The Forget Me Nots: Oil Painting

Artist Statement

Each body of work is a section from the chapters of a fictional story I am writing, titled The Land of the Forget Me Nots. The story explores contemporary ideas, fantasy, and heritage through the lens of Afrofuturism. The artworks and the written story work in tandem, encouraging each work’s forward progress.

The paintings that I have submitted follow my main characters into a mysterious land where they meet creatures that are struggling to survive, but maintain life by adapting to their environment. The relationship between my main characters and the creatures they encounter becomes symbiotic where they need each other to accomplish their goals.

I borrow, mix, and assemble motifs from history and contemporary times. The results are abstract figurative creatures whose various elements provide a deeper meaning into the psyche of the character’s personalities and tribulations. My process takes advantage of all forms of technology, but I start composing my images traditionally, working with pen and paper, using gestural marks in a similar style as automatic drawing. I later pull these images into programs like Corel Painter, Maya, and Photoshop to elaborate on forms and structures. When I compose a loose idea on the digital platforms, I approach my painting studio and schedule a playdate with materials—firstly working loose and free. Before I rest my work, at the end of the day, I spend my last hours reimagining that day’s progress by refining and magnifying the ideas in new sketches that I can experiment with the next day. The paintings are the results of months of erasures and corrections that reach a final stage when I become satisfied with the image and direction of the storyline.

My practice has always been influenced by classical literary works, animation, and graphic novels. My earliest contact with what I believed to be art was political cartoons and the comic strips that existed in newspapers. Those art forms grabbed my attention because they challenged the viewer to understand the hidden meaning of symbolism and the creator’s point of view. Political cartoons were effective and smart. I enjoyed how they discussed the highs and lows of society using iconography.

When I developed a more mature understanding of art, I truly admired artworks that challenged traditional aesthetics while serving a role in documenting history. To this day, the art I find powerful and interesting manages to fulfill both roles. I try to make sure my work stays faithful to that idea of being more than decoration.

Socially, I am interested in the idea of coolness as a rebellion to society’s norms. Coolness has always been a protest to tradition. Eye catching inventions, grown from the organic grounds of conviction, usually rise to the mantel of being art in my eyes. My interest lies in making art that has that aim.

Roger Allan Cleaves was born in Memphis, TN, and lives and works in Mississippi. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Memphis where he participated in the Yale Norfolk Summer School of Art. At the University of Wisconsin—Madison, Cleaves received his Master of Fine Arts. His studio practice drives to define his unique perspective on society through visual storytelling using ingenuity and stimulating content as canons. Currently, Cleaves is writing a fictional story that has strong ties to themes concerning Afrofuturism. The story investigates social themes, fantasy, and heritage and is a springboard for his latest art works.