by Minister of Information JR Valrey, Oakland Bureau Chief
Scrolling through social media, I came across some of the most vibrant, beautiful and majestic paintings of Black people that I have ever seen. The post that I looked at talked about how the work of the artist, “The Black DaVinci,” was recently featured on the television series, “The L Word: Generation Q.”
As I continued to read, I noticed that a cousin of mine was congratulating her son. It finally dawned on me that Christopher Williams aka The Black DaVinci is my cousin. I was baffled at his exquisite talent with the paint brush, and I wanted to expose our readers to what I saw. Check out my cousin, Christopher “The Black DaVinci” Williams, his words and his work.
JR Valrey: What is the story behind where you got your name, The Black DaVinci?
Christopher Williams: I got my name from a couple of my friends at Apple. I would always sit at my desk and draw while talking with customers on the phone. My friends would come up with different nicknames for me. “The Black DaVinci” stuck.
JR Valrey: How long have you been painting? And how did you start?
Christopher Williams: I have been painting for over 20 years. My interest started when I was stabbed at church in Modesto. Here is the link to more information about how I got started.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about how the pandemic affected your career?
Christopher Williams: The pandemic helped my career. Being locked up in the house forced me to focus on my practice. It gave me time to think about how to create through the chaos and find joy. With the murder of George Floyd, I began to think about my own life expectancy and how to make the most of the time I have on this earth.
One of the biggest blessings of the pandemic was being invited to be a studio artist at Root Division. This artist community based in San Francisco allowed me to have a space to create a lot of the pieces that have taken my art career to the next level.
JR Valrey: Without being an experienced veteran from the painting world, how were you able to locate buyers who were willing to pay you the valued price of the work at such an early stage in your career?
Christopher Williams: I have been grinding for the last 20 years. My approach to pricing has been a progression that continues to evolve as I translate my life experiences to the canvas. Buyers have gravitated to me through media appearances, social media, appearances at local comic cons and art conventions.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about your work appearing on television? How did that happen?
Christopher Williams: When my work appeared on the local news, I was painting live at local conventions and/or comic cons. For “The L Word: Generation Q,” an art consultant saw my work on Instagram and reached out to see if I could paint a piece in a tight timeframe. It was featured in the last episode of season two and is a permanent set piece of the show. While the piece was drying on set, it was kept in a temperature controlled room.
JR Valrey: What has the residual effect been of having your work appear on television?
Christopher Williams: My work appearing on television has led to opportunities, like gallery representation with the Friesen+Lantz gallery in Sun Valley and a teaching fellowship at Moore College of Art and Design.
JR Valrey: Do you have a creative process? If you do, what are some of the rituals you have around painting?
Christopher Williams: Music is a big part of my art-making practice. I will listen to anything, from gospel to hip hop. Music influences my pieces by helping me focus on the moment and my connection with my subject. I am able to pull out emotions that the viewer can resonate with.
JR Valrey: You use very rich colors on the paintings that I have seen. What inspires your use of colors?
Christopher Williams: The beauty of Black skin and how we reflect and absorb light influences my color palette, from the viridian green to dioxazine purple and yellow ochre.
JR Valrey: Do you see the paintings in your head in total before you pick up a brush? Please describe.
Christopher Williams: Yes. Very often, whether I’m daydreaming or dreaming – lol – I’m always envisioning new ideas, sketching concepts. My main goal is to have a plan to connect with my audience and share how I view the beauty of Black culture.
JR Valrey: Do you listen to music while you’re painting? If so, who?
Christopher Williams: Specifically, I listen to E-40 when I start my painting and various other Bay Area hip hop artists. Then, when I get to painting my subject, I slow things down with a little gospel – The Winans or Take 6 – then ending with various R&B artists.
JR Valrey: It felt huge seeing my cousin get the recognition that your work deserves, and to see you celebrated for the extraordinary way in which you can handle that brush. How did it feel for you when you heard your cousin was reaching out to interview you for the national Black newspaper, the SF Bay View?
Christopher Williams: It is a huge honor. The fact that our family is artistic, patriotic and hardworking – someone should make a movie about your father and my grandfather. We truly have a legacy. And the fact that my cousin is an activist in the community makes me very proud.
JR Valrey: What galleries and where has your work been featured?
Christopher Williams: Friesen+Lantz gallery, Root Division, Crocker Art Museum, deYoung, Sacramento Kings Golden 1 Center, New York Times Square, Tunnels of the Mind, Hiram W. Johnson State Office Building and the San Francisco Chronicle.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about your upcoming gallery showings coming up in San Francisco?
Christopher Williams: In April 2023, I will be showing at the Jonathan Carver Moore gallery, a new Black-owned gallery. The title of the group show is: “Is It The Color of My Skin?” Stay tuned for April 23.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau and is founder of his latest project, the Ministry of Information Podcast. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Instagram.