A Depiction of the Survival of the Jehovah’s Witness Religion

In 2012 Jess Black released an entire art collection about his experience in and eventually abandoning the Jehovah’s Witness religion.  An art collection of this kind had never been done before.  The live streaming exhibition with a 3-hour live chat resulted in people signing on from six continents, 25 countries, and 312 cities. The title of the collection was Leather Bound in Black or Red, which Black states is a reference to the color choice every time he was given a New World Translation Bible.  Black is now offering an affordable limited edition print to collectors from the Leather Bound in Black or Red collection.

One of the things that became evident is that the the price point of the paintings was out of reach for most of the people to whom the paintings meant the most.  People asked for prints or posters of some of the paintings, but offering any type of print program was not part of the business plan, at least at the time.  This changed when Leigh & Luca – New York contacted Jess Black to do a line of fashion scarves that featured his art work.  Some of the advance sales were to people who could not afford a $5000 paintings, but could afford a $300 scarf.  Black was sent several pictures of framed scarves that adorned people’s walls.  It was at this moment that the decision to make low quantity prints occurred.

The painting selected was Running From Grace.  This painting encapsulates 10 years of Black’s life, the two years leading up to him leaving the JW faith and the eight years in Running From GraceNew York living on his own.  He explains, “This paintings is not about religious oppression. It’s about freedom and truth.  Not “The Truth,” but the real truth that they don’t want you to know. It was difficult at first.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness means you are not given the tools to deal with or navigate the world outside that cultish bubble.  But once you figure it out there is no better life.”

Running From Grace is filled with subtleties and viewers of the piece will continue to see something new to which they will personally relate.  It is a 20×16 on archival paper.  Each piece is hand signed and numbered by the artist with a maximum edition of 25.  Each includes a certificate of authenticity and sells for $425.  For more details or to purchase a print please visit Jess Black’s website.

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 www.jessblackart.com

Removing the Uncertainty of Buying Art

First and foremost buy what you love

If you see something you love, buy it; don’t worry about whether it goes with your colorscheme.  Any high end interior design magazine will provide examples of this fact.  Art is art and works regardless of your decor choices.  If you need it to match you can always repaint a room or the wall on which the painting will be hung. Repainting is easy, but finding a piece of art that you love is not.

Mix up eras and styles

Again, don’t be restricted by your home decor. There’s no rule that says you can’t put modern art in a traditional setting, or vice versa.  Some of the most amazing homes have a wide collection of art.  The variety in genres is more interesting.

Size matters

Keep proportion in mind when you buy art for a particular spot. A small painting, for example, looks out of place on a big wall.  Be familiar with the dimension range when you are looking for art to go into a particular space.  Most serious art collectors buy what they love regardless of size and make it work after the fact.

Buying for investment?

Don’t buy art just because someone says it’s a good investment; there’s no way of ensuring that it will increase in value.  It’s almost like buying stock.  If you are buying hoping for increased value you need to consider how long the artist has been working, plans for his or her professional future and any significant changes in the art’s current value.  For example, while Jess Black has been painting for many years, he has only seriously been working as a career artist for a year and a half.  He has still not reached the pique of his career.  Over a year ago paintings were selling for $2,000 that today comparable pieces would sell for $3,800.   Nevertheless, If you’re going to buy art make sure it’s on a piece you really love.

Does the amount of time it took the artist to create the painting affect value?

No, not really.  Artistic endeavors are usually mood driven and sometimes paintings are created naturally and quickly because the artist feels especially inspired.  For example, a painting that Pablo Picasso created in under a day sold at auction for $106.5 million.  If the painting is good, regardless of the time it took to create, it will be a good purchase.

Jess Black: Examining an Authentic Life

The launch of the new art collection, Leather Bound in Black or Red?, is a personal journey about Artist Jess Black’s religious upbringing.  With two paintings completed, Black is realizing that this collection transcends his personal experience.  While each piece is specific to Black’s life, the collection is resonating with others who have 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.

The newest painting reveals Black living a life of oppression, conforming to arbitrary standards that force him to swallow his own truth.  A truth that if discovered will result in his abandonment and end his life as he knows it. Dressed in his Sunday best, Black replaced his head with a programmed television.  Painted in the lower right corner of the television is the word “Propaganda.”  The faint depiction of his face in the monitor is marred with tape placed over his mouth to silence “his truth” from being proclaimed.  His body is that of a goat, because in Matthew 25:32 it reads “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats.”  Note that it is not His sheep and His goats.  It reads that sheep will go to heaven for being His followers and goats will be condemned for turning away from God.  Unknowingly by others, Jess is taught that he is a goat, though assumed to be a sheep.  He does his best to hide his truth in his best sheep’s clothing.

As we look beyond his body we see stacks of houses.  Each house has been visited door to door.  There are houses of those saved and houses, marked with a red X, of those who will not be saved.  Other people with television heads adorned with halos and labeled as “brother” or “sister” are standing on the same soap box where our hero gently rests his hoof.  These societal siblings appear blissfully unaware of the horns growing from their increasingly conflicted “brother.”

This painting also gives hope for liberation.  His tie is melting away indicating a fading of his imposed dogmatic shell.  Black also incorporated his tattoos in the painting; tattoos he acquired long after rejecting his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing.  He explains, “The tattoos represent the real me shining through.  They symbolize who I am supposed to be, not who they want me to be.”  He continues, “This is the first time I have put all of these feelings into art.  It’s the first time that I am sharing so much about my private life.”

