“Art Illuminating Life,” with Guest, Painter, Sculptor, Illustrator, Chaz Guest and Musical Guests, Singer, Lynn Cardona and Guitarist and Composer, Dori Amarilio on The LIFE CHANGES Show
Chaz Guest is an American artist who creates paintings, drawings and sculptures that are original, inspiring and breathtaking. Over the past 20 years his work has reached an ever growing list of esteemed private and public collectors, including the President of the United States, Barack H. Obama.
He has introduced his patrons to a pallet of Pozulli red, Egyptian blue, and Naples yellow. Everything about his work is unique, from the linen canvas to the use of ink and oil, to the actual subjects of the paintings themselves.
CHAZ GUEST AN AMERICAN ARTIST
by A. Scott Galloway
“Chaz Guest is not only a talented artist technically, but he brings a fluidity and emotion to his pieces that draw the viewer into his art. Each tableau tells a story about his subjects, deepening the viewer’s connection to Chaz’s varied and stimulating worldview. Such an open, spiritual and generous man, Chaz Guest speaks to the humanity we all share.”
– John and Kimberley Emerson, Chairman of The Music Center, Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, California and his wife.
Chaz Guest is an American artist of profound inventiveness, ingenuity and inspiration. Blessed with a gift for not only realizing his richly textured visions but also tapping into the vibrant essence of those visions, Chaz Guest leaves those who encounter his works emotionally moved in powerfully personal ways. The catalyst behind that art lies in the way that Mr. Guest unwaveringly strives for honesty, purity and excellence in all that he creates. The man has literally and purposefully willed himself into artistic greatness.
“After I sold my first major painting,” Mr. Guest recalls, “and realized that people were going to be digging deep into their pockets for my pieces, I vowed to match that depth by creating with all of the strength and power I can muster…every time. And I never ‘sing the same song’ twice.”
Among Mr. Guest’s ever growing list of esteemed and influential patrons are other creative artists of great renown. The first person to ever pay top dollar for one of Mr. Guest’s creations was contemporary gospel great BeBe Winans.
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock has one of Chaz’s pieces hanging in his Hollywood home. Actor Josh Lucas purchased a painting of John Coltrane by Chaz from a Las Vegas gallery and was so moved that he emailed Guest to arrange a meeting to discuss the work in more depth. Film and television content creator Tyler Perry met Chaz at an Oprah Winfrey fundraiser and, after reconnecting with Chaz at his home studio, treated himself to five of his paintings for his new Atlanta home (hey, it was his birthday).
Chaz painted an amazing portrait of the first African American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall which graced then Senator Barack Obama’s Chicago office is now currently hanging in the Oval Office. Chaz has created a portrait of President Obama from the “Various Gallery” and limited edition serigraphs are available.
Vanessa Williams – the stunning triple threat star of Broadway, Hollywood, television and musical recordings who recently sat for a portrait by Mr. Guest – shares, “Chaz Guest is a true renaissance man – not only a gifted painter but a martial arts instructor and all-around visionary. The first of his pieces to capture my attention was of a boy entrapped in slavery from the “Cotton Gallery” painted over the faded background of an American flag. However, the first one that I purchased was ‘Lisa and the Mare’ from the collection of Vanessa Williams (“Dance Gallery”) – a beautifully rendered painting that captures a sensuous woman of color with my most beloved animal: a strong, statuesque horse. Chaz’s subtle color palette and intense portraits make the viewer feel present within the scene.”
Chaz’s story begins in Niagara Falls where he and his nine brothers and sisters (he being the 7th) were raised by their parents. A crucial early memory set the tone for the path Chaz would choose. “Growing up in Niagara Falls, I was subjected to nature and silence…which taught me to be comfortable and welcoming of silence. When we went fishing, my job was digging for worms. I would be silent, but my hands were in the Earth. That was the first gift – a connection to the universe. The second gift was my father, Reverend Theodore Guest, being a minister, which gave me a connection to spirituality. The third is my mother, Algirtha, who remains my rock. Seeing my grandparents and learning about my great grandparents, I realized that we all extend from exceptional gene pool. I had no choice but to push myself…hard.
