7 // Black Future Month // Theaster and Thurman

Posted on February 7, 2012


Theaster Gates is a conduit. One of those people who conducts. He carries energy most astutely, and when potential becomes kinetic, it’s best to stand back. Sorta like how it’s best to give impressionist art a few feet of distance.

Again. This time simply. Theaster Gates makes art. and science. and philosophy. and pots. Theaster Gates is a phenomenal potter. He also designs sets. And mandalas. And sings the blues. And repurposes and resources abandoned South Side Chicago properties.

When I really met him, about a year ago, in Chicago, he showed me:

a) his kitchen, living room, and music room floor — stocked from recycled bowling alley lumber.
b) the house across the street, which he was gutting, then using some of the material for visual art pieces, and some as building material — then shipping that to germany to build a gallery in a hotel. Proceeds from sales at the gallery will return to the states, and create a co-op performance venue in the original house across the street. For the community.
c) and then he showed me how he sang.

That’s as best I can do to tell you about who Theaster is, and how he operates. He’s a big brained so and so, with a penchant for using every modicum of matter (or anti-matter) as best possible, for the benefit of his people. Theaster’s a man of spirit, who injects that into all he does.

He puts it to work:
– as teaching faculty at Chicago’s Columbia College.
– as a thought leader in the “sustainable” movement
– as a man of God who sings Jesus
– as a vessel who makes vessels
– as a brother with a mean cha-cha and a whole lot of mouth piece

Theaster thinks about the future, in a way that is both tangible and ethereal. He’s a planner, quite calculated. He dreams lofty, impossible dreams, and then makes ’em happen. Over and over. He’s a behind the scenes mentor to many.

Because of how many he teaches, how tied he is to spirit, how prolific and varied are his intellectual and soulful pursuits, I couldn’t help but to link him to Howard Thurman.

Thurman’s sound byte:
– poet
– reverend
– student of and contemporary to Gandhi
– author or subject of 25 books, four published posthumously
– He was one of Dr. King’s most influential spiritual teachers.

Forgive the blasphemy, but a ‘hood analogy: Thurman was Big to King’s Jay. You can even hear Thurman’s stylistic impact as orator. See? (It’s a long clip. If you don’t have the time, listen to just a little.)

See how he sounds sorta like the Reverend Doctor and a little like TG when he sings too?

Here’s an excerpt from his Jesus and The Disinherited:

Maybe I should have just started with this quote, so that I could say: Theaster Gates writes his own working papers. And they are penned with the same fire of spirit that lived in Howard Thurman.


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