cultural backgrounds. That being said, it seems odd that there aren’t more African American figures; a contradiction that I cannot make sense of. Serge Gay is submitting his art and introducing himself later; allowing his work to speak for itself. His appearances in the “Bad Dads” exhibit and the upcoming “Quentin vs Coen” group show at the Bold Hype in NY (also presented by Spokeart) could be marking a shift in this traditionally insular art universe. Serge could very well be helping to pave a new path for other young talented artists; as one can only hope.
Serge Gay Jr. is a versatile artist whose mastery of color and form, along with lush sceneries, creates a visual treat for the viewer. He is skilled at adapting to various concepts while sticking with his signature style, often blending the figurative and the surreal with stunning technical acuity. Of his paintings, my personal favorites are the ones like “Catching Haiti’s Beauty” or “City of New Kids in Town” where he is able to create colorful new worlds. By providing a note of social commentary, these pieces and others become even more aesthetically complex and engrossing. In short, the man has skills! He’s a unique artist who is blazing a trail through the, sometimes, prickly art-world both in his hometown of San Francisco and beyond. When I see artists like this, who fearlessly showcases their talent with such grace and energy, I become freakishly hopeful that the art bubble might be eroding and that new artists might even find inspiration through such a rising star.
While Serge is gaining major traction on the gallery scene, he and video director, Matt Stawski are killing it with their music video work. The type of exposure that he’s received for his artwork in high profile music videos is something that many artists and graphic designers can only dream about, and things are only getting better. The duo have lent their talents to such popular bands as Train and Paramour, but have found some of their greatest success through their collaborations with former Goodie Mob member, Cee Lo Green. Gay and Stawski are the visual masterminds behind such Green videos as “It’s Ok” and “Fuck You”, the latter of which resulted in bringing them a recent 2011 Grammy nomination. The implications of such a Grammy nod is major for an artist who is not formally considered part of the “entertainment biz” and who is primarily known as a painter. At this point, the Haitian-born Twenty-something is already raising eyebrows and accomplishing more than the average artist, who has been at it much longer.
LL: On your website it states that you are a painter, graphic designer and illustrator. Which of these disciplines interested you first? Is there one that you identify with the most? Which do you find most challenging?
SGJ: I identify myself most as a Painter. That’s what I would say, sums myself as an artist in a nutshell. Painting is my Number one passion and love. Graphic Design is the most challenging for me.
How would you describe your work to someone, if you had no images to show them?
With one look, you will start to bleed out your eyes from this extraordinary delight and captivated beauty of art… end. LOL.
But I just discovered recently that my work is a diary. This overview timeline of all my life’s experiences and the journeys that I’ve seen or felt strongly about at that moment of time. So therefore, I love to create that world for people to see visually and to be touched in some kind of way or relate to. That’s the only way I can let people understand who I really am as a person.
The Bad Dads show looked amazing, how did you get involved with that exhibit?
I just walk into that show with a piece in my hand, put it on the wall, and then walked away. Just kidding, the guy who put together that wonderful show, (Ken Harman of Spoke Art) saw my work at another group show then asked me if I would be interested in doing some work for the “Bad Dad show: a tribute to Wes Anderson.” I was like “HELL-YEA!” With him not knowing that I was truly the biggest “Life of Aquatic” movie fan and pretty much one of my favorite move of all time. It’s Crazy how things work out.
I know that Spoke Art recently created some custom Steve Zissou Adidas. Were you able to get your hands on a pair?
Oh-yeah! I forgot that. They did say i could get my hands on a pair. Thanks for reminding me.
Can you describe your working relationship with Matt Stawski?
Matt is one of my best friends. We are just friends being creative doing what we love. We enjoy each others company, have this strong satisfaction with each others creative minds, the process, and we understand each other on a level that makes it truly worth it all. We know when to have fun and when it’s just business. Matt’s one of the very few people that truly knows me as an artist and as a person. Maybe because we are both so passionate about what we do… therefore we have a fun working relationship that always comes first.
How much collaboration is typically involved with the actual musicians on a video project?
It all depends on the artist or label. Most artists have seen our work in the past and know what they’re getting themselves into and trust us, some like to get involved and have input after they read Matt’s treatment. But when it comes to the post-production, we do what the hell we want. I kid; most time it is easier to show an artist or label, after posts than the written treatment. They end up loving it anyway. But Matt is a brilliant director who writes his own treatments, who’s a very hands on director on set, and edits his own videos. And I come alone on post work and we kill it in the end. Musicians happen to put all their trust in us for their videos, so we must be doing something right.
