The Sporting Life
Interview by Charles Moore // Portrait by Chase Hall
Long after his childhood peers abandoned their artistic pursuits, Derek Fordjour remained dedicated to creating art. Graduating from Morehouse and Harvard, he later earned his MFA at Hunter College.
Fordjour’s creative process encompasses a multimedia approach, going beyond the confines of a single medium. He believes there is immense value in allowing viewers to establish their unique relationships with his work. His art spans across diverse media such as painting, sculpture, and even a recent puppet show, all featured in a single exhibition.
Through his layered paintings, textured grounds, incorporation of found objects, vibrant colors, and newspaper mounted on canvases, Fordjour endeavors to construct captivating worlds for his audience. Artists like Kerry James Marshall, William Kentridge, and Louise Bourgeois serve as inspirations for Fordjour, particularly their exploration of challenging questions within their own artistic practices. Fordjour shares their commitment to infuse a sense of urgency into his paintings, striving to create works that he believes should exist.
Gamesmanship and Political Commentary
Fordjour’s artistic practice delves into the realms of gamesmanship, politics of access, and representation. This is evident in works like “Regatta Study” (2020) and “Half Mast” (2018). “Regatta Study” explores rowing, a sport that historically has had low levels of Black participation due to limited access and cultural legacies. On the other hand, “Half Mast” echoes Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” (1937) and Faith Ringgold’s “American People Series #20: Die” (1967), depicting a vivid snapshot of New York City, capturing urban chaos and the vulnerability faced by individuals in the realm of public safety.
Educational Path and Influences
In an interview between Charles Moore and Derek Fordjour, Moore asks about the impact of Fordjour’s earlier education on his MFA experience. Fordjour suggests that his prior experience with research and writing provided him with a valuable foundation for the critical analysis often required at a place like Hunter College. He also acknowledges the profound influence of his alma mater, Morehouse, in shaping his sense of self, cultural awareness, and artistic purpose.
During his time at Hunter, Fordjour had the privilege of working with Nari Ward as his thesis advisor. Ward’s mentorship greatly influenced his understanding of sculpture, emphasizing the power of material and conceptual rigor. They even had conversations about the challenges of storage and the importance of preserving artwork.
Shifting Perspectives on Artwork Preservation
Fordjour shares a personal anecdote about his initial disregard for the preservation of his artwork. Limited by space and resources, he often disposed of his creations after installations. However, Nari Ward advised him against discarding his work, stressing the importance of proper stewardship. This shifted Fordjour’s perspective on the value of his artwork beyond the process of creation and encouraged him to embrace the role of a steward, respecting the longevity and significance of his creations.
As an artist who also collects the works of his peers, Fordjour explains his motivations for collecting. He seeks out artists at critical stages of their development, both recent MFA graduates lacking representation and established artists who may have been overlooked for years. Fordjour’s collection includes diverse mediums such as painting, assemblage, photography, and sculpture. He values works that inspire and teach him, often choosing pieces by early mentors and friends to maintain their supportive energy in his daily life.
Material Choice and Symbolic Significance
Charles Moore raises an intriguing question about Fordjour’s choice of materials, such as newspaper and cardboard, and their continued use. Fordjour explains how these materials initially stemmed from limited resources when he started working with them. However, after recognizing that his temporary condition was a permanent reality for many individuals, he saw an opportunity to connect his work to the broader diaspora and the resourcefulness found within under-resourced communities.
Fordjour also finds significance in the notion of achieving universality through specificity. He shares an experience from a talk in Israel where he discovered a connection between his choice of materials and a group of Jewish artists who had worked with newspapers nearly a century earlier. This experience highlighted the way his personal process resonates across cultures and connects various communities, even tapping into historical art movements like Arte Povera.
The Layering Process and Newspaper Selection
Moore engages Fordjour in a discussion about his creative process, particularly the significance of layering. Fordjour explains how layering initially served a practical purpose but evolved to offer a broader range of mark making, including incisions, tearing, and scraping. Layering transformed his relationship with surface texture and expanded his artistic vocabulary.
