Art with a Purpose: An Interview with Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell

Mitchell- image compliments Advocate

Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell graduated from the Art Institute of Houston in 2001 with an Associates Degree in Graphic Design and earned a BFA from Southern University of Baton Rouge. GHOST is an acronym for God Holds Our Souls Together and Genocide Hinders Our Survival Tactics. GHOST also refers to the fact that this artist’s art and poetry is designed to ‘haunt’ those who are guilty of oppression and injustice.

Natalie d’Auvergne: While studying your pieces I found that they don’t simply tell a story but seem to frequently have a message. Do you create individual pieces to guide viewers to ‘get’ this or that from a piece? Do you ever create pieces just for the hell of it?

Antoine “Ghost” Mitchell: Exploration of my art begins with self-knowledge. Earlier pieces like The Maafa: Afrikan Holocaust/Crucifixion for instance, were created as I was beginning to learn about Afrikan and Afrikan-American History. These pieces certainly were created to prove a point.  More recent works however, such as Won’t You Help to Sing Songs of Freedom, They Don’t Really Care About Us, and Whose Blood?, were created to guide the viewer to a discussion of certain critical issues.

I do feel I am a vessel for those who cannot speak what they feel—a sort of “voice for the voiceless” (that’s my shout out to Mumia Abu Jamal) —wink! However, I do create art pieces for the hell of it, though not as often as I would like. The “UNI-5” piece based on Bone thugs-n-harmony for instance, was a strictly “for fun” piece. Creating it took me back to a time when I was inspired by Bone. I found then that I could simply…draw.

d’Auvergne: You use pencils on most of your pieces. Why pencils and how did you develop your technique? I’m particularly interested in the “backward technique” you used in “UNI-5” piece and the “Afro Blue” collection.

"Afro Blue" pencil featuring "Backward Technique"

Mitchell: Wow, that is a great question. I’ve been using pencils for as long as I’ve been drawing. I’m 29, so that amounts to about 25 years of working with pencils. Pencil, rather than paint, was the easiest utensil to get a hold of. Pencils, I could afford. When I enrolled at Southern University of Baton Rouge in 2002, I took my first Advanced Drawing Class under Robert Cox, my current mentor, and cultivated the DISCIPLINE of the Pencil.  When using a pencil, because I draw from realism, I have to really concentrate on getting the correct tones by applying the correct amount of pressure. Holding the pencil “hard” creates harder and darker marks, while holding the pencil “soft” creates the softer and lighter marks. I view the pencil as the armed revolutionary views the Gun: It’s the power of the Pencil that I use to bring the Revolution that will NOT be televised. The revolution will be carried out with a #HB and #3B pencil. Lol!

The “Backward Technique” is something that I learned while attending the Art Institute of Houston back in 1999 to 2001. In 2000 I took a drawing course where the instructor took Black and White photos of each student in the class. We then had to use a white Prisma color pencil on Black paper. Unlike working on white paper, where the hardest mark one makes is the darkest, on black paper, the hardest mark one makes is the lightest. Thus, what the artist renders are the highlights and light tonal values.  It is a pretty interesting technique that is one of my favorites.  The Afro Blue series, which is a rare painting series, is similar to the “Backward Technique” in that the canvas is painted a dark blue then I paint the highlights. I do still use black paint to paint in the dark tones as well.

d’Auvergne: Black women seem to be your preferred subject matter. You do have images of Bob Marley and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, but I noted the lack of images of ordinary men. What about us inspires you and do you not get the same inspiration from black men?

"Songs of Freedom"

Mitchell: Queen, Black Women are my heart and soul. I grew up around mostly Black Women, so the internal and external beauty of Black Women help me deal with my strengths as well as my convictions.  I have always, and will always have love for Black Women, but it wasn’t until I began learning about Afrikan and Afrikan-American history that I came to realize that the physical attributes of Black Women are greatly unique, and deserve to be thoroughly imitated by my art.  Our sisters represent many visually appealing aesthetics; they come in such diverse shapes, sizes, skin-shades, hair textures, ect. In many of my pieces, when I do use Black Women directly, I aim to inspire Black females, from the youngest to the oldest, to recognize their beauty. I am one man showing them something that they should already know.

