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Story Collages: Charles Jean-Pierre

Updated: Mar 19




The Awakening, 2021

Charles Jean-Pierre


 

Haitian-American Collage Artist

Figurative and Abstract

Washington, DC

ArtMatch Value Score*: Promising


 

Charles Philippe Jean-Pierre (b. 1983) is a Haitian-American artist and educator whose practice centers around collage as a means to explore stories related to community, spirituality and socio-economic systems.


With the encouragement of his parents and piano teacher, Jean-Pierre started taking art lessons at eight years old.  By the time he was in high school, he was teaching younger students.  After studying nursing in college, Jean-Pierre decided to return to his childhood passion of creating and teaching art.  He moved from Chicago to Washington, DC and there has established himself as a leading visual artist whose practice centers around storytelling through collage.  He also teaches as an adjunct professor at American University.  Jean-Pierre has collaborated with Theaster Gates, and his works hang on the walls of US embassies in three African countries. In addition to holding a Master’s of Arts from Howard University, Jean-Pierre will earn his MFA from American University in May 2024.


His work will be featured in an upcoming solo exhibition with Bishop Gallery in Brooklyn, NY, opening early May 2024.


"The story has always been the inception of my work.  And as the stories have become more complex, my art has grown and become more complex to meet the needs of the stories that I’m telling."


Image courtesy of the artist



Jean-Pierre's Story


Jean-Pierre was raised just south of the Southside of Chicago.  His parents, along with his older brother and sister, immigrated to the United States from Haiti.  Jean-Pierre's family valued creative expression.  His father worked as a videographer, capturing fashion shows, graduations, and cultural functions and counted the Du Sable Museum as a client. His brother, who was seven years older, created homemade percussion instruments (made from Danish cookie tins filled with beans), produced his own mixtapes and built treehouses.  His mother was trained as a seamstress and filled the home with art from their homeland.  Jean-Pierre’s entre into artistic expression was through piano, when his mother signed him up for after school piano lessons.  But the piano teacher, whose husband was an artist, noticed that Jean-Pierre (JP) had more interest in visual art than in music.  In observing his brother, JP was intrigued by the process of building and creating, whether it was a treehouse or a musical composition.  He preferred looking at the art on the walls of his home over watching cartoons.  Visual art gave Charles tools to express himself, processing his identity as a Haitian-American, depicting the stories that his mother and father shared with him – many of which were rooted in Haitian culture full of mystery and wisdom. 

Starting at eight years old, JP took private art lessons, twice a week after school.  He continued through high school as both a student and a teacher to middle school-aged children.  As JP matured, his subject matter broadened to include the culture that was shaping him, most notably hip-hop and sneaker culture.  In middle school, JP had dreams of designing sneakers for the brand Fila, then one of America’s fastest growing footwear brands.  He was drawn to Fila because they were the underdogs, going up against the incumbent that was Nike (JP has always rooted for the underdog).  JP identified as an artist, but despite winning a city-wide art competition and being voted “most artistic” in his school, he chose to study nursing in college at the University of Illinois Chicago. JP's mother, brother and sister were all nurses, and the profession offered a stable path to making a good living.  But JP really loved art.  Throughout his time in undergrad, his mind always went back to it.  His mother encouraged him to think practically.  JP wrestled with the decision until eventually he had a conversation with his mother.  “How much do nurses make a year?” he asked.  “About $80K,” she replied.  “What if I could make that much or more doing something I really love?”

 

After graduating from undergrad, having pledged Alpha Phi Alpha, JP got a job in downtown Chicago as a manager-in-training at a popular sneaker company.  The idea was that the job would support him until he got his art practice off the ground.  In his free time, JP created artwork and began to show publicly in Chicago.  One morning, the regional manager visited JP's store to meet one of his top performers in person.  Impressed by JP’s drive, the manager wanted to know where he saw himself in five years.  JP paused, thought about it and answered honestly.  He saw himself creating art, teaching art and traveling the world.  In that moment, verbalizing his goals to this manager, JP realized that it was time to get more aligned with his dream.  He decided to invest in his career through education, by moving to Washington, DC and pursuing a Master's degree at Howard University.

 

Howard held a special place in JP’s mind as the home of Black excellence in the visual arts.  The school had a strong legacy of both teachers and artists.  James Porter, recognized as the first African American art historian, taught at Howard for more than forty years, as did Lois Mailou Jones, and Jeff Donaldson, co-founder of the Chicago-based artist collective AfriCOBRA.  Alma Thomas, Bisa Butler, David Driskell and many others had been trained in Howard’s art department.  JP wanted to be part of that legacy.  After a campus visit, he was sold.  Howard seemed like the perfect environment in which he could develop and grow.  JP enrolled, pursuing a Masters degree in sociology and audited classes in fine art. While at Howard, Jean-Pierre won student art awards, and co-founded an artist collective called Culture District.  The collective hosted art shows on campus and around the DC-area.  They regularly painted live on the yard at Howard’s campus to fellowship, practice, and de-stress.  One afternoon in 2007, while JP was painting live, presidential candidate Barack Obama visited Howard’s campus.  JP was spotted by members of Obama’s team and was brought on-board to fundraise for his first presidential campaign.  JP was brought back in 2011 to support the re-election campaign after graduating from Howard.



12 Ballads for Huguenot House, 2012

Theaster Gates

Photo credit: Delfino Sisto Legnani Studio



2012 was a transformative year for JP.  That spring, he accepted two summer artist residency positions in his hometown.  He returned to Chicago with new connections, new insight, and an eagerness to contribute positively to the city.  For six-weeks, Jean-Pierre worked as the lone visual artist on staff at the esteemed Alvin Ailey Dance summer camp.  Alvin Ailey’s mission is to use the power of dance to enrich and positively impact the lives of children.  JP taught visual communication and poetry, and he also facilitated workshops on leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills.  Through this experience, JP enriched the lives of Chicago youth and re-engaged with his passion for teaching.

