Reggie Black is an inspirational engineer. He wields words with a welcome disregard for your emotions, except for the intent of stirring them to a positive, action filled place.
So, when the green flyer for ‘Are You Using Your Voice’ started surfacing across social media platforms, it didn’t take a magnifying glass to see that the recent expatriate and newly engaged Bangkok resident, had landed his first international art exhibition at Ink & Lion Cafe, within five months of vacating his hometown of Washington D.C.
I talk with the artist-engineer; lets say this interview is one for the web zine books.
c.: This question ‘ Are You Using Your Voice’ doesn’t feel like a one-time question. How much is this exhibition an ongoing question for you as you intend for it be for others?
r.b.: One hundred percent right. The entire exhibition is a question. In due time the question will be asked over and over again. Its intentional. I feel like people take their life as the test they don’t want to study for. The test you take and then don’t retain information. I’m asking the question in the most innovative way I can, it’s a continuous question.
c.: I see some influences in your work from some familiar artists like the writing of The Writing, the self-probing questions in the writings of Shantell Martin. Am I correct to assume that these artists are talking through you?
r.b.: Yes. They are all talking through me. So many people inspire me; Kevin Lyons, Christopher Wool who does huge murals. – And the list goes on which he insists I mention. James Victore, CJ Hendry, Allison Kunath, Ricardo Gonzalez, Hugh MacLeod, Bradley Theodore, an alter art ego of mine The Blind Contour Era, JR, and Curtis Kulig.
If they can create a lane and didn’t go the contemporary route – they just started expressing themselves – that’s the path I’d like to blaze as well.
c.: Krink’s pens make a significant cameo in this exhibition. Why Krink?
I’m always attached to peoples’ personal stories and brand stories. I’m always a lover of someone stepping left, veering right to do something new. I was using markers that didn’t look like sharpies, on a bigger scale.
I tried to see if I could order some to come to Bangkok, I reached out and asked if they shipped over here. Their customer service was 100 percent; I ordered one of each in multiple colors. I love the drip effect- you can squeeze the pen or bottle or just write with it like it was a pen or a marker.
c.: Beautiful. I’ve heard a lot about their use for broader and grander projects. I’ll be looking into them myself. Currently, you’re an expatriate? How did you get to Bangkok and how did the idea of exhibiting at Ink and Lion become an idea you wanted to pursue?
r.b.: There’s a personal backstory. Five months ago I moved here to be with my fiancé. I feel like I exceeded everything I needed to do in the states. I’m most productive in uncomfortable situations. It doesn’t benefit me to work in the same environment everyday. I’m an extremist, its either one edge to the bridge or the other edge. I can’t walk in the middle.
Coming to Bangkok was a battle. I got here in October. Coffee shops were the only safe place for me when I moved to Bangkok, for the look of my ethnicity – where I was and what I was trying to do. What connected me to the culture was coffee. I started hanging out at coffee shops. Ink & lion was one of three that welcomed me with open arms.
One day I saw that they also allowed space to be used as a gallery. I thought this would be cool to merge two things I love – experience and coffee. I asked Kai of Ink and Lion what was the procedure. He asked me what type of art I produced. I showed him my Instagram and immediately he was intrigued, the photography, the inspirational quotes with Bangkok. We went back and forth, played with some dates and then there was the idea.
c.: What beautiful cohesion. To be a person needing a place to go, almost like expatriate salvation and then to find it among a community at a coffee shop, which would eventually allow you to use your voice there.
r.b.: It started off with me going there and just supporting as a normal patron. They are one of the premier coffee shops in Bangkok. It’s been amazing having them open the doors for me. Its clean lines in their design so they are allowing me to clash my colors against them which brave and is a testament to who they are. They took a bigger risk than me.
c.: About this ‘risky’ turn. We’re talking about an exhibition in a coffee shop. What about your relationship with Ink & Lion Cafe inspired you to have this kind of communicative experience here?
r.b.: They do a good job with their story. I didn’t want to amp it up or bring it down. So I’ve been riding my own wave. I noticed the culture and temperature of the coffee shop. I like that calm and how it articulates their brand story. I wanted to replicate that through art, documenting the experience I didn’t want to go against what they were going to do.
I love black in white. During our first meeting they made it profound they didn’t want black and white. So here we are, with a bunch of neon’s. I wanted to push myself to create a new medium in a new location in a new environment. It was about this institution that took a leap of faith on me.
