• Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

A ‘Fresh Start’ Exclusive: How Chicago Visual Artist Kelli Anthony Draws Inspiration From His Hometown

Kelli Anthony



Who recalls the scene in the movie, Love Jones, when Nina, played by Nia Long, called her Darius, portrayed by Larenz Tate, the Renaissance Black man? Well, we take we found a real-life, Darius Lovehall in Kelli Anthony, 30. 

Anthony is a visual artist, poet, fashion designer, and filmmaker born and raised in Chicago, a city where Black people are thriving as small business owners, music artists, and entertainment.  He spoke with RoyalTee Magazine for our spring edition about his art, inspiration, future plans, and more.

RoyalTee: What was it like growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Also, how do you see those experiences reflected in your art today?

KA: Yeah, it’s crazy. Being from the Southside of Chicago, I come from like the slums. I’m from 79th street, and it was really incredible. Some of the norms that I experienced I didn’t know that they should not be normal. And I think when I started to go to college, I wanted to disassociate myself. I didn’t even want people to know that I was even from 79th. Not that I lied or anything like that, but it was just something that I really wanted to disassociate myself with.

So, in my earlier artwork, I wasn’t honest at all. I think it was just, you know, just figuring out raw talent and being able to put things together. But like, there were stories that I was telling that I hadn’t experienced ever. They were just stories that I think I saw maybe on television or what I thought the world could be. And then I think maybe within 2018 I went through a lot of dark stuff. You get older, you mature, and that led me to being honest in my work.

So, anything that I created from 2018 up until this point is solely based on how I grew up, my heritage, my ethnicity, my smile, my anger. It’s so unique. So, to answer your question in its simplest form, I still haven’t reached my true zenith point being inspired by how I actually grew up within my city. I’m still, like, going through a tug of war between my imagination and reality.

RoyalTee: You have some really moving video pieces made in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. In your opinion, what role do art and artists play in these kinds of social/cultural/political awakenings?

KA: I feel like the reason why we dive back into the 1960s more than anything when we try and tell a story of African American hardship is because of the camera and that medium; that artistic medium. It’s so important to tell stories, you know, that grainy film, the feel that that image has is telling a story regardless of if the person who was shooting it meant to or not.

Art is so, so important with telling the stories of the time. And I think that’s why I’m kind of—I love my earlier work—but that’s one of the reasons why I’m, I wouldn’t say disappointed, but I felt like I wasn’t honest. Because as a true artist, you do have a responsibility to be able to tell the truth. And that’s what’s going to stay here, you know, 200, 300 years from now. When people look back in time it’s to be able to go back to the arts, to be able to really understand the exaggeration of the actual moment.

And I can’t really say—I feel like we’re in a very weird climate—everything is so extreme every way, and I hope I’d be the one to make that piece that really shifts things. But I feel like the global art community, we all are still working right now to create a signature piece that everybody can look at, pause, stop and think, make a reaction to and actually change their lives. But yeah, I don’t think we’ve done that yet.

And I tell all of my brothers and sisters to create, we’re just still working. And I’m a spiritual person, I believe the art writes itself. I mean, we can work and practice, but it’s just going to happen when it does, and it hasn’t happened yet. But I do think it will be an artistic moment that happens that does shift things, but I don’t see it right now. I’m just being totally honest, it’s just a weird climate.

“Newlyweds” by Kelli Anthony

RoyalTee: What do you think it is about Chicago that has made it the birthplace of some of the greatest artists and minds that we have ever seen?

KA: Yeah, Langston Hughes, Quincy Jones, Kanye West, Common…oh my god. I think the number one thing is because of those four seasons.

We get an extreme summer, we get a beautiful fall, then we get this hard winter, then you get this fresh start in a lively spring, you know what I mean? I feel like to be a powerful artist, you have to be very emotional and I’m very, very sensitive. I’m very emotional, and I think those four seasons, they make you emotional.

Cause in the wintertime it’s like, “This is getting on my nerves,” you know what I mean? In the summertime, it be like, “Can you believe how beautiful this place is,” and the fall just gives you this calm. And I feel like when you take that energy and just flow with it, I feel like a lot of people that come from here are just able to tap into that sixth sense or whatever it is within the cosmos and be able to get that pen or that paintbrush and go ballistic, and I definitely feel that energy.

Follow Kelli on Instagram and check out his website to see more of his work!  

Check out the full interview with Kelli Anthony in our upcoming Spring edition. Click here to pre-order your copy. 

Zoë Lourey-Christianson

Zoë is a writer and comedian from Minnesota. She is currently living in Chicago where she likes to read, watch TV, and bake in her free time. She hopes to use her passion for writing and journalism to help educate people and build a better and more equitable world.