Due to the web activity we knew we needed to update everyone on the status of this art collection. First, a little background on the motivation – January 6, 2012.
We knew exploring the Jehovah’s Witness religion would not make everyone happy. The conflict between art and religion is not a particularly new battle. The conflict between a forthcoming art collection that explores or perhaps exposes what it’s like being a Jehovah’s Witness is definitely unique. What we didn’t realize was how provocative this collection would become. Jess Black’s artistic exploration into his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing is not going unnoticed.
It all started with one painting. A very personal painting that was part of another unrelated collection that debuted in June 2011 at David W. Streets Art Gallery in Beverly Hills. This painting became important. Because of it’s diminutive size it was originally hung in the back of the gallery. Black politely asked that it be placed on a more prominent wall. This painting, titled Lip Service (right), is a reflection of the artist’s childhood and the launching pad for Black’s new collection.
Lip Service is filled with religious references related to Black’s experiences. On the woman’s shoulder is a man in a tie referencing field service. His head is replaced with a television representing a tool that spews scripted, programmed information. Across the television screen is the word ‘Propaganda.’ The woman’s lips read ‘Sin’ and words like ‘Fornication,’ ‘Temptation,’ and ‘Why?’ are scattered throughout the painting. A bare breast is shown not for sake of nudity, but as an act of freedom. Black explains, “She’s showing her breast because she wants to and that is all the permission she needs.”
The idea for this collection came some time ago. The decision to move forward with a fully realized show was finalized in August 2011. The title of the show would be called, Leather Bound in Black or Red as this was the question asked whenever one received a new bible in church. The initial press releases created all kinds of reaction from all over the world. The website, www.jessblackart.com, experienced a 1,028% increase in unique hits from countries all across the globe. We began noticing multiple hits in cities where JW Headquarters exist. Again, the purpose of the collection is not to create conflict for practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, but rather to share the view of Jess Black’s personal JW experience.
The reaction is what Black anticipated. He explains, “So much about being a Jehovah’s Witness is about conforming. Jehovah’s Witnesses have no problem judging others, though they claim not to judge at all. They disguise the judgment by saying ‘Bad associations spoil useful habits,’ which essentially means to them that anyone who is not a Jehovah’s Witness will be a bad influence. Therefore, few are permitted to associate with people outside of the religion. For years this even meant that you could not attend college because the non-secular education was considered a bad influence. I’m not completely ungrateful of the religion as I feel my moral core was established there. Nevertheless, at age 17 I rejected this religion because I didn’t believe in it. It felt like a cult. No, it was a cult. It is a cult. But a cult in the traditional sense. I felt guilty and scared to leave because I knew I would be shunned. I knew I was abandoning my life as I knew it. I would have to leave all of my friends, my parents, everything that I knew because it was all that I knew. Leaving the JW faith is not like walking away from any other religion. The church teaches you to shun anyone who leaves regardless of your relationship with him or her. Within months I felt I had no choice but to leave home. So at 17-years old I moved to New York with only $400 in my pocket. Looking back I can’t believe I had the courage to do that. Of course there was a mourning period of what I lost. In time, however, my life became so much better when I no longer had to edit who I was and what I believed.”
The new collection promises to be exciting. Jess stated that leaving the religion was a very difficult time in his life. He explains, “I needed to be prepared to handle the sea of emotions that will wash over me about that period in my life. I don’t want to cause problems and I do not want to offend people I care about who are still part of that religion. Though many of them have “unfriended” me on Facebook after the announcement of this collection. It is time that I purge all of this once and for all.”
Where to exhibit this collection also became a difficult decision. Several gallery offers were eventually kindly turned down when it was determined that the environment did not fit the mood of the collection. Even an old church was being considered, which would have definitely matched the provocative nature of the art, but ultimately it felt too disrespectful to religion as a whole. We realized that an art collection exploring this topic has never been done before so we needed to exhibit it in a way that has never been done before. Considering what might be the future of the art world, we have elected to do a two-week online exhibition where we control, to the best of our ability, all aspects of the show. A dedicated website, www.boundinblack.com, has been established and will replicate the look of an art gallery and showcase all of Black’s new works. It will go live at 5:00pm (pst) on Monday, February 20, 2012. During the first night Jess Black will be online enabling live chat until 8:00pm. All artwork purchased through the virtual exhibition will have a 100% satisfaction guarantee and will be accompanied with a person note from the artist and a declaration of value. We believe this is the future for exhibiting art and we are happy and perhaps even a littler nervous to be ahead of the curve. The exhibition will be removed on March 5, 2012. For more information please visit the Jess Black Fine Art Facebook Page and click on EVENTS.
New and any unsold works will then go on display at Cohen & Crockett’s “The Getting Unstuck’ Foundation in West Hollywood on March 23, 2012. More details will be released about this event as they become available, but it is charity driven and raises awareness about AIDS/HIV. We hope you join us on February 20, 2012, and take part in what we believe to be among the first virtual artist receptions.