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The Creative Liberation of Rahmaan ‘Statik’ Barnes

The freedom to create without rules, limits and restrictions is the type of work environment that most artists strive for. Creative Liberation, the upcoming solo exhibition of celebrated Chicago artist Rahmaan “Statik” Barnes, investigates the politics of artistic reign within his own career while also asking fellow artists to push themselves towards this goal. Leading up the the show at RGB Lounge on November 11th, I asked Statik to break down exactly what creative liberation means to him, how our city makes it more difficult for its artists to escape constraints and reach that destination, and how graffiti helps fuel Chicago’s economy and feed families.

Exhibition Flyer for Creative Liberation, 2011. (Image courtesy of Rahmaan Statik Barnes.)

Tempestt Hazel: Your upcoming show at RGB Lounge is called Creative Liberation. In your opinion what does it take for an artist to have artistic freedom?

Rahmaan ‘Statik’ Barnes: To produce art from an internal perspective, for personal reasons. That can be presented to the world and still be seen as art, and changing the way we see art. To inspire people and set social trends through producing art. These social trends inspired by free art can often lead common people to think free. As an artist, to influence people to thinking freely, and making art that saves the world is Artist freedom.

TH: How does the work in this show illustrate your artistic freedom in a way that your past work may not have?

RSB: Though the use of more mixed media, contemporary painting projects, and art works made of recycled materials. These art works explores the concept of making art from discarded materials.

TH: : Is complete creative liberation even possible when trying to make a living as an artist and when success for artists tends to be highly market-driven?

RSB: It is the artist fighting for creative liberation–that’s what creates trends in the art market. These artists create the true cultural identity of society. For example, hip hop is a sub culture, that was started by inner city kids having fun through a creative means. This motive of inner city kids doing art for art sake, is what started the modern graffiti movement, rap music, DJ/ producer music, and break dancing, These forms of art worked as a creative outlet for inner city youth that would have been committing other substantial crimes.

People creating non market driven art sets trends and creates home grown culture.

TH: Part of the issue you want to address is also the freedom to make work in the public sphere without law, zoning and censorship restrictions. What would be some of the pros and cons of opening up this public arena for artists?

RSB: 1. Marketing companies have privatized our visual public space, with little or no regulation. Marketing companies are corporations. Corporations have the same legal rights as people. It seems like creative freedom can also go to the highest bidder. The highest bidders are big budget corporations. These same corporations higher the brightest minds in the world to make and sell you garbage. These large corporations occupy your visual space to sell you trash, delusions of grandeur, and death.

2. Out of all of the things to police, why police creativity? The world is currently on fire, society is declining, and people still think graffiti the problem? If your wall or property has been or is currently vandalized. Do some research and work with a local talented artist to organize a graffiti/mural project on your wall, this way your wall has substantially less odds of getting vandalized.

3. This is America. Buffing graffiti and murals is a lucrative business–it will become privatized. No graffiti leaves the guys who buff graffiti with no jobs. There you have it. Part of our local economy make large sums of money buffing (destroying) art. Buffing graffiti actually makes jobs and feeds families. There is something to be gained on all sides.

TH: In your experience, are the restrictions in Chicago different from those in other cities? In other words, is it more difficult for an artist like yourself to create work in Chicago versus other cities?

RSB: Yes it can be unusually difficult, considering it is Chicago. Chicago is a world class city, yet cities with a smaller capacity have more vibrant public art, in abundance. This is one of the many reasons why Chicago will always be the third city. This is also why people from New York and L.A confuse Chicago with Milwaukee.

People here are traditional, sometimes too traditional. Sometimes too much tradition creates narrow minds and stifles creative growth. To stifle your creative growth creates ego, and where there is too much ego there is a lot of bad, predictable art, in some cases no art.

Universal Magnetic, Spray paint on wood panel, 36x50in., 2011. (Image courtesy of the artist.)

TH: You state that this exhibition was motivated by your intention to inspire artists to make work that is challenging and inquisitive. Are you seeing a lack of that kind of work being made right now?

RSB: If you are an artist that spends more time criticizing other art rather than producing your own art, that makes you insecure as an artist. Be a good sport and stop hating. If you are a rapper and you make songs on how many cars you have and how much you get paid while we are currently in a recession, that makes you an asshole. Last if you are an artist that is active, and you do not acknowledge the works of other artist before and after your time, that makes you a naïve artist. Open your mind and think outside of the box.

TH: What is our visual reality? What role does public art play in that?

RSB: Visual reality is the appearance of the world around you, the power through controlling your visual reality can influence the common persons state of thinking. Local artists create the visual and tangible reality for their community. The local artists, theaters, galleries, musicians, give communities cultural and intellectual identities. Local people are the public. The public as a collective can stop the privatizing of public space.

TH: Is there significance of the date of the exhibition?

RSB: 11.11.11 celebrates the future, and your destiny. It is a very powerful date in the universe. Exhibitions like this comes once every thousand years, it is a once in a life time opportunity. Come out and support.

TH: Thinking about your more recent work, how has it evolved to be what it is now? What new things are you investigating that maybe you weren’t in the past?

RSB: A more thematic presentation, new ways of staying motivated to produce art. Staying true to your art is being creatively unpredictable. Being unpredictable gives you Style.

TH: What do you imagine people with take away from this exhibition?

RSB: Inspiration to produce art. Good conversation. Self empowerment. Some fresh walk away art. Tee Shirts, Prints, and stickers.

Creative Liberation opens on November 11th from 7pm – 12pm at RGB Lounge, 1420 N. Milwaukee Avenue.  For more information on the exhibition, visit

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