I am an artist from Detroit, Michigan. I was born and raised here on the West side of the city. It’s a lot of great people and great artists here, and so many great spirits.
It started off as a journey when I was younger. I always worked with my uncle, and he was really good at art, so I used to sit at the table every day and just watch. And from there, I wanted to find a voice to help people cope because I was always helping people through life with situations verbally, but I also wanted to do it on a visual standpoint.
Being in Detroit has impacted my art. I think it has to do a lot with how the system is made and treats not just Black men, but the Black race period. A lot of people get stuck in this system of special ed and things like that because I know that’s how I was did. A lot of people don’t try to look deeper into the story. They just take us in this system thinking something is automatically wrong with us. That kind of inflicted into my art because I know my story and wanted to tap into that energy to help people. The story behind all of that for me was me going through a constant trial of bullying. And people didn’t know that because I went through it so much that I became super isolated. They thought something was wrong with a lot of people like me, but it was because I was not concentrated due to depression.
So, the type of art that I do is more on an emotional standpoint. I’m like the person that’s really big on bringing happiness and helping people see things beyond the depressing moments in life. I draw, I paint, I’m working on getting into sculpting, and I’m going to school for anatomy. I’ve done programs with Cass Tech, General Motors designing cars, art programs for murals under the Northwest Activity Center, and I do weekly shows for a group called the Breakfast Club.
I’ve also done two shows at the Detroit Institute of Arts. That was a crazy experience for me because I’m always in the museum and studying like Picasso and everybody every day. So being in a museum, doing the show and being around the whole atmosphere was crazy. I always engaged to art, and the DIA has always felt like home to me. Every time I went, I ended up with a sketch. Another experience I had was doing my first mural this summer on the East side. It gave me a sense to be open to doing bigger-scale things, and to also learn from different artists that have been doing this for a while. I got to have conversations with people like Sydney James that pushed me to keep pushing myself.
Art helps me cope with what I’m going through because my freedom is really bigger than me just picking up a pencil, a pad, and putting lines down. It’s really a mental connection. It helps me release and find ways to become happier. I know that it was really meant for me. It takes everything in my life away; I never think about anything that I go through. That’s my focus: my art and my community and always trying to help my community with art. I also try to reach and teach the younger community and expose them to different things because they only have limited possibilities in the community these days. Everybody thinks you have to become a rapper or a basketball player. I want people to see beyond that.
I think my story is one that people can relate to because a lot of people have families of broken foundations. With every piece that I do, there’s always a spiritual connection. I’m always feeding off of my intuition. I always let every piece I create speak from my spirit and my heart whether it’s mental, intentionally, or unintentional. I like to keep calm, composed, and keep a free atmosphere. So, my intentions are always to have a deep conversation and speak to people, but also keep that excitement and enjoyment. That’s why I always try to keep vibrant colors in my work because a lot of people go through life so dull and angry. I want to help people cope with it better.
I see politically what they’re taking out of the school system. So, with me, I always want to bring emotions and conversations of happiness that will also wake people up to what society is doing by putting platforms of electronics and social media in front of us to blind us and keep us asleep from our history. Strong leaders like Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali inspire my work. I’ve always had a connection and have been drawn to them.
Barriers I face is a lot of people always having the negative energy, saying you can only do so much with art. Family-wise, it’s hard sometimes to find support or spaces that support art because a lot of people don’t understand art. But, if you have strong communication and you are willing to reach out to other people and have conversations, it becomes easier to find platforms to support you
Besides our stories, I think Black artists have more than people realize. We get overlooked because of the color of our skin. We don’t really have those opportunities that other people would have. Because the Black community has and continues to be oppressed, people don’t really try to reach above the normal standards. I overcome that mindset by always staying positive. No matter what I’m doing, I’m always trying to put a smile on at least one person’s face every day. That’s kind of been my mindset for a long time, to keep maintaining positivity. What you manifest in the world is what you’re going to receive out of it.
Black artists should be celebrated beyond Black History Month because I don’t think we should be stuck with one month. We’ve been through so many trials and errors and so many great leaders sacrificed for our civil rights, so it should go beyond just that month. We’re constantly doing stuff to make changes in the community daily that people really don’t see.
What I hope that people gain from my art is a sense of sensibility. A way to cope, open up, and be unafraid. Really transforming their self within their self to become greater each day. I encourage people to keep your spirits up, stay positive, maintain good energy and always be good to everyone around you. Keep prayers every day and if you can, keep yourself away from any negative energies in life. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from doing my art is the connections, seeing how much joy it can bring so many others. It really makes me happy to see so many other people smile from what we’re doing every day as artists.
Izaiah Ford, Painter
The Black Artists Series highlights local Black artists and their journeys. Due to COVID-19, we’ve turned our original video series into a blog-style series. The blog is fully in the artist’s own words.