Short Talk with Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave

Mattise Negro

I recently viewed the work of Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave and the imagery piqued my interest in learning more about his work. I found this quote in relation to a solo show he had at the Bronx Museum in 2015.

"Jeffrey Hargrave's work taps into his own memories of growing up in the midst of a sharply divided community. Hargrave translates his personal experiences into playful, yet biting images that mix art-history clichés and racial stereotypes. Ultimately, the artist seeks to engage the viewer in a dialogue on class and privilege based on a repertoire of familiar images." - Bronx Museum Director of Curatorial and Education Programs, Sergio Bessa

I think the quote really encapsulates the work and had a chance to talk with the artist, who I found to be a wonderful storyteller. I wanted to share our discussion as his work and words are a timely reflection of life in America. 

Kathleen Cullen: The show at the Bronx Museum was a strong success for you. As you revisit the quote from the curator what would you say if anything has changed in your work and message? 

Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave: It still rings true to me now as it did then, perhaps even more so at our present moment.

Growing up in "extreme poverty" was difficult, especially in a town of exorbitant wealth. In regards to my use of racial stereotypes, it's tricky. This is especially true in an age where monuments are being ripped down, airports are being re-named overnight and police are demonized nationwide. I paint from my heart along with my experiences. The one thing I've learned is that those who forget their past are sometimes doomed to repeat it.

Kathleen Cullen: Can you share with us what has influenced your work? Also what impact did your professional training have?

Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave: Art History influences and informs my work. Funny, enough I failed Art History twice. The first time while a high school senior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and The second time at the Rhode Island School of Design. Perhaps this is why I'm so captivated by it now. Professional training helped significantly, especially in regards to learning new ways of thinking and how to engage critically with my fellow students and professors.

Kathleen Cullen: In your work you reference iconic images from Matisse to Disney. How do you choose these images and for what purpose?

Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave: I try and select images that are most identifiable to Pop Culture.

Then I filter images such as Mickey Mouse, through the lens of Black Culture.

Kathleen Cullen: In the past couple of years the art market had begun to focus on African American artists. Now it has been greatly shut down by Covid. In addition, the recent killing of George Floyd, has asked us all to re-examine our country's institutional racism. How have these factors affected your work in regards to your focus and the commercial aspects?

Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave: Not much, I've dealt with work in relation to my experience as an African American man for decades now. 

Covid may have affected the art market, but I create so that I can better understand myself and relate to others through my work. I don't make art solely for the market.

Kathleen Cullen: You are currently developing a print edition. Can you tell us about that project and how you are developing the images and when they will be available?

Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave: I'm working with my art dealer, Greg Smith (Owner\Director) of Contemporary Art and Editions on an upcoming Print Portfolio. I would love to see my "Matisse Negro" in print edition form.

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