Darkworld matters: an interview wit’ visual artist Melanin

Melanin painted this mural featuring Ras G on a pillar at the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco’s historic Fillmore District.

by Minister of Information JR Valrey

Melanin is one of my favorite Bay Area painters because of how he melds history, culture and politics into a futuristic vision. I met Melanin years ago, when he was a member of the legendary Black Diamonds Shining Art Collective. I was an instant fan of most of the crew’s work. 

I was inspired to write this article about Melanin because a few weeks ago I came across him and a few of his murals, which were under construction, of important culturally iconic Black people at the African American Art and Culture Complex. The people he chose to portray on the walls are of Black pioneers and innovators that the community does not talk enough about. 

So now that Covid-19 has Hollywood and the sports industry on hold, this is the perfect time to become immersed in the work of real artists instead of the corporate artistic prostitutes that we are regularly fed in the mainstream media. Melanin is a hard dude to catch up with, so consider yourself blessed to hear from an elusive spirit who talks mostly with his hands. 

M.O.I. JR: How did you get into art? Who were you inspired by?

Melanin: I got into this type of art from being in the Mission from ‘99-‘03. There was a lot of experimentation in the graffiti and street art there. I was also heavily influenced by the murals from the ‘70s, comic books, science fiction and 80s textiles.

M.O.I. JR: What or who made you want to pursue it as a profession?

Melanin: Ras Terms and Safety 1st urged me to start making pieces to sell and start doing shows. They were both doing that when I met them as well as putting art in the street. Terms had a gallery when we first met and allowed me to have my pieces in a few shows there, as well as curate a few shows.

M.O.I. JR: How did you get involved with the Black Diamond Shining Art Collective? Are y’all still active?

Melanin: I met and started hanging out with both Terms and Safety separately and thought that we should all hang out. After a little while of hanging out, they both mentioned that we should start a crew, a collective. 

Safety came up with the name and then things took off. We were active for about eight years. We lined the streets and galleries with art, installations and murals.

M.O.I. JR: You are actively painting murals inside of the African African American Art and Culture Complex in the Fillmore. Who have you painted on the walls? And what made you paint those two brothers?

Melanin wants everyone to know about Iddris Sandu, the 22-year-old genius born in Ghana and raised in the US, straight outta Compton. Look at his accomplishments: “Created the world’s first smart retail store called ‘the Marathon Store’; made an algorithm that has made Uber, Instagram and Snapchat what they are today.”

Melanin: I recently painted three images at AAACC. The first image was from Wee Pals, a comic I read as a kid that was heavily influential to me. The second was Ras G to represent innovative musicians, and Iddris Sandu, a young engineer who got his start in his teens.

M.O.I. JR: How do you feel about the AAACC and working with the twins, Melonie and Melorra?

Melanin: Upon first walking up to AAACC for a Black Film Festival around 2002, I was excited by the historic mural on the side of the building – which I hope to restore one day – and the idea of a three story building dedicated to Black art. I feel the twins maximize the artistic potential of the place. They are really good facilitators. They really know how to approach and work with artists.

M.O.I. JR: Can you talk a little bit about who Ras G is and how you met? And can you explain y’all’s connection?

Melanin: Ras G is a West Coast producer and musician who made a certain style of digital layered dissonant music that modernized the thick sounds of musicians like Sun Ra. Long before I heard his music, I saw a promotional sticker of tribesmen with scientific equipment listening to the cosmos. 

This imagery was completely inline with the Black Futurist aesthetic I was into. We found each other online and found out that we share many influences and appreciation for experimental Black expression.

M.O.I. JR: Why do you think that he is seen as a pioneering influence on the Los Angeles music scene?

I have no desire to paint or anything else. You would believe that I would be cranking out work with all this free time, but I don’t feel an urge to do anything.

Melanin: When you have someone looking that far ahead in culture, it’s easy for others to find inspiration. 

M.O.I. JR: What do you aspire to next? What’s your next move as a visual artist?

Melanin: I want to work off the canvas and collaborate with artists of other mediums to bring my designs some 3D depth.

M.O.I. JR: How has the pandemic affected you financially as well as your creativity?

Melanin: Well, I’m out of a day job. Work dried up a few weeks before everyone was told to stay home. 

I’m lucky that I had a couple art gigs to help me out but who knows about the future. As far as my creativity, it’s dried up. I actually haven’t felt like this before. 

I have no desire to paint or anything else. You would believe that I would be cranking out work with all this free time, but I don’t feel an urge to do anything.

M.O.I. JR: How could people get in touch with you? 

Melanin: Instagram @deadeyes_ptv

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, journalist, author and filmmaker, can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. And tune in to BlockReportTV on YouTube.