 

The second position was presented by Yaw Agyeman, an artist and longtime collaborator with Theaster Gates.  He approached JP about partnering with his nonprofit, Passport Carriers, to work on a special project with Gates.  Passport Carriers’ goal was to expand the worldview of inner city youth through art and international travel.  They had selected a group of youth to travel to Kassel, Germany for the thirteenth edition of Documenta, a special exhibition of contemporary art that takes place every 5 years, where Theaster Gates was presenting an installation.  The installation, called 12 Ballads for Huguenot House, was staged in an abandoned hotel in Kassel called Huguenot House and featured parts of an abandoned home from the Southside of Chicago.  It also featured a performance of 12 songs, written by Agyeman, and performed by the Black Monks of Mississippi.  Gates partially sponsored the students’ trip and facilitated JP’s first ever solo show in exchange for executing a collaborative community development project, a mural dedicated to a journey of global citizenship.  JP’s role was to oversee this project.  For six weeks, he worked with the students on painting two large-scale murals on the south side of Chicago titled Bronzeville Noire.  The pieces featured roaring 20’s era themes depicting Black couples expressing themselves through singing and dancing to jazz music.  Embedded within each mural were international references, notably an ode to Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh.  Through the project, the students and community learned about the history and impact of the Bronzeville area on the dispersion of jazz across the globe. The project was documented in a film titled “The Exchange.”  The residency culminated in JP’s first solo exhibition, titled “Qui Je Suis'' which explored the role of migration in identity, which sold out.  Half of the proceeds contributed to the funding of the students' trip to Kassel, the other half funded JP’s first trip to Paris. That summer of teaching, creating, traveling and relationship building provided the base that would take JP’s art practice to new heights. After JP's return to Washington, DC, his work was acquired by three different US Embassies along with Google and he was included in two exhibitions at the Smithsonian. JP was also selected as a teaching artist for the nominating body of the US Presidential Scholars in the Arts, one of the nation's highest honors for high school students in the arts.

 

2012 was a turning point for JP both professionally and personally.  That year, JP’s father and namesake was diagnosed with a cognitive condition that resulted in the steady decline of his motor and reasoning skills.  JP was determined to make the most of the time he had left with his father and make new memories that he would cherish in the future.  For the next ten years, JP balanced his art practice with caring for his father.  Nearly every month, JP flew from DC to Dallas to take care of and make memories with his father.  One of the main ways they did this was by creating art together.  At first, they painted together using paint brushes, but as his father’s dexterity dwindled, they had to find different ways to work.  JP discovered the monotype process where, instead of paint being brushed onto a surface, it is pressed onto a surface using a heavy weight.  The change of process transformed JP's practice and allowed him to continue creating with his father until he passed away.  A great portion of JP’s recent works are an ode to his father and his teachings.  JP often pays homage to their shared memories by including pieces of his father’s monotypes in his current work when possible.  His three most recent solo exhibitions were titled Future Memories I,II, and III respectively.

 

In 2016, JP leveraged his teaching experience and accepted an adjunct professor position offer in the Department of Fine Art at American University in Washington, DC.



Jean-Pierre's Aesthetic


Jean-Pierre is best known for his monotype print collages.  Some of his works reference the physical world, featuring children, couples, friends and nature scenes.  Others are more abstract, referencing the spiritual world and the cosmos.  His work features a rich combination of layered colors that range from bright to subdued.  Jean-Pierre’s newest series of work, which he describes as a self-referential, multi-disciplinary meditation on the expansive definitions of Blackness, also features sculpture.


Ile De La Tortue, 2022



Ensemble (Together), 2023



The Moor of Venice I, 2023



Rib and Clay, 2022



Future Memories IV, 2021



Jean-Pierre's Process


Jean-Pierre's process always starts with a story.  Sometimes the stories are from his mother, father, family members and friends.  Sometimes they are sourced from his extensive travels abroad.  Jean-Pierre collects stories from his travels, whether it be from Morocco or Spain, Senegal, Mexico or the many islands in the Caribbean he has visited.  Once he has a story, Jean-Pierre sketches concepts for depicting those stories visually and then constructs the works, typically with acrylic paint and pieces of paper, scraps of monotype prints made by him or his father, or other materials depending on what the story calls for.



Market Information


Jean-Pierre serves as an adjunct professor at American University and is a US State Department Art in Embassies Artist.  His works are featured in the US Embassy in Benin, Malawi, and Niger.  He also serves as a guest curator for exhibitions at The Embassy of Haiti.  He has been featured in two Smithsonian exhibitions and was invited to the White House by former President, Barack Obama to speak on the role of the arts in youth justice.

 

He is currently preparing for a solo exhibition at Bishop Gallery in New York, slated to open May 2024.



Video


Watch Jean-Pierre discuss his practice in this video produced by the Atlantic magazine:



Watch Jean-Pierre teaching students at The Belmont School in Cambridge, Massachusetts:




References:




*The ArtMatch Value Score is our assessment of the likelihood of the artist's work to hold or appreciate in value. Numerical scores are calculated based on a combination of variables, including but not limited to type of gallery representation, number of solo shows, quality of collector base, number of pieces sold at auction. Scores are summarized to one of three ranking categories: emerging, promising, and strong. Note this does not constitute official investment advice and is given purely as an input to help assess artists from a value perspective.

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