That is a great inquiry about the lack of images of ordinary men in my work.  I haven’t seriously thought about that myself, but I think its safe to speculate that the lack of depiction of ordinary men in my work has much to do with the fact that I did not grow up with a full time father at home. HOWEVER, I’ll admit that I don’t give Black Men enough honor. I realize that when I am around men who care for their families and other responsibilities. These men include my uncles, my father of course, my older brothers, my male cousins (who are like brothers to me), many of my visual art and spoken word poetry comrades, and the many positive males I witness daily.  Hopefully one day I can produce works that focuses on males, other than my artistic and revolutionary heroes such as Bob Marley, Fred Hampton, and Malcolm X.

d’Auvergne: Your wife posed for the “Hero” series, what is it like to work with her and how does she feel about having her image analyzed and discussed all over Baton Rouge?

Mitchell: Ha! Believe it or not, in many of the works that have my beautiful Queen as a model she had little or no idea that those photos would become some form of visual artwork.  The HERO series, she did pose for; I took three different photos of her. The first was the pose that I used for HERO III: Power to the People, which was actually the very first in the series.  If you notice, that one looks a little different from the others because she was actually sick during that period.  The pose of her for HERO I: Throne of Fidelity, a favorite, required that I set the timer on my camera. She sat on my back and it came out perfect on the first try. HERO I is a depiction of Queen Nzinga of the Matamba People in Central West Africa. Queen Nzinga led many successful campaigns against the Portuguese during the 16th or 17th century and the pose of my wife sitting on my back depicts a story. One of Queen Nzinga warriors offered his back to her as a seat after Portuguese councilmen refused her one during a meeting.

"Hero-I"

As far as my wife’s image being analyzed and discussed all over Baton Rouge, she has neither negative nor positive feelings about it. It’s just one of those common things for her. Lol! To be truthful, my wife is my best and probably most honest critic.  I tell folks all the time: I DID NOT marry a groupie! And I’m happy for that! She will tell me if she doesn’t like a piece or does not agree with a certain idea. She does a great job reeling me in if I’m ever tempted to let my emotions rule instead of my mind. Lol!

d’Auvergne: Your work has been touring area Libraries. How does one go about organizing a tour and what did your tour entail?

Mitchell: Well, I have to say, compared to New Orleans and other places, Baton Rouge is a little behind on the “Afrikan Culture” front as far as artistic celebrations is concerned.  We do have our cultural leaders here who work hard at educating others about Afrikan culture. For instance, the Africentric Focus/Ma’at Study group, which I artistically and poetically participate in, hosts a yearly Kwanzaa program and we have a lovely store in our Flea Market called Harambee that sells a large collection of books that focus on Afrikan/Black history and experience.  I believe Southern University of Baton Rouge has produced, and still produces, the BEST artists in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, aside from all of that, there seems not to be too much mainstream support for the “progressive” work that I create. That could sometimes be frustrating, however, I refuse to let myself get down because of that.

The libraries in Baton Rouge, particularly the Scotlandville Library Branch, hosted my first exhibition right after I graduated from Southern University in May 2007.  I found that the Library was a great starting ground for a grassroots following. That is something that I’ve now acquired and am happy to have.  I’ve noticed that many Black people in Baton Rouge, for various reasons, don’t go to Art Galleries or Art Museums. However, many of those same people DO frequent libraries. So, in a way, library visitors are forced to see my work—works that may appeal to them because someone who looks like them creates them.  Hell, I didn’t know about famous Black artists—American or Afrikan—until I enrolled at Southern University in 2002 and by that time I was 20.  It therefore becomes a mater of making people aware.