I’ve noticed that you added an image of yourself into the Cee-Lo Green “Fuck You” video (3:09 mark). Do you often incorporate “hidden” images into your work?
Ha! Yeah, I put Matt and myself in the video. We try to put hidden images in all of the videos when we have the time. We would put hidden messages for us and for the artist. It makes the process and video very fun for us. Just like all of my paintings, they are full of hidden messages. Why not do it with the videos?
What was your most memorable experience from the Grammy’s?
Sometimes I forgot to stop and witness what was going on in the moment, because of all the distractions and so much was going on at the same time that night. But when I did, I was like “Holy-Crap I’m sitting in the pit among all these music legends” But what was a mind-blowing experience to me was when our video for (F-U) would play on the big screen at the Grammy’s, and at that moment I knew all those big music legends were watching our video clip. Best feeling as an artist.
Was it different than you expected?
It was very different than I expected. I thought we were going to come home with that golden Grammy award scramming “HA-HA! Lady Gaga we won! sucka!” That didn’t happen.
How do you feel about the situations in Haiti? What do you think the role of the artist is in times of tragedy?
That quake is still the biggest tragedies of my life. I’m still always trying to find ways to help, constantly since day one. I Have been trying to find ways to help rebuild my country and the need of my people. From donating art for shows to raise money, trying to make t-shirts and shows to raise money. Anything. I may not have much but there are people in Haiti and everywhere else that have less than me. I know just with my small help I am feeding at lease one family for a day, rebuilding a home, or giving Medical care.
You were born in Haiti, grew up in Miami, studied in Detroit, and now live in San Francisco. How have these places influenced your work?
These Places are all the biggest influences for my work. It helps me to understand the differences in people and their way of life and it takes me into a journey all in itself.
There are a ton of artists in San-Francisco, what is the art scene like in comparison to other cities?
I really don’t know anymore, every city is so different. But I would always say SF and LA have this Juxtapoz magazine feel compare to New York, Miami, or Detroit. Where I feel like Here, everyone is trying to find ways to “Fit in” with their work compared to the East Coast, where everyone’s trying to “Stand out”. So when I came here, I felt out of place and stood out. And I was fine with that.
Do you think that San-Francisco is a good place for young African American artists to build their career? Does living and working in SF come with any unique challenges?
Oh-yeah I love a challenge. Most people would never think my work fit with this black guy before they would ever meet me. Good thing my work talks for itself. Because looks alone… I don’t think I would have gone far at all even being in a place like San Fran. I’ve learned, I always have to prove myself all the time that I’m capable. Something I’ve learn to deal with and have already prepared myself for in the long run of my career.
I did a little snooping and saw photos of you doing some traveling. Has your work been affected by some of the places you have visited?
Traveling? I never Travel. :-)
Do you have a favorite art movement or artist? If so, who and why?
Favorite movement… is this present time because I’m living it and a part of it. hahahah! I don’t know.
What motivates you to keep creating work?
Lets just say, if someone cuts off my art hands, you might as well finish cutting me up into pieces cause there’s nothing else I know how to do or want to do. Creating art runs thought my blood and is my first language. All the things I could never say or wanted to say, painting helps me communicate that message. That’s the motivation I need. Plus, I can’t picture myself painting with my mouth or with my toes.
How much importance do you place on being aware of the art world around you, versus keeping your own unique viewpoint and style unaffected by trends?
Most of the time I’m in my own bubble. But I really try to be up-to-date with the art world and I for sure think the scene needs my viewpoint.
If you met a younger version of yourself, what career advice would you give?
“Did I Travel back to the past? Because this is very F***ing trippy” But I would tell young future Serge, to explore all mediums and tools as a visual artist because its just gonna make you grow and make you become that powerful artist that you want to be. Don’t just focus on one medium. Be a painter, sculptor, photographer, designer, filmmaker, etc. It helps and the knowledge is always helpful. With that…let the force be with you.
What are you working on right now? What can we expect to see from Serge Gay Jr. in the year ahead?
I’m working on paintings for this New York group show right now that’s going to be in April. (Lets say it’s about the movie “Pulp Fiction”) And a SF Group show at Space Gallery, also in April. What you will expect from Mr. Gay this year…. more shows, a Great solo show, painting toys, hopefully more music videos, …movies…? And much more sweet projects. So exciting!
Leilani Lewis lives in Seattle where she is a regular fixture in the local art community, curating shows for a number of venues, handling duties at the NW African American Art Museum, and serving as a member of various art committees. Read more of her work on her own site, ProPepper.blogspot.com.
Don’t forgot to visit Serge Gay Jr.’s official site @ SergeGayJr.com