Though his parents divorced when Chaz was 10, his mother moved the children to West Philadelphia. Shortly after, Chaz had an epiphany while watching the 1976 Olympics. “I was fascinated by a gymnast from Japan named Shun Fujimoto. I watched him execute the routine of a lifetime on the rings then dismount onto a broken knee. The moment he thudded on the mat and I saw him grimace yet keep his composure, that man’s ‘Zen’ traveled clear around the globe to this little boy in Philly. He led me to my creative process. I wanted to know what he knew – to know accomplishment at his level of dedication and sacrifice. I wanted to be great at something – great in the sense of touching people profoundly with something of my creation.”
Similarly inspired by the likes of Paul Robeson, Michael Jackson and Tiger Woods, Chaz tried many things and considered many options. He played saxophone with hopes of being the next Charlie Parker, but soon felt he started too late. Chaz also wanted to be an Olympic gymnastics contender, but bowed to that sport’s greats who’d started their training as children. Chaz did win a 5th place gold cup in the Eastern Division Championships as a gymnast at Southern Connecticut State University. But after that, he refused to waste precious time on anything in which he could not excel.
Then Chaz remembered another episode from his childhood. “When I was 5, we were given a class assignment but instead I filled my entire paper up with coils. The teacher passed my desk and asked, ÔWhere did you get that shape from?Õ She could sense I was on to something.” The visual arts were his destined medium, but he didn’t focus on themÉuntil 28. “When I did art, people noticed me,” he continues. “Painting was my last hope. Other than that, I didn’t see anything magical about me. When I finally focused, the universe said, ‘It’s about time.'”
Along the way, Chaz dodged many distractions, always on some higher search that kept him out of the ghetto – mentally, spiritually and physically. His diligence paid off. After moving to New York, a visit to The Museum of Modern Art opened his eyes to the works of the Greek painter De Chirico (especially “The Song of Love”). The interesting thing is that directly across from it was the French artist Balthus’ “Andre’ Derain,” a painting of a man and his daughter that Chaz found eerily off putting. “Later in life, I wound up absolutely loving his work – copying many of his painting techniques” Chaz admits, “I remember having a very passionate discussion about Balthus for half an hour with (actor) Richard Gere in the middle of an electrifying Oscar party. The icing on the cake is that I actually became friendly with BalthusÕ daughter Harumi after she attended one of my exhibitions and had the pleasure of painting her.”
A chance visit to the Village Vanguard club found him absent mindedly making sketches on cocktail napkins of the late, great jazz singer Shirley Horn as he sat mesmerized by her molasses delivery and honeyed voice. Suddenly, the city became his muse. “I was like an urchin,” he describes, “eating up the scenery of the streets, walking at all hours of the night and becoming one with this exciting new creative process.” The jazz heartbeat of the city also nurtured boldness and improvisation within his spirit. On a whim, he decided to move onto a Soho roof, somehow sensing that this was a place he belonged. Three weeks later, he was living in an apartment there, and synergetic happening after happening brought new revelations, opportunities and great people directly into his pathway.
Chaz met a young saxophonist named Kenny Garrett who was playing with the great Miles Davis. While walking past a nightclub, Chaz was drawn by the ferociousness of Kenny’s playing which reminded him of the way his father used to preach. Later Garrett was stopped in his tracks by a poster Chaz had painted of John Coltrane that was so realistic it was if the man was leaping off of the paper. The two had to meet and when they did a brotherhood was christened. Chaz wound up accompanying Garrett’s trio (then consisting of Kenny Kirkland on piano, Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums and Nat Reeves on bass) to Tokyo where he painted on stage while the band played. “That really opened me up,” Chaz states. “I had to rely more on the feeling than precise execution. It taught me not to think as much because I just had to get something down.”
