"Social Works II" curated by Antwaun Sargent
October 7–December 18, 2021
Grosvenor Hill, London
The paintings and drawings I make are deeply rooted in the experience of what I call “domino culture.” While dominos is a board game like many other board games played around the world, I find that dominos in particular generates a kind of culture in communities where it is played. Dominos is part chest, part checkers, and part contact sport. It has the contemplative element of chess, the rapid maneuvering of checkers, but until most board games, dominos often times are slammed to the table with great force. For me, the culture is informed by the sounds of the dominos clacking on the table (in places where dominos has generated a culture, it’s not a silent game), the boisterous bluffing to gain advantage, and most important to me, the beautiful shapes that forms as the dominos are laid out. These shapes shift based on the size of the table, and the style of the game. I’m most familiar with playing the way we play in the south where the dominos can be played in four directions that creates a cross, but I’ve also learned to play the way the Greeks and South American’s play where the game is played in a straight line. I’ve also learned that dominos is often times a kind of academy where much is taught and learned. I feel fortunate to have been a student of many great thinkers who may be locked out of traditional academic institutions. These thinkers have keen eyes, ears, and minds to what is happening in many areas of life that range from the social, political, to the economic.
From the start of playing in the early 1990’s, I was fascinated by the shapes and patterns made throughout the game. But it wasn’t until I played with black dominos on a white table that I could really see the distinct quality of the shapes. Eventually I started taking photos of the shapes on the tables. During this time, I was not making traditional art objects. But I was asked to make a drawing for an exhibition. For this exhibition, instead of photographing the shapes, I would just trace them. This led to a fascination with what happens when the shapes from various games are layered on top of each other. I soon found abstract forms emerging. I found it interesting how layering the patterns of the shapes of such a logical and ordered game could result in a complex narrative of an everyday activity of a game. I became increasingly interested in the phenomenon that ultimately lead to the domino drawings I make.
Prior to my long break from object making, I made figurative paintings that I considered “anti” painting. The intention of this work was to project the urgency of pollical issues. They were not intended to be “paintings” at all. They were more like political sign boards painted with house paint on plywood. I felt that this was what I was called to do. Though I was trained as a traditional painter, the urgency of politics put the issues overshadowed the idea of making paintings or drawings as artistic investigations. My desire to deal with the urgency of politics eventually led to explore the social constructs on what politics is built. While trying to better understand how the social constructs connected with art, I ran into Joseph Beuys concept of social sculpture. This transformed my career from a painter and installation artist to a “social sculptor.” For nearly 30 years, I put away my studio practice and fully submerged into the social real of creative production that seeks to be a catalyst of creatively transforming neighborhoods and communities.
This work expanded my creative production into the realms of social services, housing, architecture, and urban planning, among others. It was during this time that I founded Project Row Houses in Houston, Watts House Project in LA through an exhibition at MOCA, Trans.lation: Vickery Meadow as part of an exhibition at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, and Victoria Square Project as part of Documenta 14 and others. The work has been a creative exploration of learning while producing work that offer hope and possibility of equity in the face of many challenges. This work offered and still do offer a fulfilment in addressing the urgency of the political, social, and economic issues we face. But at the same time, throughout the years of doing this work, I have often sought ways to reflect on the work being done. The domino drawings offered such an opportunity both in terms of the opportunity to sit and work in a contemplative environment of the studio, and in terms of thinking about the issues of urban planning in the abstract. Within the social and economic context, planners, architects, social scientists, and others all work with mapping as a way to guiding knowledge production.
I did not know the reason I was drawn to tracing the domino patterns until one day I realized that the patterns were simply mapping knowledge of the time I spent with the people I played with. Because of the presence of mapping in the early domino drawings, I continued to make the work as an investigation into how mapping domino games could help me better understand the mapping related to my interest in urban development and other social and political interest.
As I mentioned above, there are many different ways to play dominos. But the two ways I’m familiar with are either four directional which makes a cross or the single line. I’ve played with using the patterns derived from both methods in my work. The four directional forms allow for more improvisation while the straight line offers a more rational and ordered impression. In the current work I am exploring the ordered and improvisation of patterns produced by these different ways of playing to the ways social, political, and economic issues are address when they are either well capitalized or undercapitalized. When parts of cities are well capitalized economically, there is a kind of order present. When parts of cities are undercapitalized, there is a higher degree of improvisation. While some works are fully embodied with either improvisation or order, some works seek to explore the tension between the two. On the one hand, that could represent gentrification with order moving in because of strong capital, on the other, it could be a disinvestment causing more improvisation.