Special to Our Time Press:
By Laurie Nadel
From Muhammad Ali to Michelle Obama, Lennox Commisiong’s portraits of African-
American celebrities are getting a lot of attention these days. Bold and compelling, each one takes Commissioning about 300 hours to complete. The process of creating a pointillist mosaic for each portrait is laborious and intensive. “I use an exacto knife and ruler to cut little pieces of museum quality Color-Aid paper,” the artist explains. “Each little piece is maybe one centimeter square.” After spraying the canvas and the back of each sliver of paper with adhesive, he begins the labor-intensive process of working on a small section of the work in progress.
His body of work includes portraits of Billie Holliday, Wynton Marsalas, Al Jarreau, and Stanley Turrentine. As his reputation has grown, he has been commissioned to do portraits of actor Michael K. Williams, rapper Tupac Shakur, and basketball stars Ray Price and Amar’e Stoudemire. Williams commissioned his portrait through a friend; Shakur’s widow commissioned one for his birthday, November 16th, giving the artist less than one month to complete the portrait. “Notable people commissioning my work gives me a sense of accomplishment. These requests show that people respect what I do,” Commisiong says. “I want to be remembered not as a good artist, but as an exceptional artist.”
His interest in art goes back to early childhood in St. Vincents, where he used to watch his aunt drawing stick figures. “I was fascinated that she could draw with two strokes. I spent hours drawing stuff like that.” After migrating to Brooklyn at the age of 14, Commisiong served four years in the US Marines. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1987 with a business management/finance degree, specializing in information systems. After several years of working for Merrill Lynch on Wall Street, he moved to Brookdale Hospital where he continues to work as a report developer in IT. He is also a licensed massage therapist.
“I wanted to study art in college but I was impatient,” he says. It wasn’t until he was on tour with the Marines and saw a poster of Bob Marley that he felt confident enough to start. Modeling the Bob Marley poster using colored paper gave him “confidence that I could mix colors.” For the past 15 years, he has spent several hours a day working on his craft. “There are nights I go to bed and get up at 4 in the morning to start working,” he says. Creativity takes him into a Zen-like state of flow. “I lose track of time. I don’t have to eat,” he says, adding, “I can work forever.”
For Commisiong, the meditative creative process is also inspirational. “All the people whose portraits I have done have impacted my life in a particular way. When I am doing the portrait, I commiserate with myself about why this person affected me and how,” he says. One of his first portrait subjects, Muhammad Ali influenced him on a personal and a global level. “When I was in the West Indies, my grandfather and I would listen to him on the radio. I felt he was fighting for more than boxing,” he says. “When I was in the Marine Corps, he was one of the persons whom everyone knew, even in a remote village in Africa.” With each portrait, the artist becomes infused with his subject’s energy. He sees himself as a conduit for information in the form of images and symbols that come from the collective unconscious. “There’s a little synergy going on. My gift is to interpret information from wherever it comes from, to put it in a tangible form,” he says. “I sometimes wonder, ‘Where did that come from?’ It comes from someplace else and I’m blessed to be the one to put it on paper or canvas.”
Not only does he find creative satisfaction in his work, Commisiong believes that today’s political climate offers artists an opportunity to get involved. He says, “Everyone is given a gift and it is imperative that everyone use his gift to contribute to a better society.” Concerned about the increase in racial tension, he adds, “When Obama was elected I thought we had come to a point where there would be a healing process. But now I think it’s a good thing this racism is coming out because we have to know what the problem is in order to attack it,” he says. Citing the airport protests against President Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants, he observes, “They are an example of how protests need to be more inclusive to be more effective. Everyone needs to be marching for the cause.”
Lennox Commisiong’s art can be seen at www.wizardhandsart.com