UrbanFaith had the opportunity to sit down with artist Otis Kemp to talk about how he is able honor God while sharing His musical gifts. His hit single “The Reason” has gone viral and his music is being played all across the Southern United States. But his impact on his community and his journey to success have been anything but overnight. Otis Kemp shared a few key nuggets of authentic wisdom for people trying to be a blessing while being blessed.
Our Gifts Should Honor God
You want to share your gift. You want to share the message that God has given you. The music that I represent is lifemusic. I don’t look at a particular genre, like gospel or anything, because anybody can say they are gospel and live like whatever. I believe lifemusic is a testimony of who you are. When you when you see me, you should see some residue or some characteristics of the one Savior.
What Inspires You to Share Your Gift
I mean, to be honest [The Reason] was a song God gave me a couple of years ago, and it was at a dark time in my life. I began to prophesy over my life. I began to declare things that I was taught [since I was] a little boy. The God that my father taught me about [is why I live the way I do] even though at the time I didn’t understand what he was instilling in me. I’m a preacher’s kid and my family prayed.
You know, the Bible says you train up a child in the way they should go, and when they get older, they won’t depart from it. That is a true scripture. I’m evidence of that. I wanted to share with people when I say the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jabez [in my song] I’m talking the one and only true God. I’m talking about the God that you can actually talk to that you can have a relationship with. This ain’t no fake. It’s a real thing that he saved me. Like, I come from the streets. I’m from Miami, Florida, it’s rough. And down here, only the strong survive. God snatched me out of the darkness, snatched me out of the enemy’s camp, and brought me to his side.
How Can You Use Your Gift to Bless Others?
I would say the first thing that they should do is build a relationship with the Most High. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s not. I’m a living testimony. I got kicked out of every school in Miami and South Florida. And now I own three private schools within two and a half years. [It doesn’t] take 30 years; God judges you and he positions you by your heart. If your heart posture is correct, whatever passion you have, he will lead and guide you into all truth. The word of God is true.
If you want success, the only success you will have is with the Lord and in His Kingdom. Anything else is going to tear you down, going to destroy you, going to suck you dry. You become successful when it’s benefiting other people. Everything you do [with your gifts] should benefit someone else. That’s how you know it is from the Most High God. Jesus never did anything for Himself. Everything He did was for someone else. Now [He has] the highest name in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth. When you begin to lay down your life for the kingdom, your desires, your passion, or whatever it is, you can find out what God has already planned out for you. When you follow with Him you will have success. It’s just going to come with obedience.
STAINED GLASS FALLACIES: Since the early 1800s, European-flavored Jesus imagery has been mass-produced in the United States. After the Civil War, the notion of a ‘white’ Jesus became widely promulgated. (Image: Thinkstock Photos)
In their groundbreaking new book The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, historians Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey embark on a sweeping examination of how Americans came to believe in the whiteness of Jesus. Having grown up white in Oklahoma and New Jersey respectively, Blum and Harvey say they had to “unlearn a lot of white privilege over the years.” Chief among the ideas they sought to reverse in their thinking was the assumption that God is somehow attached to whiteness and white authority.
“We decided to write about how God has been presented as white in the form of Jesus in order to expose how insidious racism has been throughout American history — that it even wraps itself in the flesh of God,” says Blum. He adds that another motivation for the book was their concern about the false concepts that children learn about faith and race before they even have the intellectual or social wherewithal to challenge them. “Children often see the ‘race’ of Jesus before they know how to say grace in his name. We wanted Americans to confront the reality that the images we have created and continue to display influence how our children come to understand God, themselves, and others.”
In the process of their research, Blum and Harvey also gained a high esteem for “the women and men who have stood against racism and have imagined Jesus and God beyond whiteness.” White privilege benefits white people, Blum says, “but it also blinds them from many beautiful and brilliant expressions of others, especially when it comes to religious life.”
Blum spoke to UrbanFaith about his book, the origins of “white Jesus,” and how confronting the philosophies behind those misleading American images of Christ can lead to a more authentic view of God and his church.