I’m in love with their shop; the opportunity feels right. Its not like I’m going into the principals office and redesigning it and she always suspend me.
c.: You’re a creative and a creator. You are able to see the visions of others and through them i.e. the components that make it work. And yet, you are yourself assembling components – thoughts, images, ideas and resources – to not only make your ideas work but to allow them space in the world. Can you talk about how the creator and creative work in harmony for Reggie Black?
r.b.: The biggest fear for me was to come here and not create. One is bolder than the other actually, but they work in harmony. I think its because they’re like ying and yang and twins. One is more risker than the other.
The creative is I; the creator is what I do. The creative is more risky than the creator. I’m more risky than what I allow my art to be and sometimes there is an imbalance. I want to do so much and then I will block it, the creator part. The creative, doesn’t see barriers. The harmony between the two is the safe haven of how they work together.
c.: How does creating affect ‘Are You Using Your Voice?’
r.b.: I can’t let the creative beat the creator, I couldn’t hold back. I had to let the bolder one take the lead. If I let the creator play the rational game I wouldn’t exist. I have to put the fears aside. If you’re in it [the art ] for a one hit wonder, no one checks for you anymore. I’m doing this and opening up possibilities; still, I don’t know that anything that I’m presenting will work.
c.: In regards to this, this exhibition, the visuals prior to the show so far are just a flyer, a green flyer with some striking type and then a released teaser. What is the show, what can I share with the people about what’s going to happen on Saturday?
r.b.: I do want to first publicly thank the underwriters and a collective of creators that go by the Archivist. I met them through Ink and Lion, I asked them if they knew someone who could help produce a screen-print – Min and Woon – we’ve collaborated and worked together on the marketing and the overall aesthetics of the exhibition. The color green popped out at me. It’s a color I used with sticky and that I thought would say something. The last exhibition I did was at a house, and the color was orange, I didn’t want to repeat something but this is definitely a continuation of it – its me playing on a nontraditional space.
c.: So you’re calling the coffee shop a non-traditional space?
r.b.: Yes I am. I think Ink and Lion are taking a leap to allow artists to take a non-traditional space to express themselves, to show their work in other elements, in other places.
c.: And, the work? What can you share?
r.b.: It’s a split between canvas pieces, public art and a live installation. There will be a huge graffiti wall for people to tag their feelings. Experience is my first love. I’ve always loved expressing how I feel. I just want to gather people through community and good times. If its art and inspiration – then that’s the hook. What I’m doing really is a combination of what I’ve done and what I’ve wanted to do.
c.: How long have you had this multi-layered concept?
r.b.: For a while. It wasn’t as formal as it’s become. I always knew I wanted to do an exhibition that had three parts. Right before I left was the fear, you can’t go and not do stuff. As I observed what was happening in the states and here, I said to myself, what are you actually doing. None of us can fight everything, but if we pick a specific fight we all can help beat a bully in a specific way.
That’s what the flyer was about, I didn’t want to give away anything so the flyer is just words. And, especially being here, I wanted to be very cautious of how much I use because there is a language barrier in some capacity.
c.: The capacity has definitely reached international status. The treatment you’re giving it in social media – from its own Facebook event, to an official video teaser, to the invitation for public thought feels like the level of an exhibition at a museum. I feel coffee shops are and can be equal to the showings of an art museum. How important is the social strategy for an exhibition like this?
r.b.: Instagram is the new resume. All of this stuff is human interaction.
c.: You call yourself an inspirational engineer. Why? How does ‘Are You Using Your Voice?’ going to propel that?
r.b.: I think I’m now at the next realm of where I’m trying to go as a creator not as a creative. I’ve been really putting myself out there for years. Now, I’m really putting out a call and flipping it and putting it on everyone else. You can read the diction problem and vulnerabilities I have in my posts, but we have to end this notion of waiting for someone to step out. We do that by calling people out.
I’m saying ‘Alright Reggie you can do more.’ I wasn’t hiding. I think I was doing what was cool and comfortable. As the world was starting to beat us up, I was like okay you can do more. “ I don’t want to fight a racism war, I want to fight a human war.
Nothing I’ve written is new. It’s not inventive. Well it is inventive, because I’m doing it. The next chapter is, not release the power but engage the power. This is the people’s art show.
c.: You’re a world traveller, you’ve lived in many cities, and are a consumer of culture. What do you think the value of art in a coffee shop is?
r.b.: I think it’s a connection between the patrons of the coffee shop and what the brand of the coffee shop represents. There’s a connection to how much you care about those that care about your brand.
For coffee shops to allow artists to exhibit, it’s their way of giving back to everyone who patronizes their space. If people don’t come to a coffee shop, there’s no coffee shop. Coffee shops and barbershops are the meccas of culture in any city.
To see Reggie Black’s work visit here. His art event and exhibition opens Saturday at 6:30, with a presentation at 7:15.