THE LATEST ISSUE of Juxtapoz magazine features a painting by Derek Fordjour on the cover. His subject is a nattily dressed marionette. The figure and the surrounding scene call to mind an earlier era of performance spanning vaudeville, the circus, magic, and puppetry.

The culture of performance and sport are central elements in Fordjour’s work. He employs these themes to break down issues of race, identity, and inequality. His work explores spectacle and social structure; the power of the collective; and the agency (or lack thereof), vulnerability, and scrutiny that comes with visibility and achievement.

 


Juxtapoz, Spring 2022. Shown, DEREK FORDJOUR, “STRWMN,” 2020 (acrylic, charcoal, cardboard, oil pastel and glitter on newspaper mounted on canvas, 85 x 65 inches).

 

Thinking about his subject in these terms, Fordjour titled the cover image “STRWMN.” On Instagram, he captioned the work, with the following question: “Feigning competence…Strawman wants you to see everything…but his strings! Have you ever felt like a Strawman?”

Inside the issue, Fordjour is interviewd by Charles Moore, an art historian and author of “The Black Market: A guide to art collecting.”

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Fordjour lives and works in New York. His paintings marry the brilliant color associated with fanfare and celebration with layers of newspaper and cardboard, humble materials he initially utilized because they were affordable. He told Moore he continues to work with the materials in order to connect his work in the studio to under-resourced Black and Brown communities throughout the diaspora.

Fordjour and Moore engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about his practice. The artist went on to discuss what he learned from artist Nari Ward, his creative process and how he realizes his ideas, why he ventured into new mediums beyond painting, and the focus of his forthcoming gallery exhibition in Los Angeles:

Artist Nari Ward served as Fordjour’s thesis adviser at Hunter College where he earned his MFA. He calls him a friend, mentor, and invaluable resource.

    Fordjour: When I was in school, I had a habit of throwing things away because space was limited. I really think I came to artmaking as more of a process artist. I was more invested in the time I spent inside of an artwork actually making it.… The process was something I prioritized over the end product. Very often, after an installation, I would want to throw things away.

    Nari would say to me, “No, man, you can’t toss that stuff.” As a student, I could not bear the thought of paying extensive storage bills—can you imagine how traumatic that was to hear when I was barely covering rent? Nari explained the importance of keeping things in perpetuity, and if you look at his career, he has artworks that are exhibited 25 years, 30 years after they were made or originally shown. I had to change my relationship to the things I produced and mature to accept proper stewardship as part of my work. I credit Nari for that shift.

While the foundation of Fordjour’s practice is mixed-media paintings on canvas, he has also ventured into sculpture, installation, puppets, and performance.

    Fordjour: Consider an analogy. Painting is the heartbeat of my creative body. My interest in other media: sculpture, performance, film, are limbs that share a lifeline directly to painting. In addition, I have also consumed lots of theater and literature. I enjoy travel a great deal also, and all these things feed into one another. Building an exhibition affords me the opportunity to engineer an experience that percolates with the same dynamic vitality that inspires me. It’s how my mind and creative body work together and when you’re in my show, hopefully you can feel my process as well.

In February 2021, Fordjour joined David Kordansky in Los Angeles. His first solo exhibition with the gallery opens later this month on March 26.

    Fordjour: The title is Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain. I’m very excited about this show! I am working on an entire body of new paintings drawing linkages to magic. I am thinking about magic in all its many forms: voodoo, white magic, black magic, black girl magic, magical negroes, Magic Johnson, and orishas. I am interested in who has the power to deceive in plain sight, for whom we are willing to suspend disbelief.

The conversation covered are number of additional topics, including Fordjour’s choice to exclusively employ The Financial Times newspaper to ground his canvases and depicting sports in which few Blacks participate. CT

 

IMAGE: Above right, Portrait of Derek Forjour. | Photo by Freddie L. Rankin II

 

READ MORE about Derek Fordjour in the Spring 2022 issue of Juxtapoz, where the full interview with Charles Moore is published

WATCH MORE Derek Fordjour and film director Ava DuVernay discuss “Baker’s Dozen” (2021), the artist’s 12-panel painting featuring jockey images in a Eadweard Muybridge-style composition. More

 

OPPORTUNITY Derek Fordjour established the Contemporary Art Memphis Summer Fellowship Program to introduce the next generation of artists from his hometown to the world of contemporary art through exposure and professional instruction. The program is open to Memphis, Tenn.-based 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students and provides each fellow with a full scholarship covering all expenses. The Summer 2022 application deadline is March 18, 2022.

 

BOOKSHELF
Derek Fordjour is among the many rising artists who garnered the support of collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018). His work is illustrated in a seminal volume documenting her collection, “Fired Up! Ready to Go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz.” Charles Moore published “The Black Market: A guide to art collecting” last year.

 

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