Now living in the heart of Los Angeles, Chaz Guest resides in a studio bustling with works in various states of completion, and the sounds of especially fine music always wafting from his iPod sound system. He is humbly indebted to Mattie and Michael Lawson for introducing him into the west coast social elite. “Mattie is to me what Gertrude Stein was to Pablo Picasso,” Guest enthuses. The photographs on the side of his refrigerator with the likes of Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington and drumming legend Elvin Jones are of the ilk that the average person would have preserved behind glass. But to Chaz, they are friends and kindred spirits. “Like minds and like consciousness are like magnets,” he proudly proclaims.
As galvanizing as his output of works has been, Chaz is well aware of the worth of his work yet ever mindful of the path that brought him here. “’80s artists Francesco Clemente’ and Julian Schnabel are the ones I consider to have set the pace for what IÕm doing,” Chaz says.
“I’ve been paid over one hundred grand for one of my paintings so I know I’m somewhat accomplished. But because I didn’t start off painting so well, I always have to get to the authenticity of a thing to help me along. I remember being in Spain and wanting to paint some bullfights, but I didn’t feel like I was truly capturing them. So after the crowd had gone, I went to the middle of the ring, collected some of the sand with the bull’s blood in it and glued it onto the canvas. That brought me closer to what I was trying to get. It’s always been that way with me.”
One of the most striking elements of Guest’s work is the three dimensional effect he achieves by painting onto unorthodox surfaces. During another visit to Japan, he was so impressed by a comfortable pair of Zori sandals that he ordered a few dozen more and mounted them onto a canvas…so he could paint on them! These paintings are in his Geisha Series. He’s done the same thing with leaves and, most indelibly, cotton. But not just any cotton. “I called the library in Waynesboro, Georgia where my great great grandfather Jackson Philpot lived. I told the lady that I needed her to go to that plantation and when the cotton grows, pick some, put it in a box and mail it to me. The librarian was so into it! She uncovered all sorts of background and history for me. My grandmother didn’t even know that her parents owned that plantation and built the church that she attended growing up. When I sent her a picture of the school, she flipped!” Chaz used that cotton to begin one of his most inspired works: a distinctly American collection he calls “The Cotton Series.”
Distinguished television and film actor Dennis Haysbert – a close friend of Mr. Guest’s – is the proud owner of one of those pieces. “His artwork is as eclectic as he is,” Haysbert states. “I’ve known him about 10 years. What struck me is that within all the genres in which he paints, each piece looks like the work of a different artist. I have at least five of his paintings in my house. People will say, ‘Oh, this is nice, who did this one?’ I’ll say Chaz Guest. Then they’ll look at another one and ask the same thing. It blows them away. One would think that I collect from a host of different painters, but it’s all Chaz. My favorite is ‘American Boy’ [Link to Cotton Gallery/American Boy painting] from his Cotton Series – a 10 year-old boy painted on an American Flag holding a branch of cotton. When I stand back and look at that piece, I see myself, my son and daughter, and every black person thatÕs walked this Earth trying to make life better for themselves.”
The fact that he is an African American in a field in which there are precious few is not lost on Chaz, but it is something he hopes to change. “My good friend Marcus Miller (the Grammy-winning musician, writer and producer) told me that the level of respect for what I do is magnified because I didn’t go the route of athlete, musician or actor. To survive in the art world, I had to dodge, parry and thrust.” On the tragic side, he has lost family members that weren’t able to elevate in the same way that he did. “My two nephews being murdered in the streets of Philly deeply affected me. I wanted them to follow me. We were one and the same. I just made it out… Their deaths pushed me to want to bring high art to the masses. Art creates options. I believe there is a Picasso in some remote area of the planet with no resources. I want to find that child and help present him or her to the world.”
In January of 2009, Chaz Guest’s latest exhibit will be housed in San Francisco’s Museum of African Diaspora. But the man still has a studio filled with highly distinguished and extremely diversified work patiently waiting to get out.
“Life is so inspiring,” Chaz concludes. “If I had three lifetimes, I still could not paint everything I have going on in my mind.”
More About Chaz Guest at www.chazguest.com