In terms of newspaper selection, Fordjour confirms his continued use of the Financial Times. Despite the association of this newspaper with wealth and whiteness, he sees value in its universality, affordability, and fading popularity, which adds an archival dimension to the material. While acknowledging the economic status of the readership, Fordjour emphasizes its secondary relevance to his artistic intentions.
The Significance of Storage and Stewardship
Fordjour elaborates on his shifting perspective on storage and the importance of proper stewardship. Initially, he saw the process of creating artwork as the primary focus and lacked understanding of what happened to his work once it left the studio. However, his perspective changed when he began buying small works and experiencing the impact of living with art. This newfound appreciation for collecting and preserving artwork taught him the importance of stewardship and seeing his creations beyond their initial completion.
Exploring Different Mediums and Inspirations
Moore and Fordjour delve into the topic of Fordjour’s exploration of various artistic mediums beyond painting. Fordjour draws an analogy between painting as the heartbeat of his creative body and other mediums like sculpture, performance, and film as the limbs that share a lifeline with painting. He mentions his exposure to theater, literature, and travel, emphasizing how these diverse influences intertwine to create exhibitions that embody his dynamic creative process.
Artistic Statements and Social Commentary
The conversation shifts towards the themes present in Fordjour’s artwork, particularly sportsmanship and political commentary. Fordjour reflects on his personal interest in rowing and his attempt to join a rowing team during graduate school. He highlights the barriers to access and the standardized tests frequently used to exclude certain communities. Inspired by painters like Thomas Eakins, Fordjour sought to examine patterns of under and overrepresentation within society through the creation of artworks like “Regatta Study.”
Examining Capitalist Systems and Representation
The interview covers Fordjour’s views on auctions and their association with the commodification of bodies. He offers insights into the participation of Black individuals in capitalist systems across various industries and how historical legacies of oppression continue to shape access to capital. Fordjour’s thought-provoking commentary highlights the persistent disparities within these systems.
The Title: Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain
The interview concludes with a glimpse into Fordjour’s upcoming show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles. Titled “Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain,” the exhibition will feature an entire body of new paintings exploring the theme of magic and its various manifestations. Fordjour aims to explore power dynamics, deception, belief systems, and the suspension of disbelief within society.
Derek Fordjour’s remarkable journey as an artist, his dedication to exploring diverse mediums, and his thought-provoking social commentary have solidified his position as an influential voice in the art world. Through layered paintings, meticulous material choices, and compelling themes, Fordjour’s work resonates with audiences, challenging societal norms, and sparking conversations on representation, access, and the power of art itself.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How did Derek Fordjour’s educational background shape his artistic practice?
From attending Morehouse and Harvard to completing his MFA at Hunter College, Fordjour’s educational path greatly influenced his approach to artmaking. These experiences provided him with a strong foundation in research, writing, critical analysis, and cultural awareness.
2. Why is newspaper a recurring material in Derek Fordjour’s artworks?
Fordjour’s choice of newspaper as a material stems from both limited resources at the time and a desire to connect with under-resourced communities. He values the universality and fading popularity of newspapers, which create an archival dimension within his artwork.
3. How does Derek Fordjour incorporate social commentary into his artwork?
Through his art, Fordjour explores themes related to gamesmanship, representation, and access. He aims to provoke conversations about societal disparities, particularly concerning patterns of under and overrepresentation within various spheres, including sports and the art world. His artworks serve as thought-provoking social commentaries.
4. Why does Derek Fordjour embrace diverse artistic mediums beyond painting?
While painting remains the backbone of Fordjour’s artistic practice, he finds inspiration and creative vitality in exploring other mediums such as sculpture, performance, and film. These mediums allow him to engineer immersive experiences for viewers, showcasing the interconnectedness of different artistic forms.
5. What themes can we expect from Derek Fordjour’s upcoming exhibition, “Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain”?
“Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain” will delve into the concept of magic and its various manifestations. Fordjour will explore power dynamics, the act of deception, and beliefs systems within our society. The exhibition aims to blur the boundaries between reality and illusion, encouraging viewers to question their own perceptions and the constructed narratives that shape our world.