Taking from his own family photos and memories, Jerrell Gibbs creates scenes finding beauty in the most ordinary. His works feel comfortable, perhaps because he has lived or seen experiences much similar to our own. The nonchalance of his subjects adds to this casual atmosphere that makes these figurative paintings feel even more alive. Currently working to obtain his masters degree at Maryland Institute College of Art, Gibbs has dedicated his life to the practice of highlighting the everyday. In the below interview, he offers his take on the artistic process and how a cartoon helped him find his voice. Considering his self-taught background, he has worked hard to relate such emotion within the scenes on his canvas, and that work has definitely paid off.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from originally and when did art first enter your life?
I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. Art first entered my life when I was a child. I use to draw cartoon characters and pictures of my favorite athletes, more specifically Allen Iverson. I didn’t start actually painting until 2014, my wife bought me an easel for fathers day and I never stopped painting since that day.
Turner. Oil, oil stick, acrylic on linen, 60 x 48 inches. 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
You were intending to graduate this year, right? How has this whole pandemic affected your curriculum?
Yes, I was originally scheduled to graduate May 18, 2020. But due to the pandemic MICA has offered a virtual graduation with a traditional walk across the stage ceremony later in the year. It sucks that things aren’t going as planned. However, peoples safety is what’s important right now. We are all just working online and via zoom calls, making the best of it. The critiques are happening via zoom as well and thats extremely different but still productive in a more unique fashion.
Breakthrough. Oil on canvas. 84 x 60 inches, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
What is your process like? How do you begin a work?
I begin my process of a work by searching through old family photo albums, finding a photo that embodies an expression, gesture, or mood familiar to myself. This can be of family members or random people I don’t know personally. I study the photo over a few days to determine how the figure will occupy space. The spaces are typically created by me, as a means to reinforce the sensation I received after first seeing the photo. I usually spend about 2-3 days thinking about how I want to execute the painting, sometimes it can be a little longer. I tend to spend more time envisioning what I want to paint, than actually painting. By the time I start to paint I just let the ideas come to life. Not too much thinking just reacting to the paint and the idea that I had to start with.
Tupac, Thugz Mansion. Oil on canvas. 84 x 72 inches, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
From where do you draw inspiration?
I draw most of my inspiration from my family and friends. Various conversations, life experiences, our pasts. As well as other artists, paintings, and visiting museums. I enjoy getting to know different people and finding out more about them, that inspires some of my work.
Top down. Oil on canvas. 79 1/2 x 71 1/2 inches, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
Have you always painted in this current style?
No, early in my career I started out painting the Peanuts Gang character Franklin as a way to give him a voice. Most recently I’ve been thinking about how the figure relates to composition as a whole leading me to think more abstractly. My goal now is to be more intentional about using both figurative and abstract painterly language within my work.
The Tea. Acrylic, oil on canvas. 37 1/4 x 55 1/4 inches, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
How do you think social media has had an impact on your work, if at all?
Social Media has had a tremendous impact on my work. I am always on Instagram looking at pictures, and because of it I’ve come to appreciate the flatness of photos which is something that I’m interested in exploring in my work. When we look at pictures, our brains tells us that there is a perspectival element to it. But the more I really looked at pictures, I started to except them for what they truly are. 2-Dimensional images, figures in flat space.
Elamen. Oil on canvas. 59 3/4 x 48 inches, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Could you talk about your relationship to your gallery a bit? How did it come about and what has it done for your career?
Surprisingly my relationship with my gallery was initiated via Instagram. My gallerist reached out to me on that platform. Since then we have had a successful partnership. Since I’ve been with the gallery my career has sped up into overdrive. It’s a great experience. I am honored to be apart of the Mariane Ibrahim team.
Uncle Donald. Oil on linen. 48 x 36 inches, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
What source material do you base your work off of?
Family photos. Sometimes I revert back to works from artist I admire. I study works from other artists to see what makes their paintings successful. A few artists include but are not limited to, Kerry James Marshall, Lynette-Yadom Boakye, Henry Taylor, Henri Matisse, Noah Davis and Diego Velázquez.
Does your work reference any Art Historical movements?
Yes, so I’ve been told impressionism. Although I did not set out with the intention of referring to my work as such, I have heard that many times from viewers. I am however interested in the way impressionist such as Monet and many others used color and the application of paint to suggest things as opposed to them being fully rendered. I enjoy painting like that as well. It gives viewers the chance to investigate the painting and experience the process of creation.
Quiero Amor. Oil, acrylic on canvas. 60 x 48 inches, 2019. Courtesy of the artist.
What’s next for you?
Preparation of upcoming shows that I am excited about and world travel. I’m looking forward to traveling to Spain to check out some work by Velázquez and Picasso, amongst many other’s.
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
Wow. First let me say there are so many to suggest! If I had to choose only one I would have to recommend Raelis Vasquez. Phenomenal artists and even better person. We did a residency a few months ago together and during the stay we built a really good relationship. I learned so much from him in a short period of time.