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.

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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 http://www.boundinblack.com.

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 www.jessblackart.com

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

Is Jess Black an Apostate?

For most people the idea of an art collection that challenges religious doctrine is not particularly ground breaking.  However, after multiple failed attempts at reaching out to several support groups for former Jehovah’s Witnesses I began scratching my head.  I realized that it is quite possible that no one has ever openly challenged the practices taught within this religion out of fear of losing even more than what they have already lost.

When we distributed a press release in August about the theme of this collection it was immediately picked up by Jehovah’s Witness groups as well as anti-Jehovah’s Witness groups.  Our website (jessblackart.com) experienced over a 1000% increase in unique hits.  I checked it three times.  The JW groups shared it with their followers but essentially had no comment.  However, we received several private messages about apostacy.  You take the good with the bad.  The anti-JW groups commented on Jess Black’s bravery in actually calling the religion a cult.  Still others would comment how nice it was that a former JW has made something of his life.  For someone like me who was raised very loosely as a Presbyterian (so loosely I had to verify spelling) the controversy of someone leaving a religion or speaking out against it did not resonate.  I mean, haven’t celebrities made careers of rebelling against Catholicism?

Jess has repeatedly told me, and I believe him, that I will not completely understand because I was raised very differently.  He explains, “When you are part of this religion it becomes your entire life, it’s not just a Sunday thing.  There are definitely good things about it, but overall I wasn’t buying what they were selling.   Because you are not allowed to socialize with others outside of the religion you become somewhat sheltered.  When one wants to leave the religion the church teaches all the others to shun you.  This shunning includes your parents and sibling and all of your friends.  It is believed that the fear shunning instills will bring you back into the religion.  Otherwise, you can find yourself suddenly cut off.   No one ever really says that they are shunning someone but instead would describe people who question their faith or leave the religion as having the wrong or bad heart condition.  As a child I never understood why God would choose to afflict one person over another with a good or bad heart.  Early in my teen years I realized that most of this was bullshit.  I faked it for years.  At age 17 I told my parents just that.  Oh, I also told them I was gay.  I was scared, but staying and living a lie was scarier to me.  I dealt with about six months of hell and moved to New York on my own before my 18th birthday.  I have no idea how I had the guts to do that.  I left the religion before I was formally labeled an apostate or anything like that.   I too have opinions about what is right and what is wrong.”

Heart Condition is the name of Jess’ latest painting, which explores the struggle of deciding to stay within the religion or breaking free and becoming your own person.  This is all part of the “Leather Bound in Black or Red” collection.

As the collection grows it can be viewed at http://www.jessblackart.com.   Exhibition plans in Los Angeles are tentatively scheduled for November 2011.

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

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.

 

Jess Black Describes the Painting that Launched the Crusade to Produce an Entire Collection about Being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses

It all started with one painting.  A very personal painting that was part of another, somewhat unrelated collection.  This painting became important.  Because of it’s diminutive size it was originally hung in the back of the gallery.  Black politely insisted that it be placed on a more prominent wall.  This painting, titled Lip Service, is a reflection of the artist’s childhood and the launching pad for Black’s new collection exploring his experience as a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion he rejected at age 17.

The idea for this collection came some time ago.  The decision to move forward with the idea was finalized about a week ago.  The initial press releases have created all kinds of reaction from all over the world.  The website, http://www.jessblackart.com, has experienced a 900% increase in unique hits from countries all across the globe.

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.   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.  The fact that they are now being openly judged by someone who knows what it’s like on the inside will turn a few heads.  I feel like my moral core was established in that religion for which I am grateful.  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.  I felt guilty and scared because I knew I would be shunned.  I knew I was abandoning my life as I knew it. 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.”

In Lip Service Black created a general concept painting.  It is filled with biblical references related to his 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 the spews programmed information.  Across the television screen is the word ‘Propaganda.’  The woman’s lip 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 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.  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.  But it is time that I purge all of this once and for all.”