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Columbia artist brings hip hop culture to Slayton House exhibit

“C’est La Vie,” by Taurean Washington
“C’est La Vie,” by Taurean Washington (Handout)

Taurean Washington, 33, knew from a young age he wanted to be an artist.

From scribbling in his grandmother’s encyclopedias at age 3 and 4 to receiving his first sketch book at 7, art was always something he used to express himself.

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“I didn’t know it was called art when I was a young child,” said Washington, who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas. “At that time, it was about imagination.”

By the time he reached the eighth grade, his interest shifted from cartoon and comic book art to visual art. He checked out books from the library on Pablo Picasso and his family members introduced him to the work of graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

He said that as a studio art student at Hood College in Frederick, he noticed a lack of minority representation offered in the curriculum. In addition to Basquiat, he turned to expressionist painter Robert Colescott and contemporary painter Kerry James Marshall for inspiration.

Taurean Washington with one of his works, "Shades of Love."
Taurean Washington with one of his works, "Shades of Love." (Handout)

“One of my instructors told me about Robert Colescott,” he said. “I was able to research and learn that there are other people I can relate to.”

Wendell Poindexter, an art professor at Frederick Community College who taught Washington said he has noticed his students’ style develop over time.

“His style has a graffiti type of finish,” he said. His work over the years, especially his earlier work, was sexually heightened. Now, it has more of a political slant.

“I may have helped him narrow his focus, concept and composition,” Poindexter said. “I also mentioned this when I started talking about graffiti art.”

Washington describes his style as “bold” and “stylish,” using bright colors and bold lines. Inspired by hip hop music, he uses the lyrics of Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar to depict black culture.

“A hip hop artist will come up with a line that causes people to look at things different,” he said. “My type of style is [playing] with different concepts and images.”

On Feb. 2 at Slayton House in Columbia, Washington will showcase his latest exhibition, “Yeezus Taught Me,” a 10-piece collection inspired by West’s 2013 Grammy-nominated album, “Yeezus.”

The exhibition features the pieces, “Back in the House Again,” “BlacKKKlansmen,” “Saint West,” and “C’est La Vie,” among others, each inspired by a song on the album.

“When I was thinking about an album, I was thinking about something I can play with,” he said. “‘Yeezus,’ to me, was a polarizing album. I tried to put my own perspective, [like] me and Kanye had a conversation through my painting.”

The blend of art and hip hop — or “arthop” — has become a movement in hip hop culture. Washington’s works have appeared in other area venues in recent years, including in shows at the Howard County Arts Council Gallery in Ellicott City in 2013 and 2018, and at the Montpelier Art Center in Laurel in 2016, according to his online resume.

Through his new exhibition in Columbia, Washington said he hopes to introduce a different approach to art to Columbia that goes beyond what is typically seen.

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“I live in Columbia and I want to let them know there is a modern art movement that exists [here],” he said. “I want to start a movement and give them something they have never seen before.”

The Bernice Kish Gallery at Slayton House, 10400 Cross Fox Lane, Columbia, will present "Yeezus Taught Me,” an exhibit by Taurean Washington, from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2.

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