Thursday, March 22, 2007
But He's So Talented!
"L. A., L. A. big city of dreams, but everything in L.A. ain't always what it seems. You might get fooled if you come from out of town, but I'm down by law, and I've learned my way around…"
There are thousands of dream-seekers in Los Angeles, including myself, facing various challenges every day in reaching our goals. But not many dreamers are willing to hang on to their vision when the bottom falls out of it. One of L.A.'s own is in that select few. His story may even be worthy of seeing on the big screen, but Will Smith's recent Oscar-nominated performance beat him to it. Still, this artist isn't greedy. He would take a small screen deal, even if it's on an iPod. That's said jokingly to some degree, but work is work when the bills are due. Yet, this creative spirit is hungry not desperate. He desires to work in Hollywood, not get sucked in by it. What's ironic is that he's lived in Hollywood's shadow all his life, but never really benefited from the shade. "But he's so talented!" You might say. Yes, that's very true, but in the showbiz game, talent just ain' t enough.
Meet Enkone Goodlow, 34, visual artist extraordinaire. He's more than talented; he's what church folk call "anointed". We met two years ago at the Baldwin Hills Mall where he owned an airbrush business. What caught my attention first was not his art, but his hair. Enkone (pronounced ink-QUAN-nee) sported long flowing locks that reached the middle of his back. At that time, I had just begun growing mine, so to see a young brotha with such long hair immediately drew my attention. And yes, I did notice he was fine too. I'm not even going to front like my contact lenses weren't working. However, this article is not about his physical attributes. It's about his work, his anointing, and his struggles to follow his dreams.
The interview takes place at his spacious studio in Gardena, California, a little town just south of Los Angeles. I am greeted by his pit bull, Phoenix. She's surprisingly friendly with a gorgeous storm cloud coat. As the woman of the house, she wastes no time introducing herself and inspecting me. Thank God, I passed inspection. Comfortably dressed in his motorcycle gear—obviously, he arrived only minutes before I did—the man of the hour provides a space for us to sit. Surrounded by large art pieces and graffiti painted walls, we begin what Enkone claims is his first interview, ever. I find that surprising, but he explains appearing inarticulate is a major fear. Once our conversation begins, all fear is definitely put to rest. Not only is he articulate, but also well spoken on a range of topics concerning art, hip hop, and spirituality.
Q: What does your name mean?
It was originally Ink One because I was and still am a graffiti artist. That was my original graffiti name, E-N-K One, but as I matured physically and spiritually and culturally, my name changed also. It went from Enk One to Enkwone which is still spelled the same. And what went along with that name is "Supreme being of creativity". It’s a name that I created…I prayed to God what was the meaning [of his name] and that’s what came about.
Q: When did your love for art begin?
When I was a kid I was always into doing something artistic, whether it was destroying artistically or creating artistically…drawing, coloring. I just loved that kind of stuff. My dad is an artist. My uncle, Jesse, is my greatest inspiration. He was a fantastic artist. He was a technical illustrator and architect and also a painter. And my older cousin, Darryl, was a high influence on my art too.
Q: Did you do paint by numbers as a kid?
Yeah, there was paint by numbers, but I can’t actually remember finishing one. There were art supplies everywhere at my grandma’s house. There was this closet I would go into and there were art supplies…oil paints, water-colors, acrylics, boxes of paint by numbers, and art that other people did. I loved paint by numbers. I haven't even thought about that closet in…oh my god! (Laughs to himself)
Q: When did you start recognizing your talent?
When I got into graffiti art in junior high. That’s when I started liking some of the things I did. Before that everything I did I was kind of making it up, nothing in particular. With graffiti there was a type of formula to follow. There were different kinds of graffiti styles to imitate to mimic…the wild styles, the old school styles, block letters, particularly made with spray can or marker
Q: As a kid were you that artist that drew graffiti on anything you could find?
Yeah. Anything. Walls, freeways, buses. I got in trouble doing graffiti. I got kicked out of 5 high schools not for vandalizing…I got caught writing here or there.
Q: When did you start making money as an artist?
I started my own business when I was sixteen while in high school doing art. I was doing graffiti, writing on everything. I got an airbrush, 'cause I wanted to learn airbrush so I could do graffiti. I wrote on one of my shirts at home just all over it. Just gibberish. And of course, I came up in that era—and I am today—where I could care less about what anybody thought about what I was wearing. When I wore the shirt to school one of my teachers went crazy. “Enkone, do me one!” She made a really big deal about it. So she brought me a shirt and said, “just do it like that one!” Then eventually her friend wanted a shirt. I guess that’s the first thing you could say I did professionally. I was maybe about 14 then.
Q: How did your first shop come about?
I airbrushed some overalls for this hip hop dance crew I was hanging with. I was also cutting hair at lunch, doing designs. That was the era when everybody had the high top fade with steps. I was cutting steps and weird haircuts, but couldn’t find anybody to give me a nice haircut, so people told me about this barbershop that did lines and graphics just like I did. It was the Cosmic Store in Inglewood. So I went there to get my haircut. When the owner of the shop saw my friend he went crazy about what I did on my friend’s overalls. “Who did those threads, man? I ain’t never seen nothing like that. Dig that!” Then he pointed up stairs. “You see that balcony up there? That’s going to be your airbrush shop!” So went up there and looked at it, but I really didn’t take him serious. “What you need to start your airbrush shop? Come back tomorrow and we’ll get all that?” I still didn’t take him serious until my buddy took me back up there. And damn, sure enough, that dude put us in his car and drove us all the way to Orange County and bought everything that I needed—the air compressor, paint, easels, he just bought everything. I set up my airbrush shop right there. I was a senior in high school. Every since then I’ve been in business for myself.
