A Woke State of Mind: Interview with Artist Woke
By Jay Sanchez
The genius of Artist Woke has been a beacon and voice for “out Norf” a.k.a. the North Nashville community for years. His surrealism and street inspirations have made him one of the most unique muralist & painters to grace the city of Nashville. His narrative is the representation of the change that’s been accomplished, and the change that is still very much needed. Woke took some time to chop it up with me late one night in May. He touched on many subjects including his introduction to graffiti and painting, his time at TSU, importance of involvement in the community, and the current state of Nashville. His genius will make you wonder; Is the city really Woke? Or is it pretending by creating the illusion?
Unapologetic… Raw & Uncensored…
“Take time to learn about yourself, always remember who you are.
I Am… We Are the table…”
Jay Sanchez: Number:INC is now reaching the masses beyond Memphis, Nashville, and even TN. Tell the reader who Woke is? What defines and inspires Woke?
WOKE: Who I am is a bit of a counter lost story, I want the reader to make that determination via my work. My story is a reflection of my community “out Norf”, hanging with friends, my family, and the passion I infuse into all my work. Through all that I’ve always found inspiration in simply living. The ability to experience my time in college, my introduction to others artist, interaction with the city, and just being around different perspectives has created inspiration in me. I’m only 30 years old man, just living in the moment and staying true to myself can easily define who I am.
Jay Sanchez: Growing up in Los Angeles gave me the privilege of having graffiti and murals be my first exposure to art. Tell me about your exposure to street art? Describe your love for that form of expression?
WOKE: Man at first I had no concept of what graffiti was, it was around town yet I never really noticed it. One day I went over to a friend’s house, he was sketching in his black book. I started looking at all his sketches in that book with disbelief of his talent, “you didn’t draw that” I said. I was like “what is this? bro you got to show me how to do this.” he said no at first, but after bugging him for so long he finally gave in (laughs). I started to notice all the graffiti around town after this. My love for graffiti then pushed me to join a tagging crew, we were on some high school stuff. “Shout out to the S.A. Crew”. I fell in love with spreading the message all around town and using this form of art for self-expression. Those were some good times!
Jay Sanchez: What else were you doing at that time?
WOKE: I was spending a lot of time elevating my skill as a graffiti artist. I was very much into computers at that time as well. Loved the act of taking computers apart with friends, adding ram, learning about computer technology and software. When I got accepted to TSU I was leaning towards a degree in Computer Science, my career choice was only focused on making some money. I wasn’t really 100% percent sold on my choice, but after having a conversation with Artist Ol Skool that all changed.
JS: What changed after that conversation?
WOKE: Ol Skool suggested I think more in depth about my decision, I wasn’t sure about it at that moment. He then convinced me to meet with Artist Michael McBride. Speaking to Michael gave me a better sense of what I wanted to do, he suggested I go for an art major which I did. Those conversations played a big role in the inspiration behind my creative space.
JS: You’re telling me WOKE was close to becoming a computer WIZ!?
WOKE: (Laughs) Yea man!
JS: “That would’ve been really fucked up bro!” (Laughs) With that said, did your decision of majoring in art give birth to WOKE the painter?
WOKE: Most definitely! My freshman year of college found me experimenting with all sorts of art expression. I was introduced to so many creative forms, street art took a backseat during this time. One of my classes focused on painting, wasn’t really into it until I was introduced to Justin BUA. Bro, that man is a legend! BUA gave me inspiration unlike I’ve experienced before, I started painting heavily at that point. My first series is very reflective of that inspiration.
JS: What other forms of inspiration were you experiencing at that time? How do your murals and paintings reflect that?
WOKE: Muralist around the world had me captivated (and still do) with the idea of traveling all over and having my narrative infused in conversation or a location in Paris or even South Africa. When it came to my paintings, I started to dive in a more surrealism mindset. Salvador Dali’s work fascinated me to the point where my paintings began to reflect that inspiration. Hip Hop and surrealism have been my biggest inspiration since the early days. I feel that my work is an overall reflection of life around me, and “Norf” Nashville. It’s very important that my community is always represented regardless of the location I’m working at or canvas I’m painting in.
JS: Interesting you touch on that bro! Some see you as a voice for North Nashville, and your involvement in the community is well documented with your work. Why is your community so important to you?
WOKE: When I was a kid, I remember there was this beautiful older lady in my neighborhood that would teach us about art. Ms. Renee would feed us lunch, and even take us on field trips where art was the focus. We never had artist visit our school! Ol Skool was the first artist I remember meeting that looked like me! Meeting him didn’t happen until I was in high school man. It’s important that the kids in my community see me involved because I want them to see representation in the arts, they need to see me and know they’re also capable of doing what I’m doing. The Nashville I grew up in is no longer the same. The conversation and my involvement are even more important as the city continues to change.
JS: Is it safe to say that the art community has been more effective in their involvement or inclusion of other communities?
WOKE: It has gotten better, but we still have more work to do. We must continue to push the conversation and become more involved! Let’s get out and speak more on this, it’s very important. I see more business owners opening their walls to muralist like myself. I see more representation at these galleries. A lot of good change has happened in the past few years, we are still working for more.
JS: Blows my fucken mind to see where Nashville is today! Is Gentrification the change you are referring to?
WOKE: Yea man! It’s been happening for a while now. Gentrification is becoming more noticeable in my side of town, “out NORF.” Inclusion and representation of other communities is very important. One day people are going to wake up and find out their neighborhood is gone, we in the community must be more proactive in this conversation. “Let’s get more involved.”
JS: What’s your take on Gentrification?
WOKE: I believe that change is good, I see the good in improving communities. Unfortunately, I see a lot of greed going on right now. I see a wave just coming in and changing everything, seems like they’ve created some sort of illusion to make people feel as if this is what their community needed. The problem with that is the community soon after loses their identity; events native to that side of town disappear or get a new name, or we simply “can’t no longer afford to live there.”
JS: How does your work reflect the current state of the city of Nashville?
WOKE: My work will always be reflective of my community, North Nashville, and everything that’s a part of me. It’s important that I speak on homelessness, the lack of affordable housing, education, and everything affecting what I call home.
JS: That’s powerful bro! “What we do NOW is what matters.” The time of wanting to create change is past tense, we must make it a verb!
JS: Tell us where Woke is creatively speaking?
WOKE: Got a few things going on; working on a few murals. About to unveil my latest work for GEODIS Park, very excited for that. Looking at other opportunities, is that time of year when I get active in the streets. I am also currently working on a new series of paintings.
JS: Could you give us a few details on what we can expect?
WOKE: The series is inspired by a painting I made of my grandmother. She’s a very important figure in my life, at 94 years of age she’s still coming out to support my work. I want this series to create a conversation not previously spoken of in previous work. As I continue to “take a moment to appreciate my experiences out Norf” I am continuing to “broaden my reach.” I’m feeling very passionate about this narrative. I look forward to finishing the series late this year or early 2023.
JS: What conversation are you looking to create?
WOKE: We no longer want a seat at the table! “I Am the Table, You Are, We Are the Table…”