For more information on how you can view or own an original painting by Jess Black, please visit http://www.jessblackart.com

That’s Not Art!!! Anyone Can Do That!!!

I hear this statement all the time.  Usually it is made by people who have narrow definitions of art.  I say this because at the beginning of most art appreciation courses people have specific views of what qualifies as art.  By the end of the course their perspectives have broadened allowing them a greater appreciation for artistic endeavors.

There are many reasons to state that virtually anything is art.  You are reading this blog entry on a computer.  A computer that has an intentional design, color, display, a feel to each keystroke.  Someone had to create all of that into one harmonious design.  Is this art? I will assert that just because it is not hung on your wall or displayed on a pedestal does not mean it is not art.  I have witnessed emotional responses to art.  Responses that many believe are requisites of significant art.   I have also witnessed very emotional responses from people opening perfectly packaged Mac products.  Certainly Apple products must serve utilitarian purposes, but something about them is art.

I watch people try to stretch their minds to understand why something is considered a masterpiece.  They stare intently yet ultimately relent by saying, “I don’t get it.  I could have done this.”  My internal voice always says, “Maybe, but you didn’t.”  One of the artists that receives this type of response is Mark Rothko.

Rothko exhibited new works that many critics considered a revelation.  Others thought it was lazy with the complete disregard for technique.  The paintings lacked rigid structure and were very organic in nature.  They became about the interplay of paint on the canvas at a time when paintings we deliberate and even harsh.  It was about an experience for the person appreciating the art, not about exact renderings.  So much was about looking at a painting and trying to understand what the artist meant.  Rothko was creating an experience for the onlooker.  For seven years, Rothko painted in oil only on large canvases with vertical formats. Very large-scale designs were used in order to overwhelm the viewer, or, in Rothko’s words, to make the viewer feel “enveloped within” the painting.  He explains, “I realize that historically the function of painting large pictures is painting something very grandiose and pompous.  The reason I paint them, however, is precisely because I want to be very intimate and human. To paint a small picture is to place yourself outside your experience, to look upon an experience as a stereopticon view or with a reducing glass.  However, you paint the larger picture, you are in it.  It is something you command!”

As Rothko achieved success, he became increasingly protective of his works, turning down several potentially important sales and exhibition opportunities.  He even went so far as to recommend that a viewer position themselves as little as 18 inches away from the canvas so that the viewer might experience a sense of intimacy, as well as awe, a transcendence of the individual, and a sense of the unknown.

Personally I find Rothko’s work relaxing, much like staring at the ocean.  He did not treat the canvas allowing the paint to react and saturate the texture.  He had little regard for respecting the prevailing technique of the time.  Could you have done this?  Probably. Would you ever have thought to do this had Rothko not come before you?  Probably not. Sometimes art is important because it is recognized as the first of its kind.  When something new is introduced it creates a ripple effect in the art world for generations.  One of the best examples to illustrate this fact comes from the movie, “The Devil Wears Prada.”  Meryl Streep’s character asks Anne Hathaway’s character about her blue sweater.  While Hathaway believed the blue was a random choice, Streep is able to explain the genesis and evolution of the color forever ending the notion of its randomness.  Do you think that soft silvery green you painted your bedroom just happened on its own or did years ago an artist think to blend colors to create a color never before seen resulting in a ripple effect on the color chart?

Simply put, art is appreciated when one knows more about it.  To truly understand art in museums one needs to be familiar with the artists’ biographies and what was happening in history at the time.  Most new art movements are created in rebellion of the expectations of the time.  For example, Baroque was a period of painting that was frequently dark in color, rarely represented anything with a happy theme, rendered in exacting detail with some of its best examples depicting biblical stories.  This style was highly encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church.  Following Baroque was the Rococo period known for its more whimsical style of artwork that utilized softer color palettes, playful motifs with subject matter that was rarely considered important.  Most critics labeled it as superficial and in poor taste.  While Baroque was dead serious, Rococo seemed to drip of sweet cake frosting and fairy glitter.  Rococo style was not technically tight, but by no means was it abstract.  Abstraction would not be conceived for well over another 100 years. Nevertheless, this new style opened the door for generations to come.  It should also be noted that similarities exist in all the arts (painting, music, fashion, furniture, etc.).  Art, in all forms, expresses some aspect of culture at the time it was created. 
When you look at art and casually think, “I could have done that,” all you have to remember is that you didn’t.  What you are really saying is that you could copy a piece of art that someone else created.  One important element of museum quality art is the fact that is was an original idea.  Simply put, you did not have an original idea.  People used to compliment my skill at designing my living room.  What they didn’t know was I simply duplicated a showroom picture of a living room that I admired.  It’s not my creativity they admired, but rather my ability to copy someone else’s idea.  Something anyone could have done.
So I guess the definition of art needs to be redefined.  It’s not just about technicality. Anyone who did well in art school can render a technically brilliant painting, I would hope. It’s about going beyond the technical and expressing something in a way that has not been done before.  It’s about appreciation.  It’s about originality.  Almost everything is art in one form or another.  Affirmatively stating, “That’s not art.  Anyone can do that,” causes others to analyze the object about which the statement was made immediately thrusting it into the category of art.  Andy Warhol proved this theory a generation ago.  Trying to delineate what is and what is not art seems a waste of time.

Jess Black Exploring his Former Life as a Jehovah’s Witness – REVEALED

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 Wednesday, January 18, 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 January 31, 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 January 18, 2012 and take part in what we believe to be among the first virtual artist receptions.