Interview with Jamiah Calvin (aka Miah the Creator) for “Brown Sugar” | Exhibition on view March 5 – March 26 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present ‘Brown Sugar,’ a series of drawings from artist Jamiah Calvin, marking the artist’s debut with gallery.

Inspired by D’Angelo’s debut studio album, Brown Sugar, Calvin reminisces on his nostalgic life experiences during the mid- 90’s––living as a young Black man on Chicago’s West Side. Having heard nothing like this album before, Jamiah recalls being intuited by its one-of-a-kind musical sounds while drawing with his headphones on at his first creative job, Gallery 37.

In our interview with Jamiah Calvin, he shares his creative process, his earliest memory of using art to express himself, and words of wisdom for his past self.

Can you share with us a little bit about your upbringing and where you are currently creating?

I was born and raised on the west side of Chicago. We moved around a lot in the 90’s when I was growing up but we mainly resided in the Austin community to be closer to other family members. I go back and forth between my home and studio in Chicago to create.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes have you been exploring in your work?

Well, a lot of my inspiration comes from things I experienced growing up in the 80’s and 90’s and of course the music I listened to. And one day I decided to actually create a body of work based on 90’s r&b and of course my favorite album….Brown Sugar. That album was like the soundtrack of my life from 1995-to 1997. The first time I heard it was when I was an art apprentice at Gallery 37 and it blew my fucking mind!. I would draw with that album playing in my headphones all damn day. I would listen to it on my way home, while I cleaned up, when I did my homework, and of course when I would be on the phone with my girlfriend. So of course doing a body of work dedicated to that album was a no-brainer.

Could you share what your day-to-day looks like when working in your studio?

Actually, it’s quite weird and sporadic. I write a bunch of notes and concepts. I stare at my panel or canvas for 30-minutes to an hour while talking to myself about random shit, then I draw an outline or quick sketch and if I don’t like it I usually get frustrated, and then I find the perfect playlist or album to help me zone out. Sometimes I listen to Earl Nightingale’s strangest secret while I create.  

What’s in your “artistic toolbox”? Are you particular about brands that you use?

Well because I have been on a two-year sabbatical from oil painting I’m mainly creating works on paper with indigo and sanguine conte and pastel. I also keep charcoal sticks for different value tones ranging from HB to 8B.

How do you like to unwind outside of the studio?

I watch anime with my sons, or take long drives with my phone either off or on do not disturb while listening to great music. Every now and then I may smoke a joint to help ease some anxiety. I’m pretty chill especially since the pandemic occurred.

Do you have a process for sourcing and/or keeping track of your inspiration?

Yes, I have tons of concepts and ideas that I annotated over the last 4 years. Some I still have not begun to work on. I also take random photos when I’m out and about for references.

What was on your playlist while creating this new body of work?

D’Angelo, Lee Morgan, The Roots (Illadelph Halflife), O.C (Jewelz), Skyzoo, Jamiroquai Mary J Blige (My Life album), Usher (Think of You)…Mainly R&B from 93-97.

Most artists express themselves creatively as a child, but there is a moment when a shift occurs from just being creatively inclined to being more artistically minded – do you know when that moment was for you?

Honestly, I can’t recall. I was always a bit weird as a kid and created art as far back as 1st grade. I remember making my own comic books when I didn’t have money to buy any. Oh, I remember when I was six years old I drew a pic of my uncle Larry (r.i.p) being arrested. It was a shitty kid drawing but looking back now I wonder if that was my way of coping with witnessing my uncle being woken up by the police in our home as a child.

Have you ever worked outside creating public murals? If not, would you be interested in pursuing one day? 

Yes and I still do create public murals.

What words of wisdom would you share with your past self when you were just starting to create art? Is there anything in your artistic journey that you wish you may have done differently?

 I would tell my younger self to not get discouraged or compare my journey or growth with anyone else. As far as doing something different on my artistic journey… I would not have taken that 13-year gap from creating from 2000 to 2013 and I would not have taken that 19-year hiatus from spray painting and graffiti because I had to play catch up. It felt like being the new guy and proving myself all over again.

What did you find to be the biggest challenge of 2020 for you?

Healing. 2020 was a year of grieving for me. I was dealing with the unsolved murder of my youngest brother while going through a divorce. I was grieving my brother’s death as well as my perception of what I thought my life was to be. It was the pain of having my life drastically changing without my damn permission. So in the midst of that, I still had to be a father and example to my sons even on days when life felt unbearable and that alone was a challenge within itself.  

What is your proudest accomplishment of 2021? Life thus far? (can be art-related or not)

My proudest accomplishment of 2021 was my sold-out solo exhibition in Chicago and just seeing that body of work displayed in the gallery for the first time.

What big projects do you have coming up in 2022 and 2023 that you’d like to share more about?

I have a solo exhibition with Thinkspace that I’m looking forward to in California, a mural project in Mexico in the works, a print release, and a group show that I will be part of at Vertical gallery in April. And there are a couple of other big projects that I have to be tight-lipped about that I’m very excited about.

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