Q: Was it a booming business?
It never really did get big. I started doing stuff for my friends but they had no money to pay for it. But it was cool cause it gave me more experience in how to airbrush clothes… At 17 or 18, after I graduated from school, I opened up another shop. And things took of from there. My skills took a turn somewhere. I got away from doing just graffiti to doing logos and illustrations. Started drawing other things. People would start asking me, "can you do this?" And I don’t know what it was, but I would lie every time. So then I would come up with it.
Q: I noticed that you've never mentioned going to art school?
I failed mostly every art class in school because I was a graffiti writer. That was the kind of art I wanted to do. So in high school that’s what I did in class. I was a B-Boy. Period. Plus, I was class clown too. The first art teacher that I did really get along with was Norris Starkey at Locke. He really cared. He was the first teacher that grabbed me and shook me like, “Boy you’re messing up. You’re messing up your life!” So I would come to his class and do what he asked me to do. That was the first class that I ever got a good grade in art…He basically made me graduate from high school. Nobody was like go to school, go to college. …Then two or three years after high school I was running my business. I was doing art for St. Ides, Miller, all sorts of stuff. So by that time school wasn’t really on my mind 'cause I was making money. I was pulling like two to $400 a day sometimes on an average. When my cousin said he was going to art school I said “You going to go to learn how to draw naked people, draw faces, and fruit!” That’s what I thought art school was. He went to Pasadena Art School, the best school. Back then, I wished I had been like “oh let me check that out!” But I didn’t. I had it in my head that art was school was drawing grapes, and naked old people! (Laughs)
Q: You’re not having the same financial success you were several years ago when Reebok, Mattel Toys, and other companies were calling. What keeps you inspired now?
Then I had no agent, no artist guild, no manager and I was getting those job. A lot of them were really, really big. I was only like 20….Now, I just like doing the art. I could shut it down and work for Fed Ex like everybody encourages me to do. But I don’t want to just give it up, 'cause I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet. And where that is, I’m not even sure of. But I know it’s got to start somewhere. It’s got to start with me creating avenues of revenue through my art. Right now I’m stuck between doing it for the love or doing it for the money. Which is the worst place for an artist to be cause it’s stressful and interferes with your creativity and your motivation. I’m worried about how to pay my bills when I could be painting….I’m sitting here thinking, “What could I do artistically that would make everybody want to buy it (his art)?
Q: Would you describe yourself as a struggling artist?
Yes, definitely for right now. But that’s just for right now.
Q: How has this new age of technology affected your business?
I used to be able to just walk in and get work. Now everything is digital. Things are way different than before. I don't know how to do PhotoShop and all that stuff. I can't get work. I've been on Craigslist and other places and they all want graphic artists.
Q: How difficult has it been breaking into the entertainment industry?
It’s been very difficult for me. I haven’t done much celebrity stuff at all. I’ve been trying for longest to hook up with celebrities and get some of that showbiz work. It just hasn’t happened. … I’m sure all of my different art styles could tie in some how or some way.
Q: In Hollywood, you find a lot of creative people. But generally creative people are not business people. Do you see yourself as a business man?
I’m 100% creative person. I can do the art all day…million dollar pieces. But how do I sell it, who do I sell it to?
Q: How do you put a price on your work?
It’s very hard. That’s my biggest problem. It’s the hardest thing coming up with prices for art. Listening to industry [art industry], watching the industry and what they are charging to get around about average prices. Or it could be the time factor or how hard it’s going to be, how much is involved… Honestly when I don’t need money is when I'm most creative. I’m more productive then. But when I need money it’s a bigger challenge. You have to figure out some sort of concept to please the client or then you’ve got the timeline, which artists aren’t good at…There so many things that interfere…Am I charging too much? Am I charging not enough?
Q: What makes you different from most artists?
You know there are inconsistent artist. One day it would it be a nice piece and the next day they really don’t care how it looks ‘cause they’re just trying to get paid. I put my all into everything I do, every single time, no matter what it is. It’s consistent every time.
Q: So do you live to paint or paint to live?
Both! And saying that I’m a struggling artist….it’s almost like I don’t have a choice to paint to live. What better way to make money than to do something that you love.
Q: If you were not an artist, what else would you be doing?
I have no idea. I've never taken it into consideration.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I feel like I’m a success because I’m totally self-taught and God has blessed me everything I needed to know to be a really good artist.
Q: You’ve often mentioned God and spirituality. What role do they play in your work?
The leading character ‘cause honestly most of the time when I’m painting I don’t even know what I’m doing. It just flows through me. I have a formula that I use, but a lot of time when I’m just doing some art it just comes about. It just happens. The art flows through me…God is flowing through me to create that piece no matter what it is. I can’t even explain it. And the end result, when I see it, it’s like “I did that?” It’s unbelievable even to me. I can’t do nothing but thank God for that because I know that I wasn’t the one that actually did it. He used me as a vessel to create that piece. I totally dedicate everything to God cause I know I couldn’t do it by myself.
To see more of Enkone's work go to www.myspace.com/30224580. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.