So You’re a Disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witness. Now What?

Promotion for the "Leather Bound in Black or Red" CollectionSince August of 2011, I, Jeff Steck, have been planning an art exhibition with an artist who is a former Jehovah’s Witness.  Artist Jess Black, who abandoned the JW religion when he was 17, wanted to do a collection based on what he believes are manipulations, oppression, and inconsistencies within the JW religion.  After careful consideration Jess decided to call the collection, Leather Bound in Black or Red.  He explained, “Every time we were issued new bibles we were asked if we wanted them leather bound in black or red.”

Personally, I thought this would be an interesting direction for his career.  I had no idea this collection would receive international attention and produce fear in those who are both practicing and those who have left the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  This is not like rebeling against Catholicism.  You abandon the Jehovah’s Witnesses and they will ruin you.

Alright, many of you will believe that last sentence is an exaggeration.  Let’s explore.  If you decide to abandon or reject the JW faith (usually something that develops over years) you will experience the common practice of shunning.  Big deal you think, so people in the church will not talk to me, who cares?  What needs to be understood is that for a follower’s entire life he has only associated with people within the church.  A Jehovah’s Witness is not permitted to have casual association within anyone outside the religion and this includes family.  So, if you want to leave you must be prepared to lose everybody.  You will lose your entire support system.  Parents, siblings, and best friends will all shun you.  Many find a parent abandoning her child unlikely, but they do because their fear is stronger than their family bonds.  The belief is that by shunning the deserter he or she will eventually return.  We have received countless emails from people who have told us that their mothers and siblings will no longer speak with them and that they do not have a home.  At the age of 30 it is as if they have just been born.  They are lonely and scared.

Jess Black is releasing an entire collection of art on January 18, 2012, that explores his relationship with the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  While some of his experiences were positive, overall he believes the religion is cultish and uses fear and manipulation to keep its followers.  He is releasing this collection without fear.  It is not only cathartic for him, but he also wants to demonstrate to others how life can become wonderful once you leave the dogma behind.  This collection will debut at 5:00pm pst on January 18, 2012 and remain live through January 31, 2012, at

He encourage emails from those of you who need support.  We have found quite a few websites and Facebook pages dedicated to helping disfellowshipped Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Simply by doing a web search “Jess+Black+Jehovah’s+Witness” you will find all types of information about Black’s forthcoming collection.

For more information on Jess Black please visit his website at


Jess Black and Jean-Michel Basquiat Comparisons Subside

Several years ago when Jess Black began to realize that art could be his career and his profile began to grow, inevitable comparisons to Basquiat started occurring.  Jess, who was at the time not familiar with Basquiat, quietly thanked people for what he assumed to be a compliment and then moved on.  Early on Jess made it a point not to become familiar with the works of those before him out of concern that his own work would become influenced.  He wanted his work to find its own path and to mature in its own way.

As Black’s career began to soar the comparisons grew with more frequency.  Eventually Jess watched a documentary on Basquiat.  Black understood some of the comparisons, but felt that his work was nothing like Basquiat’s.   Many have acknowledged the unique approach between the artists but have also stated that there is a similar “flavor” with Black and Basquiat.  They tell a similar story but their individual life experiences result in a unique telling of that story.  Here we let the readers decide if the piece by Basquiat (right) has any similarities in style to an early piece by Black (below).  If there are similarities, they do not end here.  Perhaps the most common comparison is something that Black feels is very personal to him and something from which he will not shy away.

Many have written to Black asking why he paints a crown next to his signature on his paintings.  The story is that Black was raised for most of his childhood as one of “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”  Abandoning the religion at age 17, he moved to New York City.  One of his first friends and roommate at the time was Nakia Syvonne Secrest.  She had given him a gift. Black states, “I think it was my 18th or 19th Birthday.  Our group of friends were all young, poor models, actors, musicians and artists.  Her gift to me was an old copy of Le Petit Prince and she wrote a personal note inside the cover.  Nakia said he reminded her of me.  It was my first Birthday present that I could remember and I appreciated it so much that I had the crown tattooed on my arm the next year. So there you go, that is where the crown on my arm and in the signature of my paintings comes from.   To this day it is one of the more special gifts I have received.”  The crown to the right is hand painted by Black and is the logo for his company, Jess Black Fine Art, with business partner Jeff Steck.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, 20 years earlier, also used a crown next to or above his signature in nearly all of his paintings.  Basquiat’s crown was a tribute to himself and to all of the characters and influences in his paintings.  But with similar styles and nearly identical marks, how could anyone not make the comparison to Black’s work.

As Black’s career progresses the comparisons are becoming fewer and further between. The forthcoming launch of the new art collection, Leather Bound in Black or Red, is a personal journey about Black’s religious upbringing.  With most of the collection now completed, Jess is realizing that these paintings transcend his personal experience.  While each piece is specific to Black’s life, the collection is resonating with others who have also felt trapped pretending to be someone they are not.  These paintings will explore societal limitations but celebrate liberation.  This collection is for all people who have endured an unauthentic life out of fear of rejection.

Information about Black’s newest collection will be released on Sunday, December 18, 2011.   For additional information on Jess Black please visit