feature: charles jean-pierre – artist | educator | black messenger

May 6, 2014

Dismayed that DC’s own Chuck Brown (the Grandfather of go-go) was not immortalized anywhere in the District, Charles Jean-Pierre gathered a group of his students from MacFarland Middle School to help him paint the mural on Georgia Avenue to celebrate his namesake. And Charles is not even from DC. He is a Chi Town native who moved to the District to attend Howard University in pursuit of his destiny as an ambassador of the often marginalized Black American experience.
When I met up with Charles recently for some pizza, he pulled out some other icons of American culture from the trunk of his car. He had just wrapped up a series of paintings for his “40 for 40″ project, an initiative to complete a painting each day for forty days. The 4″ by 4” pieces span from imagined scenes from American history (Abraham Lincoln addressing a group of Black Union Soldiers) to world-class alcoholic and celebrated rhyme spitter Ol-Dirty Osiris. Can I get a Wu-Tang?
We discussed how a lot of us spend an average of 40 hours a week working towards a stranger’s ambitions but spend little to no time at all in pursuit of our own. But Charles puts in work every damn day. Follow him on Instagram and you can’t help but be motivated by his unrelenting work ethic. Day and night, he’s always painting. He won’t hesitate to tell you what’s on his insightful mind either.

By Le Black Star, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Charles Jean-Pierre urges folks to stop being intimidated by art. If you see something that connects with you, go ahead and show the artist some love. When I was admiring the pieces laid out on the floor, he commented on how most of what we share these days is digital information on social media. Art allows us to share something tangible we’ve created with our own hands when a spark of inspiration from the world we live in flirts with our imagination. As he put it, “You don’t need a passport to buy art.”
However, you do need a passport to check out his piece displayed in the corridors of the US Embassy in Benin. “African Blues Brothers,” an acrylic and oil pastel piece on canvas was also selected to grace the cover of Art in Embassies magazine. The issue also features the works of one of our great living visual artists George Condo, who has collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
It wasn’t till after he left that it donned on me how he had come full circle. Just a few hundred years ago, some 3 million unfortunate Africans were shipped from Benin across the Atlantic to slave on plantations in Haiti. Now, one of their sons had returned an accomplished artist and scholar bearing a token of his new home.
Art has also given him the privilege of meeting a number of notable figures including Michelle Obama. When I asked him what it was like to meet the First Lady, he responded, “I’m not just trying to show up. I’m trying to have a voice.” And like other messengers such as his favorite rappers Common and Mos Def, his voice speaks volumes. His aim of bridging the gap between Black America and the rest of the world has resulted in street murals all over (Amsterdam, Istanbul, New York and Paris). Social progress is his ambition. His paintings are his vehicle.
And if you are skeptical about the kind of impact art can have, read the letter below. Peace.
PS: Check out his website for more information on his projects and follow him on Facebook for some free inspiration.

* Le Black Star blog:; Facebook: Le Black Star; Twitter: @le_blackstar