Troy Lamarr Chew II: Unveiling the Artistic Language

The Visual Linguist

Interview by Evan Pricco // Portrait by Max Knight

In the vibrant and captivating Slanguage series, Troy Lamarr Chew II, a painter based in LA and trained in SF, combines pop culture and everyday life to create compositions that celebrate lyricism, choreography, and the rich history of dance. These works go beyond mere visual representations, using hip-hop sayings and the power of movement to delve into the deeper essence of cultural expression. In his recent exhibition at Altman Siegel, titled “The Roof is On Fire,” Chew brought his paintings to life through an innovative use of technology, allowing viewers to witness the dances he was depicting in real-time with the help of an app. This groundbreaking approach not only captivated audiences but also served as a psychological exploration of our perception and interpretation of art in the digital age. Despite his reputation as a digital visionary, Chew remains rooted in the traditions of Old World painting, seamlessly blending art historical narratives and contemporary hip-hop language to create compelling and ever-evolving works.

Exploring the Contrasts Between LA and San Francisco

Chew’s art career took off in San Francisco, despite his roots in LA. When asked about the differences between the two cities, Chew lightheartedly mentioned the superior quality of weed in the Bay as his first thought. However, he also reflected on the contrasting dynamics of the art world in both places. LA’s art scene has multiple tiers of separation, making it challenging for emerging artists to connect with established figures. In contrast, the Bay Area fosters a more interconnected community, wherein established artists and up-and-coming talents mix and mingle. Chew’s observation of these differences highlights the unique nuances that shape artistic environments and the impact they can have on an artist’s journey.

The Intersection of Psychology and Art

Chew’s background in psychology serves as a driving force in his artistic process. He approaches each series like a research paper, developing a hypothesis that guides his exploration and experimentation. Psychology has taught him the importance of understanding human behavior, and he applies this knowledge to his art. For Chew, research and experimentation are key components of his creative practice, allowing him to examine the impact of his work and adapt his artistic language based on the feedback he receives.

The Playfulness of Slanguage

Chew’s Slanguage series initially aimed to capture the language of hip-hop in a visual form. However, he soon realized that the compositions took on a comical and satirical tone, evoking laughter and amusement from viewers. The combination of pop culture icons and hip-hop references creates a sense of familiarity and playfulness, punctuated by the use of technology to enhance the experience. Chew’s intention was to create a show that exuded joy and positive energy, allowing audiences to engage with the vibrant colors and humorous compositions. The success of this approach demonstrates the universal appeal of humor and wit in artistic expression.

The Nuances of Hip-Hop Language

Chew refrains from labeling hip-hop solely as a source of humor. He emphasizes that hip-hop language encompasses a myriad of cultural references, inside jokes, and coded meanings. While some rappers, like Ludacris, have a comedic style, others, like Kendrick Lamar, delve into more profound and thought-provoking themes. Chew highlights that the inclusion of pop culture elements in his paintings acts as an entry point for viewers, sparking curiosity and inviting them to explore the connections between these elements and their broader cultural context. The playful compositions act as a bridge, connecting people with different backgrounds and experiences through a shared visual language.

Painting as Visual Language

Chew perceives painting as a form of visual storytelling, a language through which he communicates his ideas and observations. His Slanguage series acts as a funnel, translating hip-hop culture into a visual medium. He carefully curates his subjects, selecting elements that represent specific words and phrases associated with hip-hop, while also considering their visual appeal and the overall composition. By doing so, Chew bridges the gap between the old and the new, drawing parallels between the hidden meanings in traditional still-life paintings and the coded language of hip-hop. In exploring these connections, Chew blurs the boundaries of artistic genres and invites viewers to examine art through a fresh lens.

