afropunk bk: the art of gianni lee

August 23, 2019
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Expect to be greeted by Gianni Lee‘s skeletons in the Art + Times corners of AFROPUNK Brooklyn, near the Red Stage. That’s where Lee has been painting oversized canvases set to be on-show at Commodore Barry Park all weekend long, paintings that are the centerpieces for the festival’s art and artistry. Between brushstrokes, we asked Lee, who is a multi-talented artist and musician, about the origins of his creativity. So he schooled us on what makes Gianni Lee tick.

Gianni Lee painting at Commodore Barry Park, Brooklyn, August 2019.

Tell us a little bit about yourself — specifically, about some of the things that pushed you towards the life of an artist? And maybe a list of all the different creative work you do.

I’m Gianni Lee. I’m a visual artist. At times, I stay to myself because that’s when I think I’m most creative; but at the same time, I love the energy of people. I was born in Philadelphia and I’ve been to a few different countries. I’m blessed to be able to share my visual art with the world, which has always been my ultimate goal.

I’m that guy that likes and hates company at the same time. I believe wanting to be remembered for doing something bigger than myself is what led me to visual art. Before this shit, I never took myself seriously. I was always a hard worker and creative, but I never realized things could really get to this point. I had to start believing in myself and having the confidence to be able to work at a high level. Best part of all of this, I’m still only beginning. I am in my infancy stage.

First and foremost, I am a painter. I hold that to the highest standard and prestige, because everything I do falls under that umbrella. I’ve actually gotten better in other creative areas because of the attention to detail I pay to painting. I creative direct for recording artists, I collaborate with brands  — but it’s beyond collaboration. I “story tell” with brands, and conceptualize ways to bring products to market thru said collaborations. I’ve been working extensively on making art accessible for those who can’t afford a $40,000 painting.

Do you have any models for the creative life that you want to shout-out?

Constant research and source material. Referencing. That is the model I live by. I study the world around me.

Gianni Lee painting at Commodore Barry Park, Brooklyn, August 2019.

Who are your influences? Beyond the great artists and thinkers that inspired you  — though it’d be great to hear who your personal “greats” are too — but people who actually affected you to go down the road you’re on?

I’m not influenced by any artist; my closest point of reference is Dali. He was a rebel, a rock star, and everything he is, I hope to be one day but in my own way. Beyond him, I don’t look at anyone’s work, I try my hardest to stay in my own world and I don’t deviate too far from it. I can say my contemporaries push me to re-think art. Blue The Great and Trouble Andrew, every time I look at those guys they are relentless in creating and it just makes me go even harder, even longer and even deeper into my craft.

Was there a moment when you became all in on being a creative being, rather than working at becoming something else?

I was working a full-time job at a YouTube network called Awesomeness TV. (Google them, they took a million dollar investment from a private investor, I think they definitely made the money back and then were bought by The Death Star— I mean Disney.) Anyway, Awesomeness TV was crazy. I had a fancy title, a desk (that rotated) and free lunch, and it was in Santa Monica. I was trying to grow with the company and figure out ways of being more creative with them and capturing content. I pitched something to my boss, and she headed the entire idea. I felt trapped so I quit on the spot, and started taking DJ’ing and my clothing line [Babylon Cartel] seriously. I never worked a full-time job again. I trusted my skills and some how by the glory of God money opportunities kept coming to me. I started working part-time at Ebony Magazine creating content, I was selling clothes via our online shop. I did graphic work on the side for clients and DJ’ing. This was all before I decided to take painting seriously.

Where do you think your work and mission of AFROPUNK overlap?

To me, AFROPUNK means freedom. My work is freedom. Freedom from our shackles, freedom from classification, freedom from particular identities. It’s about diving deeper to find our truest selves. Above all else, my work is futurism at its core, and that also mirrors AFROPUNK in my eyes.

What does the term “We See You” mean to you?

I’m pessimistic at times, this means “THEY” see us. You know, capitalism, the oppressor, the matrix. Their eyes are always locked in. But we are so loud, so visible, so “NOW,” so futuristic. You have to ask yourself, how could they not see us? It’s our job to give “THEM” a show they’ll never forget.

Follow him @GianniLee

Gianni Lee, “2017 & The Oppressed” (2018)

Gianni Lee, “<-$$-> (Demon Slayer)” (2017)

Gianni Lee