URBAN FAITH: When we see the traditional images of Jesus as a blondish, blue-eyed European, where do those depictions stem from historically?
DISPELLING THE MYTHS: In ‘The Color of Christ,’ San Diego State University history professor Edward Blum (along with coauthor Paul Harvey) examines the ways that race and racism have shaped America’s images of Jesus. (Photo: Courtesy of Iris Salgado)
EDWARD J. BLUM: The first few centuries of Christianity had no visual imagery of Jesus. Then various icons were created and Catholic Europeans made them in abundance during the Middle Ages. Oftentimes, they were created by Europeans with a sense of what the “ideal” human would look like – and for Europeans, that was often European.
But these images were not present in British America. The first British settlers were radical iconoclasts who not only destroyed images of Jesus, but also opposed any displays of the Son of God. There were no dominant images of Jesus in the early America that became the United States.
Only after the United States became a new nation did Americans begin producing images of Jesus. He was not blue eyed at first, and his hair was brown. He was made white in this form at exactly the moment Americans were buying and selling more slaves and justifying the expropriation of Native American lands in the Southwest. In many ways, making Jesus white was an effort to sanctify these goals for land, power, and authority.
What about the first “American Jesus”? What did he look like, and when was it decided that he was white?
Jesus was first mass-produced in the United States in the early 1800s, but it was not until after the Civil War that his being white became an object of widespread discussion. When emancipation cut the legal ties between blackness and enslavement, it left open the question of how could whites claim to be superior. Moreover, as millions of immigrants from Asia and central and southern Europe flocked to the United States, questions of who was actually white began to animate the United States in a new way. In response, a group of white Americans started creating images of Jesus as blue-eyed and blonde haired. They knew he probably did not look this way but wanted him to be a WASP so that they could justify closing immigration doors, segregating and lynching African Americans, and viewing themselves as the most Christian and virtuous nation on earth.
Many say God transcends color and ethnicity, so why does it matter what color we make Jesus in religious and popular culture?
As much as we would all like to see God or experience God beyond color and ethnicity, we grow up in and live within a society that focuses intensely on race. For instance, Barack Obama is not known as the first president from Hawaii. He’s known as the first “black president” — even though his mother was considered “white.” Everything from legal codes to children’s shows to cultural jokes are filled with notions of biological differences and presentations of them. We learn to see and experience race at extraordinarily early ages.
This is true of thinking about God as well. Most studies show that when groups of people are asked to imagine what Jesus looked like, they see a white man. Even taught that that is not the case; even shown other images; and even knowing that Jesus lived 2,000 years ago in the Middle East, most Americans still see a white Jesus when they close their eyes. We have to work through those preconceived assumptions before getting to a God that transcends color or ethnicity. Only by first acknowledging how our society has — and does — “color” God and Jesus can we then move forward to seeing beyond that.
What does the Bible tell us about Jesus’ physical appearance?
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John say nothing about the race or physical appearance of Jesus. They discuss Jesus having a body; they narrate how he touched and healed bodies; they tell the story of how his body was harmed, killed, and then resurrected (with the holy holes still in his hands). But the Gospels say nothing about his hair, his eye color, or his skin tone. In Isaiah and in the book of Revelation, however, there are passages that some Christians have taken to indicate what Jesus looked like. Isaiah 52 and 53 mention how the “servant” of God will be raised and lifted up. In appearance, he will be “disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” This servant will have “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Some Christian thinkers have taken these passages to apply to Jesus and to mean that he must have been ugly for his times. Then in Revelation, the author reports seeing one “like a Son of Man” whose head and hair were “white like wool” and whose “eyes were like blazing fire.” His feet “were like bronze glowing in a furnace.” For some African Americans, this has meant that his skin and hair looked more like a black person than a white person.
Evangelical theologian Thomas C. Oden has written a series of much-discussed volumes on Christianity’s African roots. How do you respond to this new evangelical awareness of Christianity’s African connection, and what might it mean for depictions of Christ?
