Bronx, New York
Victor Hemmings III
Tell us about yourself
My first language is American Sign Language and I’m known as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) in the Deaf Community due to both of my parents being hearing impaired. Now that I’m older I feel a sense of duty to incorporate this aspect of myself and be a voice for this community through my work. I was born in Manhattan but raised in the Bronx. My family and I are predominantly “African American” with the exception of my two Grandfathers who immigrated to the U.S., one from Costa Rica and the other from Jamaica.
What kind of art do you do?
Afro Surrealism paintings in acrylic or sometimes oil as well as illustrations in pencil and ink. The subjects are mixed sometimes but they vary from childhood nostalgia, my environment, history and historical figures, ancestry of melanated peoples across the globe, health etc.
How did you get started & how long have you been doing it?
I would draw cartoons that I watched when I was around 3 years old. My Dad would also give me his old comic books and I would try to draw the characters the same way I saw them. I went to The High School of Art & Design in Manhattan and it was there that I really was exposed to many different mediums and styles of art. I then went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for “General Art” which further helped me experiment with different techniques and helped me refine my own styles. It’s definitely been an on and off process for me but within the past 2-3 years I began focusing on producing more art work.
What or who inspired you? How do you work?
My inspiration comes in many different ways. My Parents are one of biggest sources inspiration. They’re the ones who encouraged me to pursue art. My mom gave me this Masai Folktale book when I was a child called “Who’s In Rabbit’s House” and the illustrations were done by Leo and Diane Dillon. I became a big fan of their illustrations when I got older and their work was a big influence. I’m also a big fan of Kerry James Marshall, Kadir Nelson, Takashi Murakami, Hayao Miyazaki, Gustave Doré, and Jean-Léon Gérôme just to name a few. I go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 5th Ave a lot. There’s so many exhibits that I take my time in but I have 2 paintings in particular that are my favorites and I can just stare at them and try to get into their inner workings of how they were made. They are “Black Bashi Bazouk” by Jean-Léon Gérôme and “Saint Maurice” by Lucas Cranach. These artists all give me a sense of duty to tell my story by seeing how much work they produced over the span of their careers. I absolutely need music to work whether it’s a song, instrumental on repeat, a mix or playlist. I’ll try to match the music to whatever I’m working on so that I can connect deeper emotionally. For example while working on “Black Madonna” I listened to a lot of Jay Electronica but mainly his songs “Swagger Jackson’s Revenge” and “Better In Tune With The Infinite” I had on repeat. I have a pretty sharp memory so it doesn’t take much for me to tap into a moment connected to an emotion I felt that inspired me to create a piece of artwork. I’ve tried to produce work for others without any emotional connection to the work and although the work was completed and the individuals loved what I did I personally didn’t feel like it was some of my best work.
How has your practice changed over time?
As I got older I accepted things about myself that made me who I am. I also accepted my own styles and understood that I didn’t have to make art like other well established artists to gain notability or be considered great. As a teenager I would replicate anime characters and draw from life in pencil and ink. When I got to college that’s when I started painting in acrylic and I got really good at realism. It wasn’t until maybe 2012 when I went back to illustrating with pencils not copying exactly what I saw but experimenting with my own style. Earlier on in life I would worry too much about what was the right way to do this art or paint this way etc. There is no right and wrong when you’re expressing yourself through art.
What’s integral to your work as an artist?
The presence of music while creating the artwork. I find myself sometimes spending too much time trying to find the right music that would allow me to tap in and get my work done. Creating an emotional experience for the viewer by choosing nostalgic subjects is also integral to my work. If the viewer walks away with a lasting impression then I did my job.
What has been a seminal experience in your career?
The first time I sold a painting. I was commissioned to paint a portrait of my girlfriend for her Great Aunt and the price she set for the piece was much more than I ever received for my art before that. That was also the first time I set a serious deadline for myself to complete work for a client.
What’s your favorite piece from your collection?
“Where The Real Wild Things Are”. Me and a few of my close friends tried our hands at starting a clothing brand called OCD (One Creative Design) a few years ago and I had to come up with a shirt design for a season based on New York being the theme. All 5 of us are from The Bronx so I was trying to come up with something that was unique to the Bronx but still NY-ish. At the time the live action “Where The Wild Things Are” movie was playing on my TV and I was going through Google looking for pictures of NY bodegas. It just clicked to me that our neighborhoods are home to a lot of troubled individuals with a lot of misplaced anger who definitely get into bad situations. The upper class would deem these people to be wild at times so the concept for the design just made sense.
Where does your inspiration come from when you are working?
A big part of what drives me comes from a desire to keep people informed, whether it’s about things or events they don’t know about or they might’ve forgotten about. I feel like everyone has a right to know the truth and my art is just one vehicle that will bring truth to people who see it. Each piece is unique and has its own source of inspiration. I’m into a lot of things so my inspiration comes from all different sources. Anime/cartoons, hip hop, jazz, movie scores, African cultural music, dancehall/reggae, Holistic Healing, different schools of thought (Moorish Science Temple of America, Nation of Islam, Rastafari etc), the various environments of the world, architecture, uncommon history etc.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Every step you take should be a move closer to your goal. Write down your goals. Is what you’re doing right now getting you closer or further away from what you want to accomplish? If it’s not helping you progress then how can you stop doing what’s not helping you and start doing what will.
Professionally, what is your goal?
To be of better service to the world through my art and my intellect while acquiring resources and providing them to the ones I care about.
What is your dream project?
I have too many to name but I will say one would be to get a chance to create art installations with the MTA all over NYC. On the trains, in train stations, points of interest such as 14th street Union Square, 42nd street Times Square, etc.
What message would you like to convey through your art?
Appreciate your surroundings. Remember your history, remember who you are and strive towards a better future. Beneath the surface, there lies a greater truth.
What obstacles have you faced as an artist?
Breaking out of my comfort zone is one of my biggest challenges. My personality, habits like procrastination is a big one although I will say I’ve improved within the last year or so. It used to take me weeks to finish a painting because I would do things like separate parts of the paintings by days. For example one day I’d make the initial sketch and background, the next day I’d paint the skin tone, next day it’s the clothing. Not being able to use the majority of my time to focus on my artwork due to working in a non art related field is another challenge. When I’m able to focus and give something my dedication I’m unstoppable but when I’m not focused the switch is pretty much off. I struggle with finding a balance because my personality is very black or white with very little grey areas. Being a full time working artist is a blessing and I am striving to get to that point.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If I’m too quiet, I’m either strategizing or working on something.