by: Christina Xan
Last month, The Jasper Project presented the first installment of its new Tiny Gallery series. With the help of the Columbia community, the inaugural event was a success. Continuing on this series will be local artist, writer, and creator, Thomas the Younger, aka Thomas Washington.
I was fortunate enough to meet with Washington this past Tuesday and experience his person as he shared with me details about his art and life and all the ways those two overlap.
Washington grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts where he says everything creatively sparked in him at the age of four. “Before four I had those foundational memories, like my first memory of my grandmother’s spiral staircase or my younger brother who peed on everyone,” he paused, and we laughed, “But after four my mind just woke up.”
Washington shared with me how after four he started consuming all the art and literature he could find, whether it was the Bible, stories, or the dictionary. As for how he started his art, specifically, he began by copying his father.
“I watched my father drawing one day while he was on the phone, and I saw this image come out of his pen, and I thought that was crazy,” Washington said, “When he was done, I took it and began to copy it over and over again until I felt I was closest to what he had done. That’s why I call myself Thomas the Younger.”
This experience didn’t just affect how he started his art, but it has influenced how he approaches creating every time he nears a canvas. “When I started copying my father’s art, I never thought that I could draw with something else, so I just drew with the same pen until it ran out, and even when it ran out, I drew with that same make and model,” Washington continued. “Through that, I learned something: even mistakes can be employed. If I made a mistake, I’d turn the painting right and turn it into something else.”
Approaching his art and literature in that way allows Washington to never be boxed in by specific conventions or genres. “I don’t limit myself to a genre because I just want to tell the story of people, whatever that means or needs,” he explains. “I believe there’s a story that all my art and literature is part of. It spans many worlds and contains all the genres you can imagine, because I love them all.”
Exploring a plethora of methods and genres not only allows Washington to create with limitless possibilities but to reach people in unique ways. “Yesterday someone came up to me while I was painting outside to ask for a cigarette, but after walking away, he came back and started talking to me,” Washington recounts. “After a bit, I went in the house, and, when I came back out, he was staring at my painting with an entirely new energy. He had walked around it, moved it, looked at all the angles.”
Washington proceeded to tell me how this young man shared with him how his painting made him feel something he couldn’t explain, and then he began opening up to Washington about the details of his childhood. Seeing this piece of art gave the young man an opportunity to connect with himself in a way he may not have otherwise been able to, a testament to the power of art itself. Washington says he “felt honored with how much he shared with me. He shared with me the core material of what makes him him.”
Humbly, he continued to say that when he finally came back to the house, he was visibly shaken. “My girl asked me what was wrong, and when I told her, she said that’s why they call you Shaman, because you can pull this out of people; you make their doors open, and their stories begin to flow.”
It’s all but impossible for a human being who feels the passion of all forms of creating so deeply to pinpoint what specifically their art is like. To do so would be to box it inside language. However, Washington knows what is important about it. “Every time we create, we are really expressing a part of ourselves, even if we think we’re hiding it behind someone or something nothing like ourselves,” he asserts. “It’s that way when I paint – I’m really painting me or some aspect of me or something I’m trying to express.”
His passion for creating parallels what he is passionate about in his life, both as a human and a humanitarian. “I consider myself an Afro-futurist, by default, really. My favorite subject is African-American women. Stoicism manifests itself so heavily in the African American community in general, through toughing it out or being tough, and women are as tough inside as others may project on the outside,” Washington elaborates. “It’s infinite. I try to not idealize it when I paint them; I just try to show their truth.”
Of course, this is not the only subject Washington paints or writes about. It is simply one of the many. His art can be colorful or black and white, can show people or monsters, can be chaotic or simple. In a more honest analysis: it is all of these at once. Regardless of what he will paint for this event, it’s of great importance to him as “This is part of my emergence.”
So, as for what to expect, really, it’s anything. It’s a convergence of the above, a reflection of the self, a reflection of the world. It is none of this, yet it is also all.
Confused? Good. That means you’re thinking. It means you’re curious.
To find some answers or better yet, more questions, come see Washington’s exhibit this Thursday at 6:00 p.m. at Tapp’s Art Center, Studio 7.
If you want to check out some of Washington’s past and current work, pop over to his website at: www.thomastheyounger.com
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