MEMBER MONDAYS | Lakeem Wilson

MEMBER MONDAYS is a weekly interview series highlighting current members & alumni of the Austin School of Film + Austin Cinemaker Space community! Each week, we’ll be featuring one of our incredibly eclectic community members, and doing a deep dive into their work. Insight into what makes them, them.

Lakeem Wilson: painter, comic book creator, tattoo artist. One of the most eclectic artists we have working at Austin Cinemaker Space. We’ve been featuring some of his pieces in our Makerspace, so we decided to talk shop with him, deep diving into the many mediums of creating that brings joy to his life and the folks who are moved by his work.

Some people have a vivid memory of the origin of their art. Is that the same for you? Is there a moment where you realized “this was what I was meant to do”?

Lakeem Wilson: I began creating art at Charles Elementary School in South Dallas,  with my art teacher Ms. Camp. She always had this saying, “If it is to be, it is up to me. Art is what happens when you let your feelings go.”It was the very first thing she made us say when we entered the class. 

That saying literally got programmed into my head day after day. It always made me excited to start my art class. As I got older, I naturally grew closer to all of my art teachers, from elementary through high school: Ms. Kriss from Pearl C. Anderson Middle School, Ms. Yarbrough from Lincoln High School, my college professors from The University of Texas Michael Ray Charles, John Yancey, and others. So to answer your question, the origins of my art started early when a teacher invested her time into encouraging and developing my talent.

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There was a moment the other day where I noticed someone walk by your paintings, come to a complete stop, stared at one for a good 30 seconds, turned to me, and say “I understand this one. I get this.” When a moment like that happens, what kind of feeling does that bring to you as an artist?

LW: It brings a great feeling! In those moments, I often encourage people to explain to me what they get from the painting or picture. What did it spark in you? It is a gift to be able to reach people’s subconscious mind with hidden messages through visual art. That’s what I find most rewarding, being able to teach through my art.

I use art as a visual tool, not just for recreation, so when someone connects with what I create, it shows that I am putting my tools to good use.

That painting that he was looking at “Each One Teach One”. Where did that come from?

LW: That painting came from a random reflective writing I did a while back. I wrote about all the good that can come from an adult to have having head on straight when kids looking up to them are still trying to figure out life. That was the moral idea of the writing, but it went a little deeper in context. Naturally, as I am writing, I always visualize metaphors and symbols of things, so a Rubix cube came to mind. A person who plays with a Rubix cube is constantly working on putting the colors in the right place, or just figuring out a way to solve a problem.

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“Each One Teach One”

In the painting I did titled “Each One Teach One”, the dad, or the one with his head on straight, is helping a younger person problem solve. Books are another element in the painting. They represent educating the youth, teaching them how to utilize their mind, how to problem solve at an early age, because these characteristics will be crucial as they grow into young adults.

I have 3 nephews, and 3 nieces; every chance I get, I always test their minds to see how they understand the world around them. I understand that the environment that they’re growing up in can have an impact on them, and not always in a positive way, so just like the painting, I am the one teaching from the experiences and mistakes I made in my early days.

When I first met you, you were working this comic called Obamics. Specifically, you were explaining the storyline of “The Heistmen”, this new comic that was so incredibly politically driven and captures a real truth to what’s going on in the world. When do your love for painting grow and expand into a love for creating comics?

LW: Ah Yes! I am still working on Obamics now! As an illustrator I think of paintings as still shots of a movie and the comic as a movie played out. I developed a passion for creating comics because I want to see those stories pan out in my head. I am fascinated by the freedom of expression in art. A comic strip can be short and sweet, or long and thought out; either way, I can say a lot without even speaking. 

It’s important for me to tell the story about who I am, and where I come from. I want to be an author for urban communities like the one I grew up in back home in South Dallas. I desire to be a creator of a refreshing form of media that tells these unheard stories of youth, teenagers and adults living and thriving from hard places and circumstances. I could write about these things, but since God blessed me with the talent of art, I prefer to create visual media and stories.

What about tattoos? When did you start doing that? And along with that, with such a personal, permanent thing like a tattoo, what’s it like having your art on people’s bodies?

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LW: About 7 years ago, after I graduated high school. One day my brother came home with a whole tattoo kit that had all the tattoo supplies needed for me to start doing tattoos. I didn’t even ask him how, or where he got the kit from; it was all new and never used supplies, so I just saw it as a sign that it was meant for me to be a tattoo artist. I started off doing tattoos on my brother, then it grew to tatting people in my neighborhood. People already knew I was an artist, so friends and family naturally trusted me to do their tattoos.

Tattooing actually helped me to naturally be interested in cartooning and illustration because that’s what the style required. I developed a steady hand with my line work from learning how to do tattoos. Though it started out as mainly a hustle for me, I also began to see the importance and impact that it made on people. Tattoo’s are personal and people who have them looks at them everyday. So from my appreciation of people trusting me to put a permanent piece of artwork on them, I always take every tattoo I do serious.

I don’t feel like I am the best fit to do a certain type of tattoo, I let them know I can’t do it out of respect. Tattoo’s are interesting because they remind me of the Egyptian Pyramids for some reason. The Hieroglyphs in the pyramids have been there for ages, and will never leave. Tattoo’s are the same: they remain on our body until we die. I take that into consideration that with every tattoo I do, I want it to be something worth looking at forever.

Painting with Pikasso. Talk to me about that: how did the idea come about?

LW: Well, the name PiKasso came from me pledging to the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. My like name was PiKasso because I was the creative one in the frat. Each year we would have a thing called Founders week, where we would host a week of events geared towards serving and giving back to the community. This was back in 2013, and in one of the meetings we were thinking of a good event to have for a Thursday evening, so I proposed the idea of having an art event. They liked the idea, so I had to come up with a proposal of what the event would consist of and how we could promote it.

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Lakeem leading a “Painting with PiKasso” workshop

Painting with PiKasso had a natural ring to it. Since then, we started hosting that event every year as apart of our founders week. Now that I’ve graduated college, I decided I should take ownership of the event and continue to host them.

It’s the same concept: painting with a twist. I instruct a group of people on how to  paint a masterpiece that they can take home with them, along while they sip wine, eat snacks and have fun.

What’s something you would say to someone starting on their journey as an artist that you wish someone said to you?

LW: Plan Your Work & Work Your Plans. I’ve learned in order to be a successful artist, you have to find a way to balance your creativity with organization and structure. Planning things aids in that organization.

Follow the ABC’s of life: take Action on your ideas, Believe in them and know that you can manifest it, and Commit to finalizing projects and the things you start. Usually when we have ideas, it’s a great idea for a reason our soul chose it, but over time we lose inspiration in certain ideas. Those great ideas usually have great outcomes when you’re able to complete them, stay committed to finishing projects.

Invest in your art supplies from here and there, buying and updating supplies inspires you to create. On those days where you’re just not feeling creative, trying purchasing a new paint color, or a new brush, maybe a sketchbook, it may spark an interest for you to create something new.

INTERVIEW BY: Spencer Mirabal

[Check out other works by Lakeem Wilson at his website HERE!]

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