Black identity politics weren’t a salient concern of Strother’s—until he left his all white Los Angeles high school.
It doesn’t seem like blackness or being black is what drives the artist’s work. Rather, he describes identity as an inescapability: if he’d choose not to talk about blackness the refusal in itself would still be making a statement. But Strother doesn’t preach, the artist relies on humour to keep topics like race and civil rights from getting “real heavy”.
Together with his girlfriend he runs a little publishing house. The name? Coloured Publishing, of course.
The bright neon colours of Devin Troy Strother’s work communicate about a current cultural understanding that isn’t talked about, or areas where dignity may be hurt.
His work—mostly paintings and elaborate mixed-media installations—is an amalgam of different sources, inspirations, sights and ideas. Like in his show ‘Space Jam’ with Marlborough Chelsea in 2015 which was dedicated entirely to Michael Jordan (“because he’s the best athlete in the world, not the best black athlete”), those references are never hidden or denied. They are a substantial part of the 20th Century artist who re-appropriates and regurgitates the mass of things available around him.
Small details mix with grand swooshes of colour on large canvases which amount to something like contemporary life moodbaords. Strother often calls his style naive, signalling that even though he went to illustration school his drawings and paintings consciously aren’t as elaborate as they could be.
After graduating in 2009 him and his girlfriend sent several emails to various Tumblrs, a medium on its high point back then, to promote Strother’s work. It gained momentum through simultaneous reposting and suddenly Kanye West blogged about the artist’s work too. Later, West’s agent called to acquire a painting. The sale didn’t go through but afterwards the galleries started calling.
Strother’s witty titles are an integral part of his work and can take weeks to find. He’s determined to use the word ‘nigga’ in a show title at some point in the future