Separating the “Middle East” from “Africa” is a certainly a western geographical fiction that hurts our understandings of the world now and in the past. The Palestine of Christ’s age was the crossroads of the world, and northern Africa was a huge player in that political, social, and cultural exchange. It is crucial for American Christians today to recognize the African roots of the faith in order to unlearn their assumptions about Africa as a monolith, as a place that is supposedly backward or uncivilized, and as a place that fails to matter.
Even more, American Christians need to begin seeing the “body of Christ” in a new way. Rather than think about what Jesus actually looked like, they could consider that other believers are the “body of Christ” and to fail to listen to them, heed their insights, or interact with them as equals, does harm to the overall kingdom of God. Oden’s work is supremely helpful in pushing all of us in that direction.
But geography should not overwhelm faith. Native Americans have no geographical tie to the biblical age, but their insights about faith, about Jesus, and about how to live in a sin-sick world should be taken seriously as well, even though there are no Native American roots of biblical Christianity.
In the 1940s, African American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark performed famous experiments using dolls to study children’s attitudes about race. When given a choice between white and black dolls, they found that African American children typically favored the white dolls. Did you find any similar phenomena happening with children and their perceptions of Jesus?
At the same moment that the Clarks were asking about dolls, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier was asking African American teenagers about God and Jesus. What he found was amazing. He found that these teenagers during the Great Depression knew that something was up about how Jesus was presented. Although most acknowledged that Jesus was somehow white, they answered with claims that “the pictures showed he was white” or that “whites would not accept him to not be white.” These African American teenagers seemed to know that Christ’s color was complicated, that the creators of the images mattered and that those who had power in society influenced what images were made. Basically, these black teenagers in the midst of the Great Depression seemed to know something that many others have been unwilling to acknowledge: our visual depictions of God and Christ are made by particular people and for particular people.
This is why even when African Americans placed white Jesus imagery in their churches, it did not necessarily mean they had some kind of group-hating pathology. It was far more complicated. Rendering Jesus as a white man who acted unlike other white men took the power off skin and placed it onto action. Moreover, it provided a rebuke of other whites — that they were not acting like Jesus by segregating African Americans. It also served as hope that perhaps one day all the various people of the world could come together as sisters, brothers, and friends, as Jesus had called his disciples at the end — his friends.
There are two artists who represent two very different ideas about what Jesus looked like. One is Warner Sallman, whose famous Jesus painting appears on your book’s cover. Who was Sallman and what was his impact on Jesus imagery?
Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” from the early 1940s is the most reproduced painting of Jesus in world history. The son of European immigrants, Sallman painted for a small group of evangelical Christians around Chicago. His “Head of Christ” exploded onto the national and international scene. It is a profile of Jesus with nothing in the background. He has long, wavy blonde hair and blue eyes. For many, many Christians, this became the face of Jesus. It became the model for television and movie casting, and it went everywhere.
This calming image of Jesus was important to many Americans during the turbulence of the 1940s and 1950s. World War II was horrific; atomic bombs made it possible for the world to be destroyed. The emerging Cold War was terrifying. And then many Americans worried that their children were out of control (as shown in the film Rebel Without a Cause). Many Americans placed this Jesus in their homes and in their Sunday school classrooms to provide comfort. Somehow, a white Jesus would save them from nuclear holocaust or Communist secret agents.
The second artist is Fred Carter, who isn’t mentioned in your book yet whose work may be very recognizable for many African American Christians. Could you tell us about Carter and how you appraise his significance in this universe of Jesus imagery?
Fred Carter’s art should have been discussed in The Color of Christ. Since art historian David Morgan did such a nice job analyzing Fred Carter’s works in Visual Piety, we somewhat forgot to make a point to include Carter’s pieces. By neglecting them, however, we missed the opportunity to point out some huge changes since the 1960s in African American organizational creations and growth and how Mr. Carter’s art and its popularity were built on new organizations. If we had included Mr. Carter’s work, we would have been able to show how new art worked with new publishing houses to create a new visual culture for African American churches.
JESUS IN COLOR: An example of Fred Carter’s biblical art for Urban Ministries, Inc. Carter’s work helped create a more authentic visual culture for African American churches.
