Harmoniously blending the dichotomy of Urban Baroque and Propaganda, artist Rashaad Newsome takes the grandiose aesthetics of urban African American culture and renders it into Pop Royalty.
Utilizing the devices of Art History, technology and music, Newsome secretly weaves an enigmatic tale of “How to Go Rogue on Aesthetic Elitism,” then, valiantly shows up in museums to exhibit/perform it. Commenting on the cultural appropriation of Vogueing, the artist reclaimed the marginalized history of the underground, competitive, gay ballroom dance scene from its mainstream counterpart, Madonna’s 1990 “Vogue” music video, and rendered it into art history at the 2010 Whitney Biennial.
Championing the outsider aesthetic, Newsome assumes the roles of a DJ, futurist, and engineer by re-mixing, re-imagining, and re-coding aesthetics. Boundless in his approach of deconstructing art and culture, Rashaad Newsome chatted with Saint Heron on limitations, outlets, Ray Charles and more
ON OUTLETS + LIMITATIONS
In the past 5 years, what has creating art via multiple outlets afforded you the opportunity to do—that you may have never imagined?
In preparation for my solo booth during Armory this year, I was researching ways to chrome elements of my frames in order to further reference the automobile. I was met with lots of obstacles, as the elements were too large for the usual chroming process, [so] I opted for spray chroming.
After chroming the elements, I discovered that because the elements were made of so many different materials they were too contaminated to appropriately take on the chrome patina I was hoping for. However, that failure yielded a fantastic reward.
The patina that did take was a sort of a pewter color. I added several gold and candy pearls to the surface, which turned it into a sort of gold chrome-pewter hybrid that I could never have imagined. At the moment, I’m further developing this finish and I’m quite happy about the direction it’s going in.
You have dedicated years to mastering the arts: what limitations in the art world, have you faced in your pursuit to becoming a professional multidisciplinary artist?
Well, trying to juggle daily life expenses and having a studio practice was quite hard.
“Shade Compositions SFMOMA” , embodies the call and response narrative of African American culture, while traversing through African American urban gender coding–via Black female body language: smacking of lips, head rolls, finger snapping and eyes bucked. These body language dialects have also been re-mixed into a sort of queer subcultural language too.
The outsider aesthetic is then paralleled with chamber music, and performed by multicultural, gender bending, male and female performers. What statement are you making with “Shades Compositions” as a performance piece in an art museum?
“Shade Compositions” is a minimalist piece of music, a performance, an anthropological study, as well as a celebration and critique of Black vernacular. For me, what’s most interesting about the piece is how this particular vernacular has become an open source for people to present themselves from a position of power.
Jewelry has a reoccurring cameo in your collages. What conversation is being had between jewelry and urban culture?
My work plays a lot with the language of the Baroque, as well as the design formulas of heraldry, which is essentially a collection of images that represent social power and rank.
In my collages, I use images from popular culture that communicate that today. Through image repetition and manipulation I try to achieve color, form, depth and abstraction.
How has being a native New Orleanian and being immersed in its rich and eclectic culture affected your work as an artist?
In so many ways! I’m sure the local traditions of pageantry and street theater have informed the importance of sound and performance in my practice.
Also, the New Orleans style brass bands, which has played a significant role in the development of traditional jazz, has informed my work. Improvisation is consistently regarded as being one of the key elements of the language of jazz and in a lot of ways this lingua franca is the underpinning of a lot of the notions explored in my performances, “FIVE”, as well as, “Shade Composition.”
You have re-coded the historical European 16th-18th century coats of arms by placing a re-mixed homage to it at the center of your collages and rendering 21st century American/pop culture propaganda in the background. If you were to decode the “Herald”  series concept for us, what would be the achievements depicted and status or position in society being deconstructed?
RN: My interest in heraldry is not a literal one. I use the language of heraldry as a design formula and its language of power as material. For me, the pieces have roots in heraldry, but as well play with the design formulas inherent to Baroque architecture. Using contemporary status symbols of wealth and power, I try to create works of abstraction that speak to fantasy, human impulse, and America’s capitalistic sensibility. My hopes are that the works will encourage a conversation about the complexities of popular culture and the emerging global mainstream. As well as, how its language of power is an institution that continues to dominate.
If you could take a blast from the past, what artist, and what song would you most like to create a music video for? Why?
RN: That is a hard question because there are so many, but at this moment I will say “Sunset” by Ray Charles. I just really like the song and it leaves so much room for abstraction so I think it would be fun to bring it to life visually.//