For Adrian, art is more than just creating a piece of 2D wonder. It is an opportunity to speak truth about our everyday existence, as well as a way to build a creative community. His work, We Can't Breathe, is not just relevant to our time, but necessary given our political climate. You will also find him building a tribe of creative influencers right here in Austin. Read his interview in full.
thanks so much for agreeing to be featured. let's start with a little background. who is adrian armstrong and how did you become an artist?
Adrian Armstrong is just a kid from the north side of Omaha, NE.
I was the typical little black nerd that was quiet, drew DBZ characters, and played Pokemon. Not much has changed except the content of my work. I always attribute my start to being an artist to high school. I would ask for extra projects and stay after school to finish them. My art teacher, Mrs. Patterson, was really the first person to tell me I could do this for a living and that was the first time I remember really taking it to heart. My junior year of college, when I transferred to UNL (The University of Nebraska - Lincoln) from community college, I started majoring in art. Around my senior year I kind of went into a guerrilla method with my work. I was in the studio constantly, often skipping classes like Art History, Psychology, and Spanish, just churning out work. Didn't matter if it was good or bad. I would pin up my work in the hallways or even wheat paste them around campus. I didn't care if I could or not. I just wanted to validation. I wanted people to see my work and to let me know that I wasn't wasting my time paying thousands of dollars to doodle. People took notice and the rest is history from there.
you are currently in austin, but that wasn't always so. what brought you here and how has the city influenced you as an artist?
Yeah, I've been in Austin off and on for a year and a half now. At the time when I was about to move, I just felt like I needed a change. I had been in Nebraska for 24 years and I felt as though I needed things to change immediately. Something that I don't talk about often is how depressed I was and I felt that I needed a fresh start. I had traveled to a few places, Austin being one, and fell in love with the different vibes and environments. Austin and Seattle both got me and I saw myself in either place. In the end, Austin won. It didn't hurt that my girlfriend went to school here too.
The city has shown me a lot that I didn't get back home. The way of the independent artist is the main thing that has stuck with me. People hustle and people grind just to do what they love. Whether it be art, music, or whatever. From a business standpoint, this has been my biggest influence. It has brought back that method I used during my senior year of college. I've learned to be more aggressive, but tactical. I've also been heavily influenced by the graffiti culture. One of my first roommates works at Spratx so I was exposed to that right away. Now the way I look at compositions and color has changed. Before I was using just a grey scale and a splash of color with everything centered. Now, I don't hesitate to reach for that electric pink or golden yellow. I take more risks. I'm not afraid to mess up.
SO WITH THE current political climate, are there any themes or concepts on your mind that you are looking to explore in your art?
In 2017, I have two main topics I want to touch on in my work. The first being black women. My work has been HEAVILY male dominated for all of my life. It's just another thing that clicked instantaneously.
The second topic is sexuality and gender. Sexuality pertaining to the black community, my sexuality, etc. I think this is a topic that isn't talked about enough within the black community, especially LGBQT. There is going to be a lot of work coming and it's going to be new and exciting.
I'm still going to be going at Donald Trump's neck too.
When people look at your work, what do you want them to take from it? What is the message or insight you want them to know?
I always want people to feel a connection to my work. Different pieces have different messages, but I always want my work to be relatable. Whenever I make pieces that my target audience can't say "oh yeah I get that, I understand. That's real," then I'm not making the right work. At the same time, I'm open to everyone's interpretation of my work. I love when people make me see it from a different perspective. It makes the image new again, and in a sense, I become the audience and not the creator. That's exciting. But my goal is to always speak for those whose voice is silenced. Art touches so many people in different ways and I want OUR message to be heard.
that's fantastic how the city and the people have influence your work not just in the business side but in the composition of your work. that said, which of your past collections are you most proud of and what is it about that collection that fills you with pride?
I'm definitely most proud of my "We Can't Breathe" collection. To date, I think it's my best work technically and conceptually. It has been my most thought out work and some of the most personal. It's a huge step in the right direction to the work that I want to make and it's the series that really solidified my path in the type of art that I make.
Some of your work is political, specifically, “We Can’t Breathe” Series. Is this something you always intended or have specific events forced you to speak to them in your art?
I honestly never intended my art to go in this direction. I remember having conversations with some of my peers in school and specifically telling them I didn't want to do political art or focus to much on race. My senior year I started focusing on myself to deal with internal issues. This gave me time and a reason to really think about things that I cared about. It all really just clicked in an instance. It felt like a release. I felt like I had been repressing the notion of being a "black artist." After that moment, I started to really open my eyes to the world and how it not only affected me, but the people around me. The more I learned and the more I started to study people's reactions, the more my art took shape. I would say that when Trayvon was murdered, I subconsciously made the decision to speak out through my work. When Eric Garner was murdered, it was a full fledged concept. That was the day I told myself, "ok, my work is going to have a message for the people." That forced me to make work with meaning.
Outside of being an artist, you are involved in Human Influence. Tell us a little about this and what can we expect from this collective?
"Human Influence begins with the concept of furthering the human race through the culmination of creative forces. We strive to maximize your experiences on Earth through fashion, creativity, and collaboration. Built by a team of unique and progressive individuals, our sole purpose is to help humans inspire humans."
In short, Human Influence is a dope organization that does dope things. 2017 is going to be a big year and if you're not rocking with Human Influence you're lost!!
Other organizations I'm involved with are Counter Balance: ATX, a grassroots non profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for black and brown self identifying women. I'm also starting my own organization for creatives of color, Brown State of Mind. We will be doing a lot of things this year as well.