Painter Titus Kaphar | 2018 MacArthur Fellow

Painter Titus Kaphar | 2018 MacArthur Fellow


I make paintings that people perceive
often as being very social or political, but for the most part they’re all very
personal. Everything stems from my relationship, to a situation, to a
narrative, to a story. My name is Titus Kaphar, and I’m an artist. I had one art history book that had a particular chapter in it that actually did focus on
black people, people of color. These characters are often enslaved, in
servitude, or impoverished, and so it drew me to wanting to understand how this all
came about representing black people what was their symbolic purpose in the
paintings, and in the sculptures that they were in because clearly it wasn’t
for them to be the primary character. I use a lot of different techniques in
making paintings. Sometimes the surface of the canvas will be cut out, something
will be removed from the surface of the canvas in order to show something behind. This theme or this idea of layers and multiplicity is a reoccurring theme in
my work. There are always multiple narratives. I’m asking the viewer to try
to piece that whole story together without leaving behind the valuable
narrative of in many cases those people who have been silenced over years.
The Jerome Project is an investigation into the criminal justice system. I
started this project because my father’s name is Jerome, and my father has spent
time in and out of prison and jail throughout my life. I googled my father
and found his mugshot which of course didn’t surprise me, but I found 97 other
men with exactly the same first and last name, and all of their mug shots, and I
began to paint those mug shots as these small devotional sized religious style
paintings with gilded backgrounds. I then submerged those paintings into tanks of
tar based on the amount of time that these folks had spent incarcerated.
Currently, I’m working on a body of work called Monumental Inversions, and
Monumental Inversions is a group of sculptures that kind of
speak to this conversation that we’re having in our national narrative about
what to do with our national sculptures. So, I began to to make a body of work
that I felt like could potentially amend some of the absences and challenges
of our current sculpture. I think merging art and history can help
to motivate social change. The Next Haven project attempts to bring communities
together. We have a fellowship program that invites artists who are coming out
of graduate programs to come and make a life for themselves in New Haven for the
year that they are here, to engage in the community. They get professional artist
development. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I found art. I feel
really strongly that if I can do anything to help other young folks who
come from the kind of communities that I come from discover their passion,
discover the thing that motivates them, I will be a happy man

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