When local artist Rodney King created the cover art for this week’s Real Change, he did so with purpose.
The work is stunning: a geometric painting depicting a Black woman breaking chains attached to her wrist in stylized colors of red, black and green for Africa and red, white and blue for America.
Every panel incorporates rectangles of color, some with text. The number of lines in each block corresponds with a specific moment in history, such as the number of years that Black people were enslaved in America or the date that the last enslaved people were told that they were free in Galveston, Texas.
King chose to paint a woman because women are “the mother of all,” he wrote in an email, and “too frequently overlooked in male dominant society.” He also included a quote from “The Narrative of William W. Brown: An American Slave” in the work.
Each element of the painting is intentional and thoughtful. When he sat down to start the piece for Real Change, King said he felt the details had to be significant.
“It couldn’t be something that I just made up in the last couple of hours,” King said.
King has always been able to draw. He’s been drawing since he was a kid. Painting, however, was new to him. The act of drawing was hurting his hands, and his wife asked if he could try another medium, instead.
“I’m pretty sure I can,” he said.
He definitely could.
King fuses music from Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis with the physical poetry of athletes like Michael Jordan. He breaks out the brushes and creates works of art that evoke the passion, the drive and the beauty with which those Black creators imbued their work.
In this piece, King wanted to bring together themes of the past and present, painting the African American experience that came out of triumphing over slavery in 1865.
“As I listen to music, watching different sporting events, I can connect it all in my mind,” King said. “I wake up, and I have an idea of how to present it visually on a canvas.”
King has been making art since he was in high school. Some of his work from back then hangs in a local Pioneer Square restaurant, Salumi. His goal for his art isn’t just to decorate walls, however. He wants to communicate the beauty and struggle of the African American experience.
“I try to celebrate everything about us through my visual pieces,” King said. “As the old saying goes: Black is beautiful.”
Rodney King is a local artist whose work can be found on Instagram, @_kingspen.
Read more of the Jun 15-21, 2022 issue.