"Afrika Unite"

As far as the Artistic Vagabond Tour, I simply went to each library and asked. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do a month-to-month exhibition at different locations and also to observe myself as I dealt with any restriction that a library may, or may not, have.  I also tried to use the different libraries in purest sense of a “tour.” I wanted to expose my work to those who may not have seen or heard about GHOST or the types of artwork that I create. It was very challenging physically and mentally.  Some exhibitions were very successful while others weren’t.  However, with the help of family, close comrades, and many that I look up to, the tour ended perfectly.

d’Auvergne: You’re branching out with a spoken word album soon to be released, Shoe Art, Digital Painting and of course commissions. How do these different mediums relate to each other and how do you remain efficient with all these different branches of your creativity?

Mitchell: I’ve been doing Spoken Word Poetry officially since 2002 when I enrolled at Southern University and began frequenting a weekly Wednesday reading called “The Mocha Room Poetry Reading.”  Eventually I would frequent a once weekly, now monthly, open mic reading called “The Eclectic Truth.” These are places where I learned, from many of my poetic comrades, how to perform and develop a style of my own.  I’ve been writing since I was about ten.

"Eymbrace Together" Digital Art Piece

I released a local Spoken Word Poetry album back in 2007 called “Gye Nyame Warrior,” which had a more African-Centered feel to it with underlining Revolutionary activism.  This current project called “2013: The GHOST Story” is a mixtape that I have recorded, arranged, and produced myself with whatever time and equipment I have.  This project is almost an autobiographical project that very slightly follows the mixtape tradition (where pre-existing music is remixed into the DJ/MC’s version) and is a compilation of new poetry, as well as past live performances and past poems never released.  I also created the graphic artwork for the album. I think one thing that makes me a little more unique than many other independent music artists/poets is that I have the ability to market myself by using the Graphic Design skills that I have.

The Digital Painting is my ‘fun work.” I have always been a huge fan of comic books and anime and those genres are actually my escape from the more serious issues I tend to convey in my works.  It’s basically painting in programs like Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter.  Creating a comic book series and/or a Graphic Novel is something I have wanted to do ever since I was eleven years old.  Comic books such as X-Men and video games like the Final Fantasy series keep me inspired.

Mitchells’ work may be viewed on his website: http://www.poeartry.net

Mixtape available here: http://www.poeartry.net/ghoststory.html and online store: http://www.poeartry.net/store.html

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6 Comments

  1. GHOST said,

    December 5, 2010 at 2:05 PM

    Thanks so much for this wonderful interview queen! I hope to work with you in the near future! One Love and Solidarity!

    • AphroditeAres said,

      December 5, 2010 at 3:15 PM

      No problem, I had a wonderful time working with you on this interview, especially learning about your craft. Thank you for your time. Bless.

  2. December 5, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    Beautiful interview…both of you. Keep spreading the love of art, beauty, and wisdom to all people.

    dscriv

    • AphroditeAres said,

      December 5, 2010 at 3:49 PM

      Thanks, Dr. Scriven! We will.

  3. December 5, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    Your work is powerful and affects one’s deepest sensibilities. The way that you are able to capture the essence of your wife’s beauty and strength to invoke the message of each piece in which you’ve used her are your model is astounding. Your point about the depiction of the ordinary black man is accurate. Sometimes it is something that doesn’t always initially come to mind, because we are constantly bombarded with negative depictions of our men in the media. As the media, art, tends to imitate life, we let the bad far outweigh the good. But, we must fight to remember that it isn’t all bad. As you said so many words, we just have to take notice of the good around us. When I created one of my male avatars for a chat client I frequently used ( I changed it up from using my girl avatar all the time), I created his personality using my grandfather, my father, two of my cousins, and three of my uncles,lol. Though, I didn’t really realize it right off the bad. When you do create works that depict the ordinary man, it will come naturally. So, to reiterate and end this post, your work is amazing!

  4. GHOST said,

    December 6, 2010 at 4:44 PM

    Thanks Dr. Scriven! and Thanks Rita! and MUUUUCH THANKS TO NATALIE! NUFF RESPECT


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