There was a time in the 80’s that Jersey natives could not drive anywhere in the northern part of the state, particularly Essex County, and not see the work of young Jerry Gant. Not to be confused with his contemporaries who used vibrant colors and amazing graphics to tag their name on any and all open spaces, Jerry departed from that norm and depicted strong ethnic male and female faces with even stronger statements to make passersby not only ponder the messages but wonder about the messenger. A graduate from Newark’s Arts High School, Jerry Gant is the byproduct of middle child syndrome. “I had to be a superhero and a scientist to keep my imagination engaged.” In a world where the oldest and the youngest get most of the attention, he relied on imagination to keep himself entertained and honed it into creative expression.
Fast forward 30 years later…. Walk into Jerry Gants home and you enter an almost surreal environment that is reminiscent of a mad scientist’s workshop but with a lot more color and ethnicity. In one corner sits twisted, hinged, welded metals that are shaped into amazing ethnic images. The other corner houses spray paints and stencils (tools of the trade). And yet another holds screen printed and treated clothing across from another that houses a desk where he writes. After mere minutes there, you cannot help but ask yourself, “Who is this guy?” One thing that is certain, this artist is a jack of all trades and master of many.
GRIOTS REPUBLIC (GR): ARE YOU A GRAFFITI ARTIST, A SCULPTOR, A POET, A DESIGNER? JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
Jerry Gant: Craig Mack said, “My style ain’t a style so I can go buck wild” and so what I’ve learned from hip hop is there aren’t any rules. I didn’t know a painter couldn’t be a poet or a poet couldn’t be a sculptor. There is no mandate that says I can’t do it all. It all depends on what space I am in. I feel it and I use whatever medium I have at my disposal to give it a voice. I move between mediums with regularity that they are all now interconnected. I love transforming physical spaces.
GR: TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MESSAGES. I SAW SOMETHING ON CHANCELLOR AVENUE IN NEWARK THAT I KNEW YOU HAD PAINTED ON A STOREFRONT. IT READ, “WHO’S NEXT.” WHAT IS THE MESSAGE THERE?
Jerry Gant: There was a show at the criminal justice building at Rutgers called, Who’s Next. They were a series of portraits of ordinary guys, a shoemaker and a chef and these men had been assassinated by the police. I decided to do that piece right by the jail.
GR: WHEN AND WHERE DO YOU TAG?
Jerry Gant: Cloudy days are good. Late nights or early mornings. I love old buildings. I look for places off the beaten track. I love the boxes the train conductors use and although they cover it up regularly with silver paint, for me that’s like a new canvas and for folks who follow me, it gives me an opportunity to communicate fresh and new with each coat of new paint. The streets never sleep. Eternally awake.
GR: WHERE IS YOUR FURTHEST TAG?
Jerry Gant: I’ve done work up and down the eastern seaboard, England, Mexico and Canada.
GR: TELL OUR READERS ABOUT YOUR MOST MEMORABLE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE IN ENGLAND.
Jerry Gant: I was in Brixton trying to get my poetry chops up and I went to a comedy club and I was told to sign up to do a piece, so I did. Well, the announcer comes on and sets my time on stage up as me coming from nowhere and about to do some mediocre stuff in comparison to what they are used to. So, I walked on stage to a stone-faced (almost Apollo Theatre-esque) crowd. Essentially, he had set me up to fail but by the time I got to my second piece, the audience was transformed. Their looks of admiration and the applause told me that I had surpassed their expectation. The same cat who set me up, ended up asking me back. So, I encourage anyone who is hitting the stage, to travel outside of their comfort zone to a place where the language, jokes and colloquialisms are different and rock it. If it makes it there, you know you are onto something. Later we crashed at a friend of a friend’s flat in exchange for doing a set on a pirate radio station. We get on there, did a two-hour slot and rocked that!
GR: TELL US ABOUT YOUR FASHION MOVES.
Jerry Gant: Well I know you know because Griots just did a piece on the Lincoln Park Music Festivals and how that was a by-product of night-life culture. My age-group is post disco but one thing that stuck was the importance to be seen and recognized when you went out to a hot spot. Your attire is something to be taken very seriously. You could not be seen in the same place with the same outfit. Don’t come rocking the same thing you had on last week. So, not being wealthy, we had to be creative and make our stuff. We changed our clothes by literally changing them. Whether it’s silk screening, tie dyeing, bleaching or even painting directly onto something, you changed it forever.
I love denim. I did some research. I work heavily with denim and interestingly enough the Indigo Plantations were considered the death row for slaves beyond cotton and textiles. If you worked with indigo, your life expectancy was drastically reduced because the vat that makes the indigo was so putrid that it would kill you. Runaway slaves were sentenced to work there as punishment and certain death. Denim has a long history rooted in cotton and slavery. I looked at using bleach as a way to purify it and purge the ghost from it and cleanse the history. People wear denim every day and it’s a huge part of their wardrobe and do not know its history. It’s not just clothes. For me, it’s a canvas.
GR: WHAT’S NEXT FOR JERRY GANT?
Jerry Gant: Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t define yourself, someone else will damn sure do it for you.” I’m going to let my works define who I am as a person. My works and the messages I infuse in them. Yeah, that’s the way I’m going to play it.