Exploring New Horizons

Chew’s artistic journey encompasses various series, each exploring different themes and techniques. Apart from his renowned Slanguage series, he has ventured into cloth paintings, combining African fabrics with oil painting. The Out the Mud series, in particular, delves into the concept of starting from scratch and highlights the connection between hip-hop, cultural heritage, and visual expression. Chew’s openness to new ideas and his ability to adapt his artistic practice to the changing world ensures that his work remains dynamic, captivating, and relevant.

Embracing the Invisible

Chew’s exploration of invisibility is a recurring theme in his work. He relates to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and experiences a similar feeling of being unseen and overlooked. This invisibility, both as an artist and as an individual, is both a curse and a blessing. It pushes Chew to constantly redefine his role in the art world and seek new ways to make his presence known. Through his paintings, Chew defies his invisibility, leaves his mark, and invites viewers to reflect on their own perceptions of identity and invisibility.

An Artist’s Hypotheses and Constant Evolution

Chew’s approach to art, heavily influenced by his background in psychology, is rooted in hypotheses and theories. He develops an idea, tests it through his artworks, and remains open to the feedback and insights gained from the process. This method allows him to constantly evolve as an artist and push the boundaries of his creativity. Chew recognizes that art is not a static entity but a continuous exploration, with each series bringing new perspectives, new challenges, and new growth.

The Artist’s Journey Beyond Painting

Beyond his passion for painting, Chew also reflects on his previous profession as an Uber driver. Prior to dedicating himself fully to art, he found himself in the unique position of interacting with strangers in his car, experiencing both visibility and invisibility simultaneously. These moments inspired his painting “The Invisible Man” and led him to contemplate the role of the artist as someone who can often feel unseen. Chew’s journey as an artist is deeply intertwined with his personal experiences, constantly shaping and informing his artistic expression.

A Roundtable Dinner with Artistic Visionaries

Given the opportunity to have a dinner or brunch with three artists, Chew enthusiastically lists René Magritte, Virgil Abloh, and Kerry James Marshall. These artists represent diverse backgrounds, artistic styles, and perspectives, offering Chew a chance to engage in stimulating conversations and share insights within a creative and inspiring environment.

In Conclusion

Troy Lamarr Chew II, the visual linguist, intricately weaves together pop culture, visual language, psychology, and the nuances of hip-hop into his captivating paintings. His thought-provoking exhibitions, such as “The Roof is On Fire,” demonstrate his ability to merge traditional painting techniques with innovative technology, resulting in an immersive and engaging experience for viewers. Through his ongoing exploration of different series and subjects, Chew continues to evolve as an artist, challenging the boundaries of art and creating a lasting impact in the contemporary art scene.

Unique FAQs

  1. Q: Are the dances depicted in Troy Lamarr Chew II’s paintings real?
    A: Yes, Chew’s innovative use of technology allows viewers to witness the dances portrayed in his paintings in real-time through a dedicated app. This interactive element adds an additional layer of engagement and playfulness to his artworks.
  2. Q: How does Troy Lamarr Chew II select the elements and subjects for his paintings?
    A: Chew carefully curates his subjects, focusing on words and phrases associated with hip-hop culture. He seeks to capture the essence of these expressions through visual representations, creating compositions that bridge the gap between pop culture icons and traditional art forms.
  3. Q: What is the significance of the cloth paintings in Chew’s Out the Mud series?
    A: The Out the Mud series explores the concept of starting from scratch and draws upon African cloth made from mud. This connection between hip-hop, cultural heritage, and visual expression highlights the depth and complexity of Chew’s artistic practice.
  4. Q: How does Troy Lamarr Chew II’s background in psychology inform his artistic process?
    A: Chew approaches each series like a research paper, formulating hypotheses and experimenting with different ideas. His understanding of human behavior allows him to create works that resonate with viewers on a psychological level, sparking curiosity and introspection.
  5. Q: What is the overarching theme in Chew’s artwork?
    A: Chew’s work explores the intersection of visual language, pop culture, psychology, and art history. His paintings serve as a visual medium for storytelling, inviting viewers to contemplate the nuances and connections between different cultural elements.