We caught up with artist Glenn Ligon, our 2015 SOAPBOX Honoree, to find out a little bit about what inspires his work, his connection to The LP, and more. Read to find out what he had to say. (Photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya.)
What is your bio in six words or less?
I’m an artist from the Bronx.
How did you first connect with The LP, and what inspired you to be such a wonderful supporter?
I connected to The LP by word of mouth, from the buzz on the street about the wonderful work the organization was doing, and from a prior relationship with Kemi Ilesanmi, who I met many years ago in the context of curating a show in Minneapolis.
What motivates or inspires your creative practice?
Making art is a way of thinking about the world so what motivates me is to think more deeply about the world we are in, the events from the past that have shaped it, and to speculate on where we might be going.
Your new book, A People on the Cover, which traces the shifting representation of African-Americans through book covers, is being published this year by Ridinghouse. You began this exploration during an artist residency at the Walker Art Center (working with our executive director Kemi Ilesanmi when she was a curator there). What led you to return to this project a decade later?
The book has been germinating for a long time. It was first suggested as a project by Hamza Walker and Anthony Elms, two curators who saw the show I did using book covers at the Walker with Kemi. It took so long to get it to press because other projects got in the way but when I was working with Ridinghouse on catalogue for another show I approached them about publishing A People on the Cover and they jumped at the chance. The book feels timely in the light of ongoing debates about black lives and representation: how we are represented, how we might represent ourselves and the overlap between those two binaries.
You were a teenager in the Bronx at a time when graffiti culture was nascent, but would soon explode into a worldwide phenomenon. Did this influence your relationship with the visual dimensions of text? How did growing up in the Bronx inform your practice (if at all)?
I was less directly influenced by graffiti than by the idea that text could be art (though I always thought graffiti was art, which was contrary to what my mother thought. She just saw it as scribbles by neighborhood hoodlums that needed to be painted over). Ironically, it was my mother’s belief in the power of literature that was my biggest inspiration. She took books seriously and even with limited economic means she made sure that whatever book I wanted to have I could.
What is your favorite book, film, and / or album about NYC?
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
The French Connection
Teju Cole, Open City
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Patty Smith, Just Kids
Free-association—tell us the first word that comes to mind:
is a virus
get thee behind me Satan
Anything else you want to tell us?
Keep up the good work at The LP!
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Glenn Ligon is an NYC-based artist whose art examines race, language, desire, sexuality, and identity. A mid-career retrospective of his work opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2011. He is included in this year’s Venice Biennale, and his painting Black Like Me #2 is on view in the Obamas’ personal quarters in the White House.