Responding To Crisis With Art

by | Jun 26, 2020 | ART

Richmond’s Black Art: RVA Magazine is highlighting more local artistic voices responding to the BLM protest movement. Let’s take a closer look.

It’s a long road to justice for the Black Lives Matter movement, and for many, art is a handy tool for expression. On Instagram, speckled between quotes and photos, we continue to find drawings and paintings made in response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests, police brutality crisis, and everyday racism in America. In continuation of our previous article, we wanted to spotlight some Black artists from the Richmond area who are participating in this online renaissance. We spoke to several local artists about their process and what inspired them to create this work. Today, we present: Nicole Pernell, Malik Radford, and Theodore Taylor.

Image by Nicole Pernell

Nicole Pernell 

Nicole Pernell is an RVA native, born and raised. “I actually live a few blocks away from the Capitol! So I’m in the heart of all the action,” she said in an email. To make her illustrations, she uses Procreate 5 on her iPad Pro, and sometimes augments it with After Effects for animation.

On Instagram, Pernell has taken a slight diversion from her psychedelic, occasionally galactic portraits to focus on current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19. “These are topics that I’m constantly thinking about and feel that others should be informed,” she said.

“Sometimes, people truly do need a reminder to wash their hands or to stay inside to protect others. People also need to be aware of the injustice of black and brown people in America and stop ignoring the problem,” she continued. Her recent illustrations, which mirror her previous ones in creamy color palette and robin’s egg speckle, do not lack playfulness or charm. Pernell’s message is just more obvious.

Art by Nicole Pernell

What keeps her going? “Anything and all things black motivate me! Especially black women!” she said. “We are such a resilient, inspirational and affectionate group of human beings. I truly do wish the world would see us like how I and other black women see each other. There’s so much creativity that we have, so much passion in everything we do. It‘s hard not to be inspired by us!”

In addition to her illustrations, Pernell is a graphic designer and creator of the Meloinin brand, “an on-going passion project of screen-printed materials and illustrations geared towards black women representation.” She plans to continue screen printing, but has bigger dreams.

“One day, I would really like to open an art studio where black women and women of color can collaborate and make art with each other, whatever that may be. I feel like we don’t have a space like that right now. A safe space where we can just create, discuss and be ourselves publicly,” she said.

Image by Malik Radford

Malik Radford

Malik Radford has a dual degree in Kinetic Imaging and Communication Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University. He works for the VCU Activity Programming Board as their Communications Coordinator / Graphic Designer, but he also makes illustrations and cartoons.

“I’m always thinking of ideas I want to bring to life,” he wrote to us. “It usually just depends on my mood or what’s going in the world at the time.” His recent work, which ranges from album cover designs to cartoons about social justice, is just as spontaneous as it is intentional. The Instagram caption for the above cartoon reads, “How do we properly go about social justice in a country where peace is deemed as equal of a threat as violence?”

Radford isn’t afraid to be honest, which is part of the reason why his work is so funny. That, and his ability to see the big picture. “I’m really fascinated with the universe and space, and the idea of life being insignificant on a universal scale, yet so important on a human level,” he said.

Image by Malik Radford

On his website, Radford lists Earl Mack and Hebru Brantley as some of his influences, artists whose brightly-colored, pop culture-sensitive qualities can be seen in Radford’s work. It’s the sort of stuff that would be right at home on Adult Swim, and Radford would love to get involved with the network. He’s on their radar; Adult Swim commented on a cartoon Radford made about a Michael Jordan docu-series a few weeks ago. “It’s just a matter of continuing to make dope stuff,” he said.

In the meantime, Radford plans on making more album covers. He’s designed for RDFRD, Svn Svn Three, Kamakazi Kei, and many more. “I’m also going to be releasing either an art book or another coloring book,” he said. “I have a lot of goals, but those are the ones that first come to mind.”

Image by Theodore Taylor

Theodore Taylor

Theodore Taylor, also a VCUarts alum, is a Richmond-based children’s illustrator, casual beatmaker, and front-end web developer at the Brick Factory. The above cartoon is from a zine Taylor made in 2017 called “Some Dumb Comics,” which is described on his website as “a small collection of comics about coping with modern America.”

Taylor, who is often busy taking care of his son, prefers working in Procreate on his iPad for practicality. Before he can finalize his designs, Taylor said in an email, “I try to capture as many ideas as I can in my sketchbook. If something interesting pops into my head I write it down. Then I take the best of those ideas and bring them to a completed state elsewhere.”

Music is a running theme in Taylor’s work. “A lot of my work is centered around it,” he said. “My father was a jazz guitarist and I’ve always wanted to follow in his footsteps. But I ended up taking a different path towards visual art. So whenever I have a chance to fit music into my work, I take it. That’s where my desire to make beat tapes alongside comics and zines came from.”

Image by Theodore Taylor

Most recently, Taylor illustrated “Woke,” a collection of poems focused on social justice. On Instagram, he wrote, “I’m very happy with how this book turned out. I think it features some of my best book work to date. I tried to approach it like a zine, representing each poem as best as I could. I hope you all enjoy it!”

His illustrations in “Woke” are luminous and textured, like sunlight spilling onto fabric, with outlines like woodblock prints. “My style comes from years of mimicking comics, animation, video games and street art,” he said. “I still don’t feel like I have one consistent style, but I can spot elements that tie everything together. My style changes depending on what I’m working on.”

Taylor’s main focus at the moment is continuing his career as a children’s book illustrator. “Not just for money,” he said, “but the surreal feeling of seeing my work on store shelves in a real, tangible book.” Look out for his next book! “I really wish I could say what it is, but it’s a secret!” he said.

Zoe Hall

Zoe Hall

Zoe is a writer and illustrator from Rockville, Maryland. She graduated from VCU with a BFA in Communication Arts in 2020. Her favorite vacation strategy is walking and looking.

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