In particular, Mr. Carter’s images of Jesus reveal what scholar Anthony Pinn calls a “nitty-gritty” theology. Carter’s Christ is a full person who sweats, bleeds, and pleads. His dark skin is only one part of the reality of his embodiment. Carter shows Jesus experiencing all of the pains that we do as humans. They are poignant and fascinating portrayals. [Editor’s Note: Fred Carter’s artwork is also prominently featured in the Christian education publications of UrbanFaith’s parent company, Urban Ministries, Inc.]
In your introduction, you state that, “The white Jesus promised a white past, a white present, and a future of white glory.” What do you mean by that?
Basically, as race has been made in modern America, it presents itself as omnipresent in the past, in the present, and in the future. We are taught that there have always been “white” people, “black” people, etc. But we know that different people at different times divide themselves differently. One thousand years ago, hardly anyone would call themselves “white” and the category “African American” did not exist.
So how did race make itself seem to transcend time? We think Jesus is a key to this answer. By focusing on the body of Christ and by making him white, Americans subtly mapped racial concepts onto a person who has existed before the creation of the world and will be there at its end. If Jesus was white, then he is white. And if Jesus is the alpha and the omega, then somehow his whiteness was at the beginning and will be at the end. Of course, no one (except maybe some Klansmen) would ever say this, but the lesson is one taught without words.
Toward the end of the book, you explore a bit of the Jeremiah Wright controversy that gave his famous parishioner, Barack Obama, so much grief during his 2008 presidential campaign. You note that though white America was shocked by Wright’s “God Damn America” sermon, which in passing mentioned that “Jesus was black,” Wright’s brand of liberation theology was not that unusual or unsettling for African American audiences. Could you talk about liberation theology’s role in pushing back against many of America’s popular depictions of Jesus?
Beginning actively in the late 1960s, black liberation theologians like James Cone explicitly challenged the whitening of European and American theology and Christianity. They were reacting, in part, to how white ideologies had warped American Christianity to accept segregation, economic exploitation, and violence. The liberation theologians were also reacting to black power advocates who wanted to dismiss Christianity as purely a tool of the oppressors. Cornel West, for instance, found himself at odds with Black Panthers in California — not because of their economic program, but because of their opposition to Christianity. Cone, West, and many others set out to reconcile the faith of their mothers and fathers with their political opposition to white supremacy and class disenfranchisement.
These theologians saw Jesus as “black” in an ontological sense, meaning that regardless of what Christ actually looked like, his actions, attitudes, and sense of being aligned him with the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the hurting. In America, this means he was not only affiliated with “blackness,” but was “black” this way as well.
Black liberation theologians made crucial inroads into white universities and colleges. Cone and West obtained prestigious positions at Union Theological Seminary, Princeton, and Harvard. They then mentored dozens (if not hundreds) of scholars to continue the attack upon the whitening of the gospel.
Liberation theologians also participated in new black arts movements that visualized Jesus beyond whiteness. The theological momentum was part of broader changes in African American church life and beyond. Many whites, including myself, were first directed to challenging the white Jesus through the works of writers like Cone and West.
What are the primary myths surrounding Christ that you hope to dispel with your book?
The first and most important myth we want to dispel is that people necessarily and simply make Jesus look like themselves. This myth transforms religious imagery into little more than ethnic or cultural chauvinism. This myth also ignores so many other factors, such as the ability to create images and to distribute them widely. Technology, capital, and time matter significantly in what images can be made and which images can be widely displayed.
The second myth we want to counter is that black liberation theology is somehow new (or at least was born in the 1960s). By giving liberation theology a short history, we have ignored a much longer history where many everyday people — white, black, and Native American, women and men, young and old — have participated in challenging the whiteness of Jesus and the whitening of Christianity. Moreover, the longer history shows that the efforts to find liberation through Christian faith have touched on music and art, poetry and protest movements, and all other kinds of expressions. Black liberation theology was never simply defined by or for theologians and ministers, but it was a movement of everyday people that began almost two centuries ago.
Editor’s Note: For more information, visit the official website for The Color of Christ book at www.colorofchrist.com. At the site, readers can follow along with the images, videos, and texts described in the book and check out additional interviews with scholars, artists, and everyday people about why the color of Christ matters. Visitors also can share their personal stories about encountering Jesus in various visual forms.
