Why Chesiel Matters
(unlettered Bronx Biannual cover, Akashic Books)
In October 2003, during an arty tribute to pioneering hip-hop group Run-DMC at the Eyejammie Gallery in
Months later, as I walked through her cluttered studio in
Coming from the Caribbean
"I did a mural for the Stop the Violence program at school, and later won a medal for best artist. It was then that I started taking myself seriously," she says. The premature death of her mother shortly after arriving in the States also propelled her to move forward with her art.
After developing an extensive portfolio, she was accepted into the prestigious Parsons School of Design, which she completed while holding down two jobs. "Going to art school was weird and exciting, but I learned how to challenge myself and to make every line mean something," she says. On the art circuit since 2000, John's works are owned by Quincy Jones and Asked Bomani, wife of actor Danny Glover.
Considering herself “a disciple of Basquiat," the soft-spoken artist also has a fondness for jazz, calypso and hip hop. "When you read interviews with Jean-Michel or Romere Bearden, writers often talk about them listening to jazz while painting," she recalls. "It is the same for me. Music is very important when it comes to my creations."
In 2004, after going through another difficult time in her personal life, John rented a studio in
As the music became more dominant in her head, she says the spirit of Marley haunted her dreams. "I was so overcome; I knew I had to commit myself to expressing these visions before they were lost forever." Beginning with the "Concrete Jungle" painting, John created twenty small paintings like a woman possessed.
Three years after completing the Marley series, the young artist continues to explore other artistic forms while still taking gigantic risks. Without shame, Chesiel’s exquisite creations embrace everything from the neo-primitivism of Picasso to the gloomy portraits of Gordon Parks to the scary poetics of Billie Holiday. "It might sound weird, but I felt as though I was chosen to do those pieces," she says. Indeed. There is a growth and maturity in these textured images that was only hinted at in John's earlier work.
Indeed, her more recent works which includes the cover to Bronx Biannual 2 (Akashic Books) and a children’s book about
With the soul of an outsider and the vision of a true auteur, staring at John's work is like walking through a vibrant dream where various lines and patterns flow fluidly and no concept is too wild.