January 30, 2020 | By Stephanie Powers
The Creativity of Kalup Linzy
Through March 5
HCC Gallery 221
Artist Kalup Linzy is local, but also worldwide. He was born in Clermont, Florida and raised in Stuckey. He got his BA and MFA from USF in Tampa.
Linzy’s been on General Hospital, thanks to buddy James Franco whom he met at Miami’s Art Basel. He’s been written about in major publications like the New York Times. Designers such as Diane Von Fürstenberg have designed clothes for his projects.
Linzy, currently on break from his Tulsa Art Fellowship, treated a small crowd at HCC’s Gallery221 to a performance followed by an artist talk on January 23. Gallery221 is hosting a retrospective of his works, Relations: Discord, Melodrama and the Intimate in the Work of Kalup Linzy, on display through March 5.
To put Linzy in a box is difficult. He is a performance artist. He is a video artist. He is a musical artist. He is an artist’s artist. But whatever you label him, he has one common influence — soap operas.
Growing up, Linzy watched soap operas with his grandmother, which influenced his life and continue in his art. The love of soaps ran in the family.
“It was sort of passed down to her from her mother, but they listened to Guiding Light on the radio when it was radio soap,” he described during his artist talk.
“So basically these soap operas started off as radio plays. . . they recorded women in Chicago in their homes to sell soap.”
Years later, Linzy has gained worldwide recognition by celebrating this overlooked artform. The itch to create started in his early teen years.
“By the time I was in junior high school, I had caught on to the soap opera life and then it was sort of feeding my creativity in terms of writing and wanting to perform,” Linzy explained.
In high school, teachers made those dreams into reality.
“I actually asked my English teachers and my science teacher, ‘Instead doing a science project or instead of writing a paper can I do my own soap opera?’”
His teachers agreed. College came and his interests changed — a little.
“I still watched soap operas, but I was thinking I wanted to be a director,” Linzy said. “I would do videos and put people in them.”
By the time graduate school came around, he decided he wanted to be in front of the camera as well.
“I took for my thesis project, the 3-chip camera that we had at school and I made a fusion of a soap opera and a sitcom.”
And an artist was born. Linzy has since made a number of video series including As Da Art World Might Turn and Conversations wit de Churen, all involving characters from the Queen Rose family.
Linzy plays 33 of the 86 personas in the series, two of which we met on Thursday.
Kaye was first, singing R-rated songs like “Chewing Gum” with videos to accompany. The audience chuckled when presented with lines about a nasty-smelling nether region but Linzy did not break character. Not once.
After a quick costume change we met Taiwan in a silver sequined leotard with a signature flower behind his ear.
“Taiwan is a character I started creating in 2002, when I was at USF and at first he was in the videos just for comic relief,” he said.
“The character is intended to be a soul singer, sort of like Sylvester, Billie Holiday but also in reference to Gauguin and Monet paintings,” he added.
Though a fan favorite, he needed a break from Taiwan. “A lot of his songs became so heavy for me and I moved out of that space emotionally,” Linzy explained.
“Around 2012, I had to have him presumed dead. Typical soap opera.”
He ends most of his videos with cliffhangers, which he not only got from soaps but from studying Nigerian films.
Though he has actors or friends, including Michael Stipe and Natasha Lyonne, appear in his videos, they will lip sync the lines to Linzy’s voice-overs.
“I feel like it creates a distance,” he said.
“I also like to think of myself as a novelist thinks of themselves, in terms of tone. Like all my voices create the same tone.”
Plus, having Linzy’s voice throughout adds to the artistic vision.
“I feel like if the voices and the performances weren’t in that style it would be just a regular television show.”
Throughout all of the videos, Linzy approaches subjects like race, culture, sexuality and gay rights. Because some of the characters are seen as comic relief, he makes sure they all have motives and backgrounds.
“Also being mindful of the minstrel show and stereotypes and making sure the characters I created had different levels and they weren’t one-dimensional,” he explained.
“So do that, I’d have to think about sexuality. Emotions. The character’s goals.”
The 88 characters of the Queen Rose family are on display at Gallery221. Also there are some of his videos, including one with James Franco, costumes and other pieces of Linzy’s collection.
Go to HCC’s Gallery221 on the Dale Mabry campus before March 5, or you’ll have to fly to New York to see his work — where it’s in the public collections of MOMA, The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Whitney and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (hear Linzy’s thoughts on Manet and gender here).