ALWAYS THE MAID: Actress Viola Davis won numerous acting honors but also faced criticism for her role as Aibileen Clark in "The Help." (Image: Dreamworks/Touchstone Pictures)
“When they called my name, I had this feeling I could hear half of America going, ‘Oh no! Oh come on, why her? Again!’ ” Those opening lines of Meryl Streep’s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards this past Sunday verbalized my sentiments exactly, and I’m sure the sentiments of many others. Though Streep is an excellent actor, I was disappointed that Viola Davis, the gifted actor who played Aibileen Clark in The Help, wasn’t chosen as this year’s Best Actress by the committee handing out those coveted Oscars.
While I know I wasn’t alone in my disappointment, I’m sure there were also African Americans who were actually relieved that Davis did not win. That’s just how strong the displeasure among many African Americans was regarding Davis’ role as a ’60s-era Jackson, Mississippi-based maid in The Help. Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, The Help was a source of controversy almost from the beginning, with the African American community up in arms about the movie and Ms. Davis’ decision to play a maid. In an impromptu Facebook survey of my friends, I found mostly mixed emotions about The Help. “African American actors, as well as other actors of color must be selective in the roles they choose to play,” said one friend. “They must really know the purpose behind the film, the targeted audience, and avoid stereotypical roles.” Her view seems to represent the opinion of many.
FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: The film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett's bestseller, 'The Help,' features Emma Stone as Skeeter, Octavia Spencer as Minny, and Viola Davis as Aibileen.
The general consensus, as seen in the news media, is that African Americans are weary of seeing Black actors in subservient roles, as well as the lack of quality leading roles and films that offer a broader view of the African American experience. It didn’t matter that Ms. Davis did a superb job in her portrayal of Aibileen, personalizing the character through knowledge of her family’s heritage of domestic workers. Many people simply were ambivalent about the notion of another Black actor playing a stereotype. Ms. Davis, however, saw the importance of her role when she toldFresh Air host Terry Gross, “You’re only reduced to a cliché if you don’t humanize a character. A character can’t be a stereotype based on the character’s occupation.”
Ms. Davis makes a good point, but even she has acknowledged the dearth of quality roles for Black actors. This has led to the enduring perception that the Academy Awards voting committee, which a recent Los Angeles Times report observed is 94 percent White and 77 percent male, is naturally disinterested in seeing non-White actors in substantial leading roles that transcend standard stereotypes.
I confess that I had my own reservations about seeing The Help initially, having grown tired of movies with Black domestic servants raising white people’s children while often neglecting the needs of their own families. I had seen enough of it, and even heard many real-life stories about it from my own family. Many, if not most, of our ancestors in the 1960s and prior — from the North to the South and everywhere in between — cooked, cleaned, sewed, chauffeured, handled the interests of, and had a part in raising the children of white families. Most of us don’t want to be reminded, preferring instead to highlight past and current achievements of many highly accomplished African Americans in our community. So was this movie a proverbial push back in line and one of “knowing one’s place,” as the Old South would remind us? Or could it be a realistic portrayal of a not-so-distant time in American history?
Another issue raised by the film is this: Should Black people continue to be angry about Hollywood’s shortsightedness when it comes to making films that authentically reflect African American life? Or, should we simply be grateful and celebrate whenever African American actors do their jobs well, no matter the roles they’re given to play?
In an appearance on ABC’s The View, Ms. Davis talked about her initial reluctance to take on the role. “You knew there was going to be a backlash from the African American community,” she told Barbara Walters and the other ladies. “It is a story set in 1962 about maids who are not educated, and I thought that people would look at that and they wouldn’t see the work.”
