Derek Fordjour’s ‘Strawman’ painting covers Juxtapoz magazine’s spring issue

THE LATEST ISSUE of Juxtapoz magazine features a painting by Derek Fordjour on the cover. Its subject is a well-dressed puppet. The figure and surrounding scene recall an earlier era of performance spanning vaudeville, circus, magic, and puppetry.

The culture of performance and sport are central elements in the work of Fordjour. He uses these themes to break down issues of race, identity and inequality. Her work explores spectacle and social structure; the power of the collective; and the agency (or lack thereof), vulnerability, and scrutiny that come with visibility and success.

Juxtapoz, spring 2022. Shown, DEREK FORDJOUR, “STRWMN”, 2020 (acrylic, charcoal, cardboard, oil pastel and glitter on newsprint mounted on canvas, 85 x 65 inches).

Thinking of her subject in these terms, Fordjour titled the cover image “STRWMN”. On Instagram, he captioned the artwork, with the question: “Feigning skill… Strawman wants you to see everything… except his strings! Have you ever felt like a straw man?

Inside the issue, Fordjour is interviewed by Charles Moore, art historian and author of “The Black Market: A guide to art collector.”

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Fordjour lives and works in New York. His paintings marry the brilliant color associated with fanfare and celebration with layers of newspaper and cardboard, humble materials he first used because they were affordable. He told Moore that he continues to work with the materials in order to connect his studio work to underresourced black and brown communities across the diaspora.

Fordjour and Moore engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about his practice. The artist then discussed what he learned from artist Nari Ward, his creative process and how he brings his ideas to life, why he ventured into new mediums beyond painting and the object of his next gallery exhibition in Los Angeles:

Artist Nari Ward served as Fordjour’s thesis supervisor at Hunter College where he earned his MFA. He considers him a friend, a mentor and an invaluable resource.

    Fordjour: When I was in school, I used to throw things away because space was limited. I really think I came to art as a process artist. I was more invested in the time I spent inside a work of art to create it.… The process was something I prioritized over the final product. Very often, after an installation, I want to throw things away.

    Nari was like, “No, man, you can’t throw that thing away.” As a student I couldn’t bear the thought of paying large storage bills – can you imagine how traumatic it was to hear when I was barely covering the rent? Nari explained the importance of keeping things in perpetuity, and if you look at his career, he has works of art that are on display 25 years, 30 years after they were originally made or shown. I had to change my relationship with the things I was producing and mature to accept proper management as part of my job. I credit Nari for this change.

While the basis of Fordjour’s practice is painting on mixed media canvas, he has also ventured into sculpture, installation, puppetry and performance.

    Fordjour: Let’s take an analogy. Painting is the heartbeat of my creative body. My interest in other mediums: sculpture, performance, cinema, are members that share a lifeline directly with painting. In addition, I also consumed a lot of theater and literature. I also like to travel a lot, and all of these things feed off each other. Building an exhibition gives me the opportunity to design an experience that is imbued with the same dynamic vitality that inspires me. This is how my creative mind and body work together and when you are on my show, I hope you can feel my process as well.

In February 2021, Fordjour joined David Kordansky in Los Angeles. His first solo exhibition with the gallery opens later this month on March 26.

    Fordjour: The title is Magic, Mystery & Legerdemain. I am very excited about this show! I’m working on a whole set of new paintings making connections to magic. I think of magic in all its forms: voodoo, white magic, black magic, black girl magic, magic niggers, Magic Johnson and orishas. I’m interested in who has the power to deceive in plain sight, for whom we’re willing to hang disbelief.

The conversation covered a number of additional topics, including Fordjour’s choice to exclusively employ The Financial Times newspaper to ground his canvases and depict sports few black people participate in. CT

IMAGE: Top right, Portrait of Derek Forjour. | Photo of Freddie L. Rankin II

MORE about Derek Fordjour in the Spring 2022 issue of Juxtapoz, where Charles Moore’s full interview is published

WATCH MORE Derek Fordjour and director Ava DuVernay discuss ‘Baker’s Dozen’ (2021), the artist’s 12-panel painting featuring images of jockeys in an Eadweard Muybridge-style composition. Continued

OPPORTUNITY Derek Fordjour created the Memphis Contemporary Art Summer Fellowship Program to introduce the next generation of artists from his hometown to the world of contemporary art through exhibition and professional education. The program is open to 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students based in Memphis, Tennessee, and provides each scholarship recipient with a full scholarship that covers all expenses. The application deadline for summer 2022 is March 18, 2022.

Derek Fordjour is one of many emerging artists who gained support from collector Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018). His work is illustrated in a seminal volume documenting his collection, “Fired Up! Ready to go! Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz. Charles Moore published “The Black Market: A guide to art collection” last year.

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