CMA Stories

“Always project hope and positivity even when it seems things are at their worst.” — 5 Minutes with Artist Rico Gatson

In You Are Light, artist Rico Gatson‘s new site-specific installation in the Bridge, the viewer is the most important component! The site-specific installation depicts light pictorially as a metaphor for positive energy, power, and hope for a better future. The calming effect of the color palette, pattern, and light provides a respite or escape, as well as a place of contemplation and rejuvenation. Come activate the installation with your light!

In light of CMA’s 30th anniversary CIVICKIDS campaign, which fosters civic engagement and shared community pride through art-making, we endeavored to hear more from our community and understand their varied approaches to civic engagement and the arts. Below, CMA caught up with Gatson to discuss his installation at CMA and his thoughts on child-led civic engagement.

CMA: Your exhibition You Are Light at CMA references light as a metaphor for positive energy, power and hope for the future. This seems to be a continuation on a theme from your series of mosaic portraits, where you use colors such as yellow and orange to signify the sun. What inspired you to use light in your recent works?

RG: Light as a concept is complex — it refers to illumination and / or enlightenment, but also to buoyancy and weightlessness. It contrasts darkness, is hopeful, and contains positive energy.

CMA: Your color palette focuses on Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism. How would you describe the importance and significance of these movements to children?

RG: Children represent the future and hope for positive change. These movements, at their core, are rooted in shaping a better world for future generations by creating platforms that sustain and stabilize underrepresented communities. For instance, the Black Panther Party had a free breakfast program for school children that eventually influenced the government to expand its own free breakfast program, which now serves nearly 15 million students.

CMA: You remarked in an interview with that you were always coloring as a child. Do you color with your daughter now? Does she love creating art as much as you do?

RG: My daughter is 16 now, so I don’t think coloring with her father is top priority, but I can proudly say that she has decided to pursue art! She plans to go to art school upon graduating from high school and I am so excited for her.

CMA: What is the most difficult conversation you’ve had with children about a social or political issue? How did it come up?

RG: The most difficult conversation happened after the election of our current president. It was and is very difficult to explain how it happened, but also why, in the face of so much confusion and turmoil, we must remain positive and optimistic that everything works out after all. I love the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

CMA: What advice do you have for parents who want to address a serious social or political issue with their children? Is there a way to use art to facilitate these conversations?

RG: My advice is to always project hope and positivity even when it seems things are at their worst. There are so many lessons in all art forms, from Marvin Gaye’s seminal album What’s Going On to the joy, power and beauty of Nick Cave’s sound suits. The examples are vast and endless.

CMA: Your daughter is an alumnus of CMA’s art classes. What did she enjoy most about her experience at CMA?

RG: She was also a summer intern! Not that I can speak for her, but I know that she loved being at the museum and really loved taking classes there and working with the students. When I mentioned that I was doing a project in the Bridge, she started beaming and said the kids really loved hanging out in that space, which assured me that I would completely enjoy making the project.

CMA: You donated a portrait of Billie Holiday for CMA’s annual Art Auction and Gala. What do you love most about Ms. Holiday?

RG: Though she had a very difficult time in life, Ms. Holiday epitomizes the highest form of art and artistic expression. I, like so many, love her haunting, emotional, vulnerable and generous voice. She had a special gift that inspires me and influences every aspect of my work.

Rico Gatson: You Are Light was made possible with support from Google.


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