"Freedom struggles happen all the time," Umar Rashid told me one afternoon prior to the opening of BEYOND THE STREETS on PAPER. "The whole world is full of popular misconceptions and horrible shit, and I just bring it to light in a very loose way. I make it accessible because if we're at each other's throats all the goddamn time, if we're all like, 'Fuck you. You did this to me,' it's just like old school feuding. And that has to end." Umar, also known as Frohawk Two Feathers, has made a career of looking at our historical record and bringing to light the forgotten stories that make us who we are. A former MC, graffiti artist and now exhibiting at some of the most established galleries in the world and including in the Hammer Museum's "Made in L.A. 2020" showcase, we got Umar's thoughts on the last 18 months and working on the medium of paper.
Has the past year impacted or influenced your work in any way? How so?Hahahaha! The past year almost destroyed me. In addition to the amount of research materials I require, I hadn't had the time to interact with people outside of social media and the occasional, daring studio visit. I need to absorb the modern as well as the historical to fully flesh out the work. And since social media is an echo chamber of pastiched slogans, I felt incomplete and unable to complete my tasks.
How has the mood of your most recent work changed or shifted from past work we’ve seen?
My most recent work has shifted from the violence of the colonial era and settled in a neutral (if at all possible) area of pastoral scenes, sans violence. I've also felt the need to escape into the future again, given the unbearability of the present. A cosmic journey, if you will. However, because I must always move the narrative forward, rich character development and violence will soon return.
What would you say is the medium that has defined your work as an artist
I would say that drawing and storytelling has defined my work. I'm not the best painter. I'm adept at putting complimentary colors together but mastery of "painting" is something that I'm still learning.
When was the last time you produced works on paper?
Most of my works begin on paper, at my kitchen table so, I've made several works on paper. Only recently has the scale increased. I believe this is the only significant difference.
What does working on paper look like for you?
Working on paper for me is purely meditative. The graphite and ink create the tiny universe and that is followed by acrylic washes, if any. Truly an enjoyable time for me.
It seems like in the past year artists everywhere quite literally went back to the “drawing board.” What was that experience like for you as an artist or an individual?
I never go backwards or make lateral moves. Everything about my work is a progression because the necessity of creating such a dense and complicated narrative dictates it. Good luck to everyone who have found and alternative method of continuance though. I want everyone to be content and successful.
What does urgency mean to you?
Urgency for me translates to deadline! I'm such a slacker but when I start and feel the pressure, it's diamond making time! Hahahahaha!
Has your relationship with time changed at all in regards to creating?
In a way. As the size of the work increases in scale, I try to do as much prep work as possible but, my mind won't allow me to release its full potency unless some kind of deadline is there. I may be able to hammer out a few works to my own satisfaction but when I get ahead of "time" I tend to err on the side of the generic. The real magic is in the unknown and yet, it somehow lines up. It's a non mysterious mystery. It's just me.
What are some new hobbies or skills you cultivated in the past year that you have continued to keep up?
No new hobbies or skills to date but I do plan on seeing an optometrist soon and trying to work out more. I've taken my physicality to the edge!
Any playlists or podcasts you listened to while making your works on paper? Lots of jazz (cliche), 90's era rap, history podcasts, geopolitical podcasts, and science fiction audiobooks in the vein of Frank Herbert's Dune. Oh and Radio Juxtapoz!
BEYOND THE STREETS ON PAPER is on view at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton, New York through August 28, 2021