Seeing the work for what it was, I appreciated the film’s artistry. After counting the few films of Davis’ I had seen, I read her filmography of 40 films to date, including titles like Law Abiding Citizen and Antwone Fisher, but also Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail. I wondered about the attention or lack thereof, garnered from Davis’ previous roles, like the characters she played as the BBF (i.e., Black Best Friend) opposite Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love and Diane Lane in Nights in Rodanthe, providing a shoulder to cry on and mother wit, to boot. And let’s not forget Doubt, where Davis earned Oscar and Golden Globe award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. In that film, Davis played opposite Meryl Streep (again!), who was nominated for Best Actress. Surely, we all saw those movies. Didn’t we?
In that Facebook poll I conducted, some of my friends stated that African American directors should correct the problem of limited film choices for Black actors by creating films with great Black characters. While that’s an understandable sentiment, do we need to be reminded that it takes ambitious amounts of funding and the blessing of countless (usually White) Hollywood decision makers to get any type of movie made today? Hollywood finances what the majority of moviegoers will pay for (notwithstanding the bootleg copies of released films that probably sell exponentially above the few actual ticket sales at the box office). If Hollywood won’t fund the films we want to see, we get angry with directors like Spike Lee, John Singleton, and the Hughes Brothers for neglecting to make them (as if these directors owe us.) How many times have you heard people in our community complain about the latest gangsta film featuring do-wrong black characters? Rarely.
When Hattie McDaniel became the first African American actor awarded the coveted Oscar for her 1939 portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind, we applauded even as she poignantly expressed her hope that she would “always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry.” Was anyone complaining then? Fast forward some 70 years later and many of us are complaining, as Tavis Smiley did on his PBS show, about Davis’ nomination.
During his interview with Davis and her Help costar Octavia Spencer (who went on to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), Smiley remarked: “There’s something that sticks in my craw about celebrating Hattie McDaniel so many years ago for playing a maid … [and] here we are all these years later … and I want you to win … but I’m ambivalent about what you’re winning for.” The actress shot back: “That very mindset … that a lot of African Americans have is absolutely destroying the Black artist.”
As Hollywood continues to finance movies it deems profitable, we may continue to see characters like Aibilene Clark and the young, white, savior-esque character, Skeeter. And know that the majority of the Academy is White and male.
Whether refusing to support Black artists will contribute to their ultimate destruction, as Davis contends, is up for debate. But while you stand your ground waiting for Hollywood to showcase those artists in more desirable roles, think about supporting them in the meantime. Honor their attempts to make strides in a nearly impenetrable industry that still gives crumbs to Black and other minority actors, compared to the whole slices of cake the majority often receives.
Twins are undoubtedly cut from the same cloth, and it’s not uncommon for twins to be genetically predisposed with similar inclinations. But creativity is a subjective thing. So, how possible is it for twins to duplicate their creativity occupationally?
Aaron and Alan Hicks, identical twins from Chicago, have found a way to use their dual passion for art to honor God and celebrate their African American heritage. With virtually identical styles, the Hicks brothers create unique and inspiring images of favorite and lesser-known Bible characters, as well as wholesome, true-to-life depictions of African Americans of all ages. Through their company, Twin Hicks, the brothers provide illustrations for several of the Sunday school publications produced by UrbanFaith’s parent company, Urban Ministries Inc. (UMI).
UrbanFaith caught up with the talented brothers as they launched their newest art offering — the 2012 Faith and Hope calendars from UMI.
UF: What inspired you to become artists?
AARON HICKS: Our uncle Warren Hicks inspired us. I saw my uncle draw a picture of Muhammad Ali on a paper bag when I was in the 4th grade. I liked what he did and tried to recapture that. So I started drawing on paper bags, too. I did a little drawing in school, too.
ALAN HICKS:My uncle inspired me too, but when I saw what my brother did, I started copying him. I’d draw cartoons, comic book art—like what we saw in Marvel comics.
Jesus loves the little children.
UF: Having been raised in Chicago it would seem likely that you’d grow up seeing a lot of art around the city, with all the museums and such. So what kind of art did you experience as you grew up?
AARON: We grew up in the South Suburbs and didn’t really see a whole lot of art growing up. Our uncle was our mentor. He had posters, and some of the black light posters. Nobody talked about art history and such.
ALAN: We weren’t really aware of other types of art until we went to high school.
UF: It’s fascinating that you had limited exposure to art back in the early days, and yet you both developed a talent for art. How did that happen?
