Steven Lopez’s art merges sci-fi, graffiti and music into scenes brimming with beaming hues that quickly make favor with the eye. His subject can be a curvy P-Funkateer in the middle of an Egyptian Eden or seminal Black women singers in vivid tones with red and brown oversized pouts. Lopez’s dynamic depictions of India.Arie, Aretha Franklin, Erykah Badu , Chaka Khan, Minnie Riperton, Jill Scott and Tina Turner articulates the boldness of their voices in color strokes guided by each woman’s divine lyricism. The print of Badu became the prize piece for her B.L.I.N.D. charity and one hundred of them signed by her will go on sale April fifteenth. Lopez originally made the portrait as a fan tribute to her and posted a picture of it to her Myspace comments section. Badu saw the painting and immediately made her appreciation of the work known by having her marketing director contact Lopez. The boon of having his work connected to America’s most successful bohemian R&B singer comes after years of creative commitment. Lopez was drawn to art as a toddler and that nascent interest took him to Oregon where he studied his craft on a university and street level. He collaborated with the Youth Mural Collective to create a wall side panorama in downtown Eugene doing work that empowered the kids and built his confidence.
There were several other murals credited to him around town as well as his adventures with tagging under the name frustr8 which gave him recognition among the city’s graffiti artists. The relationship between music and his art is honest synergy carried out in front of a camera or a live audience. Lopez has made videos of himself painting the faces of his After Midnight Soul subjects with their music playing as a way for people to gain an immediate connection to the work in a world of content-hungry devices and ADD afflicted people. He also brings this process to the people live at various clubs and events in his native Los Angeles. He was kind enough to answer my questions about the origins of his quickly becoming popular series of Black women singers and how art became his gig of choice.
How did you become an artist?
There was always the artist element in me. I would draw regularly but it was never nurtured by family. It wasn’t until I left my parent’s house that I started to really put effort into finding my technique and style. The biggest challenge I had was getting over my fear of never being good enough. I overcame that fear by volunteering with at-risk-youth and after school programs. The focus wasn’t about me and that started shaping my identity as an artist.
How does graffiti influence your style?
It was the biggest building block in my life. The colors that I would see on the streets are reflected in my work. I love hot colors. When I would see burners, (large-scale detailed graffiti) my eyes would literally have orgasms. I wanted to have an aggressive bold look in my work. The exaggeration of my paintings are in direct relation to the b-boy image that I saw as a teen.
How did you hook-up with Erykah Badu for these prints?
I’ve been working with time lapse video for a couple of weeks and I wanted to capture some of my favorite singers in that context. I painted the portrait of Erykah with a the background track of Amerykahn Promise. When I was finished with it I posted it on to her site. I just wanted to share with it. Days later I get a message from her marketing director, Paul Levatino. He mentioned that Erykah wanted to reach out to me and see what I was about. We kicked around ideas to work together and we came up with the print program.
Which song did you listen to for Chaka Kahn to get the creative process going?
I listened to many of her Rufus cuts. I know that near the end of her career with them it wasn’t that stellar but I’m always attracted to that timeline. Obviously I listened to, “Sweet Thing” and “Tell Me Something Good”. I love listening to, “You Got The Love” but in the end I chose “Stay” because it seemed hit the levels of sincerity, love and just straight up soul.
How were you drawn to making prints of Black women singers?
I’ve alway been drawn to funk, soul and blues music. My dad was a major influence on me with his music selection. What I heard from pop-star sensations never ran in conjunction with my musical taste. I was drawn to their talents, pure and simple. What they sing about emphasizes the ideas of a strong woman.
Have any of your subjects given you feedback on your work?
I’ve been in contact with most of them and the response has been great. Tammy McCrary (Chaka’s Manager and sister) and I are in the middle of detailing her project. JIll and India are also are in the mix and I’m really going to lose my mind when I get in touch with Aretha and Helen Adu. I didn’t think this was going to happen but I’m really excited on where this series is heading. It’s after midnight everyday!
Have you ever done any kind of album artwork?
I’ve done album work for many independent labels but never for a major. The latest cover I did is for a friend of mine named DJ Drez (aka Doctor EZ). He did the remixes for the Aretha and Tina projects. His latest production is Jahta Beat, The Progression. It’s scheduled for a summer release.
In the prints I see of Erykah, India.Arie, Aretha Franklin Chaka Khan, Jill Scott and Tina Turner and their mouths are exaggerated, why is that?
It’s is my way in expressing the power of their voices. Let us not forget that each of these ladies has a sexy smile to boot. I’m drawn to their voice and their lips are the tools to carve, construct and mold the sound that we hear. In fact, as I looked over hundreds of pictures of these women, I’ve noticed that their mouths are bigger than the average size. The design is in direct relation to the function. As an artist it is my duty to visually enhance the power that they possess.
Why are Aretha’s lips brown when the others are red?
The overall color palette of Aretha is different than the rest. The lips are the result of that palette shift. If I was to paint them red I felt that the painting would not have have the nostalgia that I was looking for. I was trying to create the effect of a Black and White photograph in my colorful world.
Why do you call it the After Midnight Soul Series?
When I started the series, my only free time was after midnight and I would paint until dawn. But as I started to think about these favorite ladies of mine, I thought to myself how cool would it be if I saw all these women under one roof? Each singer is in Los Angeles when word spreads that Chaka Khan has just finished a concert at the Hollywood Bowl and an after party/concert is in the works. I’ve noticed during these types of after parties/concerts that the singer is more relaxed and the atmosphere is very close and personal. It’s as if everyone is family and it’s during these special moments that rare moments are captured on stage. This is more than a rare moment because so far 8 songbirds have showed up to the special occasion. It’s barely after midnight and we are about to see history (literally) take place. Minnie Riperton just did a duet with India.Arie and Helen Adu casually walk onto the stage….
What’s next for you?
There’s more to explore in this field. I’ve barely scratched the surface. The men will be given their dues. I still have my personal projects and commissions to do. I will be working with Erykah during the summer on a youth summit for the arts. Be on the look out for her print when it drops on the Eve of April 15th. The other girls will come out in good time.
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