Having seen some of the works on Warren’s website prior to my visit, I imagined I’d seen all there was to see. It wasn’t until I came face-to-face with the first portrait, of Fredrick Douglas, that I realized the magnitude of the works I was about to see. The large-scale format, the detail in each piece, and the story behind them all made for a rather unique experience.
Hoping to learn more about the artist himself, as well as his work, I followed him throughout the gallery as he spoke of his techniques and craft, among other things. When I asked him of his first introduction to art and how he’d grown to appreciate it, he paused, taking his time to find the right words to convey the exact moment at which he discovered his passion for the medium.
When I was three; three years old, or maybe even before then. We were living in Brookyln, and I remember being able to take great pleasure from sitting and just coloring. For hours I could do that. I remember it because I remember the feeling of exploration, and the feeling of excitement. The feeling of being absolutely captivated by the activity; of watching things develop on paper, and seeing what would happen with the colors. The feeling of total involvement in the material when I was three is no different from the feeling of involvement today as I work on different pieces — it was very, very intense involvement, at three years old.
He elaborated further on his childhood, his fascination with the craft, and spoke of his early inspiration.
My father was a painter. So I would suspect that the enjoyment I derived from painting was in some way related to his own involvement in art. Just watching my father paint, and smelling the paint; he used to work with clay–he sculpted clay as well… Just watching him work, that kind of melded with my own personal interest in the work. Just a few weeks ago, I was going through some materials that we took from my father’s apartment, and among those were artwork that my father did, and pieces that I had done trying to copy what my father was doing. All those things that were in that package go back to when I was very, very young.
Summing up his chat with me, he spoke about his reintroduction into art during his early college years.
When I went to college, I started out as a psychology major, and that was my intent. But during the summer, prior to going to college, I had been doodling; once I applied myself, it was always very intricate–I applied very detailed and sophisticated techniques. But the point is, I took that stuff and I showed it to one of my classmates, and he recommended that I see a professor in the art department that might encourage me in the field…
As I continued to work, he would give me personal supervision time, would come to the studio, and critique my work.
“THEY ARE LONG GONE, BUT THEY ARE LONG HERE.”
When it was time to speak about his work on display, he emphasized the connection between the past and present, and spoke of the necessity of allowing others’ experiences to have a positive impact on us.
When I began to do the portraits (fifteen years ago), I wanted to get as close to the subjects as I could. I wanted to feel the intensity of the personalities I was trying to depict. I wanted to understand what it felt like to be involved in the kind of way my subjects were involved.
They say if you don’t create, you destroy. Energy that is not used creatively is used destructively. Each one of these presences have something to teach us; the biographies–plenty to teach us about courage, about faith, stamina, hope, about terror. I read a lot about the life and times of these people because it’s a way of understanding the Self through the experiences of others; it’s a way of integrating one’s Self. Painting, and most importantly, studying these characters helps me understand what it feels like and what it means to be a human being. Because we all live tortured lives inside of ourselves, we all experience loss, we all experience the fear of death…it’s inspiring stuff.