25 Questions for Afrofuturist Artist Robert Pruitt

Robert Pruitt
(Photo by Jason Woods, Courtesy of Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City CA)

Name: Robert A Pruitt

Age: 38 and counting

Occupation: Artist

City/Neighborhood: I live in a neighborhood called the Third Ward in Houston, Texas. It’s a historically Black community with a sizable artist presence.

The term Afrofuturism is sometimes used to describe your work. What does that term mean to you, and do you think it is correctly attributed to your work?

I’m not sure of the true meaning of the term but I like the attribution because of its vagueness. The term seems to have broad application and provide an opportunity for infinite redefinition. Because the materials and form of my work are very traditional and not futuristic, “afrofuturism” serves as an entry point into the layers of content embedded in the images.

You are a founder of the Houston-based art collective Otabenga Jones & Associates, which was a part of the 2006 Whitney Biennial (as were all of its individual members). How has the collective evolved since its inception when you and the other founders were students at Texas Southern University? What is the collective working on next? 

We have evolved into an underground network of guerrilla parenting and survivalist experts. Actually we’re completing our Creative Capital project focusing on food justice; hopefully it’ll debut in early 2014.

You’ve spoken about using art as a means to take control of the representation of black identity. How does the art world’s overwhelming whiteness make that mission more or less difficult? 

It makes it extremely difficult. Mostly because I’m unsure of the relationship between the art world and the real world. The art world, as it is now, doesn’t reach the audiences that I’m interested in. Multiple media platforms whose aesthetics are more racially diverse, are now competing with the art world for original, provocative imagery. I want to contribute to that conversation through the development of my work, not explicitly through my association with the art world, which is a complex relationship.

What project are you working on now?

I’m working on a comic book project with writer Mat Johnson.

What’s the last show that you saw?

“B?s.” This show features four Houston artists who’ve been exhibiting recently as a loose collective: Rabéa Ballin, Ann Johnson, Delita Martin, and Lovie Olivia. This show is up at Art League Houston.

What’s the last show that surprised you? Why?

Leslie Hewitt and Bradford Young’s “Untitled (Structures)” at the Menil Collection. I was amazed at the effectiveness of the moving image without sound. Light was a powerful figure in the work, it almost served as a character moving through various architectural spaces.

Describe a typical day in your life as an artist.

My day usually consists of a series of clever escapes from the monstrous demons of anxiety and self-doubt only to do epic battles against the hordes of time stealers and the Internet distractor beast in the forest of unanswered emails growing at the door of my studio, preventing me entry.

Do you make a living off your art?

HA! Sort of I guess. Hey get outta my business!!

What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?

Computer. It’s a boring answer, but it’s the truth.

Where are you finding ideas for your work these days?

My work has always come from the evolution and convergence of pop culture, science fiction and Black revolutionary culture.

Do you collect anything?

I have always collected comics off and on throughout my life. I’m in an “off” period right now.

What is your karaoke song?

I’m not sure they do pro-Black Hip Hop as karaoke.

What’s the last artwork you purchased?

A watercolor by Houston artist Jesse Lott.

What’s the first artwork you ever sold?

The first piece I ever sold was a small wooden assemblage piece. It was a wall assemblage piece that depicted a block of row houses. It was purchased by my art history professor, Dr. Alvia Wardlaw.

What’s the weirdest thing you ever saw happen in a museum or gallery?

A kid running and jumping full speed into a Robert Rauschenberg assemblage light piece.

What’s your art-world pet peeve?

Value. I don’t know who owns, controls, decides value in the art world.

What’s your favorite post-gallery watering hole or restaurant?

I’m a hermit. I don’t do the after party. So...my kitchen?

Do you have a gallery/museum-going routine?

I go when I hear about an interesting show. I try not to miss the shows at Project Row Houses and the CAMH. 

What’s the last great book you read?

The Illustrated Man.

What work of art do you wish you owned?

Anything by Charles White or Kerry James Marshall.

What would you do to get it?

What are you asking me?

What international art destination do you most want to visit?

I’ve always wanted Otabenga Jones & Associates to show in the Dak’Art Biennale. Personally, I’ve always wanted to visit Japan.

What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?

There are a number of artists working in Houston who need and deserve national visibility: Jamal Cyrus, Nathaniel Donnett, Autumn Knight, and Lovie Olivia amongst others.

Who’s your favorite living artist?

David Hammons.

What are your hobbies?

Finding basketball stats, gossip, and updating my fantasy team. 

Robert Pruitt, “Women,” opens July 18 at the Studio Museum in Harlem and runs through October 27, 2013.

To see images, click on the slideshow.