The life of a painter can be a sudden, volcanic eruption of emotional
upchuck – skillfully translated through color and texture, married to a canvas and set on display for all of the world and web to see. Dallas-bred artist Blue The Great represents much more than a well-framed Instagram-able moment. He’s layered, much like the signature mummy-wrapped figures consistent in his artwork, with an energetic aesthetic that at times can feel like a true eruption.
His cryptic subjects range from crooked cops to Muhammad Ali to iconic figures like the Playboy Bunny or Mickey Mouse. In recent years Blue has expanded his skill level, breathing life into mummified characters without name or reference, attracting the likes of Jordan, Pow Wow Long Beach, and even Kendrick Lamar. His layers also reveal various other skills: photography, graffiti, and jujitsu just to name a few. For Blue, life is about using all your God-given talents in the here and now. His obligation to that truth supersedes his obligations to the public, and for this reason, Blue creates solely for his pleasure, and sometimes for his therapy.
“I mostly paint for myself. Things that affect me – that are close to me. Maybe [in] a selfish way… I paint how I feel about things, personally. Occasionally I’ll speak on the current state of America. I am here too, and I do see all the shit.”
Kendrick Lamar shocked the world with his 2015 BET performance, rapping lyrics to his impassioned track “Alright” atop a ransacked, graffiti-riddled police car painted by Blue himself. “Police brutality was a heavy theme in some of my earlier works,” he says on their collaboration. That moment ruffled the feathers of many, including news anchorman Geraldo Rivera who openly criticized Lamar’s lyrics and visual statement that night. Lamar and Blue share a similar philosophy – art should be provocative, yet Blue requires one more key element: subtlety.
“A lot of my work [is] politically-fueled, but I try to keep it… sometimes art can be too direct. It’s too easy to read. Like ‘oh, this means that.’ I’d rather paint with a little more mystery. A little bit less open. I don’t need art that says, ‘Hey! I don’t like Donald Trump.’ Cool, I get that, no one does. I feel like there’s a more clever way to lead me that way. I have a new [perspective] now. Is it art or is it bullshit?”
“I don’t want [my art] to be something that makes you cry,” he continues, “I want it to be an interesting thought. Some people never even get it. Some people just think it’s a cool thing.”
At first glance, Blue’s art is indeed very cool, yet only a thoughtful eye can decipher his perspective on topics like police brutality. Take “Flip Flag” for instance, a mural he created mural for All Def Digital’s space. It depicts intertwined mummy flags, a constant battle between two opposing sides, wrestling until death on uneven soil. The decay of a brutal, bloodthirsty old world, entangled alongside a new world, fighting to preserve its livelihood. Blue’s work is deeper than an overt political statement – it’s an intellectual excavation.
In the complex world of art, the monetary value of a piece won’t always reflect its artistic merit. A nearly blank canvas could sell for $2.1 million, while an intricate abstract piece might lay in an alley way. Art is relative to the viewer, though sometimes celebrity can eclipse actual talent. Let’s face facts – some ‘quality’ art is just garbage. Blue is all too familiar with the politics of the art world, and as his price goes up, his attitude on artistry becomes blunter.
“You know, there’s the whole good art and bad art argument that people can have forever,” Blue says with a sigh. “Just because it’s popular and selling doesn’t mean it’s good. A lot of people in L.A use cheat codes. My theory is just because you can paint good doesn’t mean your art is good. The cool thing about living in L.A though, there’s a lot of OG’s that live here and people who are hella tight who’ve made it. Made their style and shit and have got passed wherever they were at and are now in fine-art galleries. That’s something I didn’t see when I was home in Dallas.”
Blue has yet to use any cheat codes, and his art has the love and support of not only King Kendrick but the city of Compton itself. Having just finished a 78-foot mural in Long Beach, Blue’s next painting might be bigger in a whole different manner.
“The city [of Compton] hit me up to do some stuff. I’m just trying to figure out the concept still. I think [for] this piece I’m going to do something a little more feeling-based… about the times. About what’s going on right now in the world. I painted something like 78-feet, which was the one in Long Beach for Pow Wow. That’s the biggest painting I’ve done. I painted with spray paint, and I mostly paint with paintbrushes. It was cool to take that challenge and see if I could make it work.”
For the last few years, Blue’s other talents have seen more daylight. He’s submerged himself into the art of photography, capturing his day to day in a raw documentary style. His debut zine entitled “unFun,” a collection of rare photographs, doodles, and written works, quickly sold out upon its exclusive release. He’s currently working to expand the number of copies he produces for the second installment.
“I want the zine to be unedited, raw. Like, it is what it is, especially since I’m the one publishing and putting it out. I’m painting all the time, so now I need a new hobby. I’ve been shooting the last couple of years pretty seriously; when I was in Dallas, I shot these girls fighting, which was kind of interesting. It was some real life shit. I got a chance to go on tour with Isaiah Rashad, I did his album cover and got to shoot a bunch of random stuff. And I really like seeing graffiti everywhere. When I go to New York, it’s everywhere. If you’re a fan of that shit, it’s not just noise to you. It’s just like being in a gallery.”
When you unwrap a layer of Blue’s exterior, there’s a silhouette of a young black man, striving for discipline while constantly re-inventing himself. Blue, like all of us mortals, won’t stand the test of time, but maybe his artwork will. As Blue grows, one can only be curious what his final form will manifest as. Like old graffiti, his impact as an artist might inspire a now embryonic crop of thinkers who stumble across its ruins during their own process of self-discovery.
Visit Blue The Great’s website for more information.
For more of our interviews, read our chat with pop star Charli XCX right here.
- Text: Gyasi Williams Kirtley
- Imagery: Blue The Great