Interview with Jamiah Calvin (AKA Miah The Creator) for ‘Reganomics, Cocaine ’80s and the ’90s Re-Up’ | Exhibition August 5 – August 26, 2023

Thinkspace is excited to present Jamiah Calvin (AKA Miah The Creator) ‘Reganomics, Cocaine ’80s and the ’90s Re-Up’ where he uses past memories and nostalgic moments where the “hard times” were also the best of times. With depictions of iconic hood spots, Calvin highlights the “golden days,” calling attention to the ways recent transplants have glamorized the times of hardship.

In no real order these paintings tell an intimate story of the artist’s world and upbringing, providing a sober view of what it meant to live in a world where drug transactions and confusing crack for candy as a child was a normalized way of life.

Our interview with Jamiah explores his most challenging piece, his most & least favorite part of his creative process, who he would love to collaborate with and what kind of project.

Photo by BirdMan

What themes were you exploring in this body of work? Did you have a piece that was particularly challenging?

I don’t know if I can call it themes that was being explored by me. However, my goal was to create a narrative on each piece that would capture a true moment of essence and unwavering rawness of life as I know it. If my ‘Nothing Was The Same Again’ body of work that I created 3 years ago was side A to an album then this would be side B. This would be the side that displays the not so pretty shit that we sometimes choose to overlook or discuss. It’s what i consider the beauty within flaws. The perfections within an imperfective world. And that may be the theme and I’m just learning it…The theme of masterfully capturing beautifully, flawed people living in imperfect circumstances. ‘Leola Beloved’ was very challenging because it forced me to face and dissect some emotions that I kept bottled inside for years. It was the first time I painted my grandmother. It was the first time I looked in her young eyes and say to myself damn I miss you. You have to understand the fact that she passed away from heart failure in front of my eyes when I was ten years old and she was in her early forties. She was still young. So it caused me to face a lot during that creative process

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

A day in the studio can be sporadic. There can be multiple pieces being worked on at once. Some may not get finished until weeks or months after I start on them. I refuse to rush my process for anyone or anything because that defeats the whole purpose of it being “my” process. And when it comes to creating art my structure can be a bit unorthodox. This is due to me putting so much emotion in my work and emotions change. Emotions can be quite fickle, so it can be a little difficult working on a painting on days when it’s challenging to emotionally channel inside it. At least, that’s case for me. As far as rituals go, one thing for certain is that I will have some great music playing on the speaker as I create.

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?
Who are some of your creative influences? Why do they inspire you?

My favorite part of the creative process is writing the concepts and ideas down in my art journal. I seriously write down the ideas to my pieces from color choices, composition and titles. I’m usually doing this around 3 am, or some weird time in the afternoon. I keep notepads with me all the time because I’m always writing down my art ideas. I already have my next body of work ideas that I plan on creating in the next couple years already written out in my notepad. My least favorite part of creating is probably mixing colors on the pallet. It still takes me forever to get colors just the way I want them.
There are a lot of amazing artists around the world that I love. They all are unique in their own special way. From past to present. Too many to name right now.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do / be an expert at?
What do you hope viewers take away or experience while viewing your work?

I think I was already born with everything I needed downloaded in my brain already. I’m walking in my purpose, therefore, whatever I’m not an expert in yet is not meant to be at the moment. But whatever that may be will come in due time.
I hope viewers experience art that speaks to their soul and not just to they’re eyes. I hope they experience the same breathtaking experience I felt the first I saw an Aaron Douglas painting in person for the first time, Mode 2’s art in the graffiti magazines in the 90’s, or when I saw painting of the boy wearing Airmax with the fish gun by James Jean. They are unforgettable moments for me because the art left a strong impression on my psyche. So that’s a feeling as an artist I strive to give the viewers when they see my work.

How do you like to enjoy your time outside of the studio? Do you celebrate the completion of a body of work?

I read, vinyl shop, watch anime, be with my sons, and just try not to overthink about shit during my downtime. I’m a thinker so my wheels are always turning in my head. I don’t celebrate the completion of my body of work often because I’m always in grind mode… Maybe that’s something I need to learn how to do more often in the future. I will celebrate when I see my work on the walls of The Broad Museum or the LACMA with my some of my art heroes. And I will celebrate when I see a permanent section of black artists works on the walls of the Art Institute of Chicago.

If you could collaborate with any artists in any sort of medium (i.e. movies, music, painting) who would you collaborate with, and what would you be making?

I would love to collaborate with Ryan Coogler or Lena Waithe. I would love to make an animated mini series. I don’t want to give out the details of the show because I don’t want anyone to steal my idea and who knows I may meet one of them one day and make that collaboration come to manifestation.

Who would be on the guest list if you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive? What would be on the menu? What would be the icebreaker question?

Jesus. Prophet Muhammad. Buddha. Richard Pryor. Wanda Sykes.
The menu would have wine made by Jesus himself, rib tips, jade rice, fish, vegan sides, soul food and lemon pound cake. The icebreaker question would be “Jesus do you be on a bathroom break or something when we be down here going through some of this mess?”

What was in your musical rotation during the development of this body of work?

Killer Mike’s new album, John Coltrane, Cleo Sol, cocaine 80s and 90’s re-up playlist on Spotify.

Exhibition on view August 5 – August 26, 2023 at:
Thinkspace Projects
4207 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90016

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.