AARON: I never realized that I had a talent for art or that I was getting better at it until friends and other students mentioned it. They’d tell us that our work was really good. Even our teachers in grammar school mentioned it. We just picked it up really fast.
UF: Tell us about another great influence that has affected your art.
ALAN: I would have to say that John Cash, our high school art teacher, was a great influence as well. He really opened my understanding and enlightened us to other things. He took us to the next level and got us to create, instead of copying. We also got into art competitions because of Mr. Cash and developed accountability. Because of him, we took a class at the Art Institute [of Chicago] and eventually went on to win some art competitions.
AARON: I once did a portrait piece against 20,000 other entries and won 1st Place. It was a scholastic art contest and it really made me push to improve my skills as an artist.
UF: So things really started to take off for you in high school. How did you decide to study Biocommunications/Medical Illustrations in college?
AARON: I thought, what kind of job can I get with this talent? Mr. Cash told us about the program at the University of Illinois and it seemed right.
ALAN: Coming out of high schoolwe got a lot of negative feedback, but we wanted to continue creating art. Biocommunications was a growing field at the time and we believed we could find work in the field and still do art. Our training showed us that what some people think is not important, it really is important. After we got our bachelor’s degrees in 1985, we worked at Richard Rush Studios. And then we created art in health halls at the Field Museum where we worked on large 3-D exhibits of the heart — painting, sculpting and doing touch ups. It’s a joy to see our art go all across the U.S. in exhibits that teach children, in trade shows, and in murals. We also teach and that inspires children to pursue art.
Moses parting the Red Sea.
UF: You went from creating medical art to biblical and more personal, everyday images. Tell us how your faith moved you into this type of artwork.
ALAN: Faith is our base on everything we’ve done. We’ve been in church all our lives and came to Christ at age 13. I thought it was exciting to get visual images of what I read in Bible storybooks. When some commercial art companies started downsizing in 1998 we decided to freelance. God was in it and steering us from the beginning and we believe that God does everything well. In all our ways we acknowledge Him and He’ll direct us.
AARON: We’ve been in church all our lives and have never really seen many biblical images depicted at this level (from an African American perspective). Then people started approaching us about doing images from the Bible.
UF: Your art is unique and the depictions are so life-like. In your new calendars for 2012, we get to see images that may not have been done before, such as the woman with the issue of blood, found in the Gospels from Luke, Matthew and Mark.
AARON: We’re very excited about putting on canvas the stories that people talk about, but never have seen. Like Jesus walking on water, and Daniel in the lion’s den. The woman with the issue of blood is on the cover of the Faith calendar. We had been selling our prints to a company years ago and they put them into calendars. They liked them so much because they said our art looks more photo-realistic.
Hearts of worship.
ALAN: We’ve always wanted to portray images that inspire, uplift, and images that are positive. This is why we chose children as the subject in the Hope calendar. We created art that shows children pretending and playing dress-up in positive ways. We’re all about family. You can put these calendars up in a child’s room or anywhere. It reminds you of when you were young. We like artists such as Vermeer, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, Thomas Blackshear and others that influence how we capture images of real people.
UF: What’s in the future for Twin Hicks art?
AARON: Teaching art to children and maybe do a one-man show in a gallery. I’d like to paint more anatomy and fantasy, surrealism—using real bright colors— and some realism. I have to do some soul searching first!
ALAN: We’ll continue painting for the market’s needs to make a living, especially because there’s greater flexibility in airbrushing. But I’d like to get back to drawing with pencil, oil painting with brushes and creating more classic art.
UF: And as we close, what would you say to other aspiring artists?
ALAN: Continue doing what you’re doing. Don’t stop and practice every day. LeBron James and Michael Jordan practiced every day so you should, too. Keep cultivating your art and explore other mediums. It’s important to stay open.
AARON: I would say keep after your passion and don’t let anyone deter you. The more you do, the better you become. And remember, it’s good to experiment with different things to find your strengths and weaknesses. That’s why we did 3-D art; because we never really had experience with sculpting and shaping, so we learned.