Interview: Kervin Andre Talks Upcoming 'Evolution' Art Show, Fighting Against Negative Haitian Perceptions And More
"I like using my art to challenge and hopefully change [bad Haitian] misconceptions. I enjoy painting a new image of Haiti for those who have never been and for those who are from Haiti but perhaps have bad memories."
Often times, people of color are encouraged to live in this world and to accept it as is. When a discrepancy is confronted and resist arrives, the people are told through committed repetition that their experiences are not valid, to relax, to stop being angry. These observations are not new. For generations, this perspective has been laid out on an international level through different art forms: writing, music, photography and more. Nina Simone, for example, sang with great conviction and declared that it's an artists duty to reflect the times in which they live. In 1961, James Baldwin wrote, "All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story, to vomit the anguish up." Artist Kervin Andre of Elizabeth, New Jersey is no different when picking up his paintbrushes and pallet in 2017. His form of expression is the inspiration behind his upcoming "Evolution" solo art exhibit at Above Art Studio on February 25th.
"My [art] is a testament of the social injustices going on in the world today, especially those affecting the black community," he said.
Sejoe Entertainment recently visited Kervin in hopes of being able to capture his creative process as an artist in America who lives in a black body, furthering the Haitian heritage.
How do you feel you and your work represent the time of our world today?
As artists, our work reflects what we perceive in the world. I use my art as a medium to communicate when words fail me…prime example, when Haiti was turned upside down in a matter of seconds, I could only cope by painting.
This drawing (above) is so cool because there is so much going on and so many different ways to interpret it. I am drawn to the face on the bottom left with her lips sealed. But what does it all mean? Why did you create it? How do you hope people perceive it?
This painting was created for Rip The Stigma, which is an organization for people who suffer from mental illness. I was invited to an event and was asked to create a visual showing some of the anguish felt by people suffering. The picture represents the embarrassment and shame many victims from mental illness feel. Many of them are scared to speak about what they are going through, and that is what the picture is trying to show.
I usually do not focus on what the audience’s reaction will be concerning my paintings. My focus is more on what is going on inside of me and how much of myself I am willing to sacrifice for a particular piece. Of course, the hope is that the audience will appreciate the hard work, but other people’s perception is truly not my focus.
Describe to me your earliest memory of work. How old were you? Where were you sitting?
I have always enjoyed drawing from my earliest day. I cannot remember an exact time when I sat down and created my first work, but I know that wherever there was paper and pencil/pen, I was drawing. In the beginning, I drew a lot of X-Men, because I was such a big Marvel fan. I also drew a lot of soccer players because growing up in Haiti, soccer was the sport to watch. I drew because I could. I think that is one of the reasons why my show is called Evolution.
As an artist, what do you want people to feel when they look at your work?
I take pride in my artistry and the details on every piece, so that is one thing I want people to be able to see when looking at my work. I also want people to connect with it, to feel the raw emotions coming off the canvas. I am not asking people to relate to every piece I draw, but I want some form of connection to the naked emotions.
What aspects of our world today do you wish to change and/or influence through your work?
Haitian history is the most prideful for me as a Haitian man. I remember asking myself, while growing up, why hasn't Hollywood made a movie about the Haitian Revolution? There are so many other movies showing greatness from other countries around the world. I even remember watching the movie "Shaka Zulu: The Last Great Warrior" growing up about a great man in Africa. Just a step away, in Haiti, we have so many great leaders needing their stories to be told. A revolution that changed the course of history here in the Western Hemisphere—and nothing. I want one of my focal points to be about Haiti. I want to teach people the history that others are not teaching.
How do you overcome the block of inspirational flow?
I have heard many artists talk about that. I am not sure if I am just blessed, but I have yet to experience what you call a block of inspirational flow. I have had moments when I cannot concentrate on just one canvas, so I am working on multiple ones because the ideas in my head are going much faster than my fingers can create them. But there is never a time when I cannot think of what to create. I have experienced not being able to reproduce an image in my head, but never a problem with inspiration. Everything inspires me. For me, art is a reflection of life, it is life. I can find inspiration to draw everywhere I turn.
What is the hardest thing about following your dream?
Not having the right support, fear of failure and quitting before dreams are realized. So much sacrifice is required when one is pursuing a dream. We sacrifice friends, family and our environment because we are so focused on chasing greatness that sometimes we lose out. In addition, there are a lot of letdowns: being plagued with self-doubt and the hard work being under appreciated.
Explain your mind space and environment when you sit to create.
For me, a painting starts days, weeks, and sometimes even months before I actually sit down to start drawing it. There is so much to the composition of a drawing. And if I am doing a history piece, then I have to research the idea before I can start drawing.
Who/what exposed you to creating art?
My uncle used to draw in Haiti. Even though it was not anything like what I am doing, I must have picked it up from him. He used to buy me Marvel comic books and I would recreate the characters. That might be around the first time I was exposed to drawing. You know in Haiti, people write a lot of poetry, so they would sometimes come to me so that I'd draw a flower or something like that.
Other than canvas art, what else do you create?
I created a graphic t-shirt line called akomicstee. For those who can't afford a canvas, they could buy a hand-painted t-shirt. I also paint on jackets, boots and sneakers. I can paint on anything.
Do you have a comfort zone when it comes to creating? What I mean is: are there recreations that you are hesitant to try?
As an artist, I do not have any fear when it comes to creating. I believe drawing is the power given to me. I have a license to create what others might be scared to voice aloud. A good example is the painting above about mental health. I do not think about how the audience will receive a piece. Of course, I am mindful of my audience, but I believe my job is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. I read that quote from someone and it is the motto by which I live my life as a full time artist.
What are some misconceptions that you confront with your culture that you attempt to eliminate using your art?
I hate any negative stereotypes coming out of my country. Most people perceive Haiti and Haitians based solely on what they see on the news and it is usually negative. Therefore, I like using my art to challenge and hopefully change these misconceptions. I enjoy painting a new image of Haiti for those who have never been and for those who are from Haiti but perhaps have bad memories.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to be known internationally. I want to grow artistically. I want to have my own gallery. All of that comes with sacrifice, hard work, and dedication.