100 Creatives: Van G. Garrett

Categories: 100 Creatives

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photo by Christopher Patronella Jr.
Van G. Garrett details his surroundings as he begins to compose a haiku inside the Cezanne Jazz Club in Houston while revisiting the space after some ten years.
What He Does: Internationally acclaimed author and artist Van G. Garrett, also known as Fui Koshi -- writer, painter, photographer, musician -- explores and illuminates the world around him, reflecting clarity through simplicity in the power of his words, rhythms and images.

His poetry has been published in journals and anthologies in the United States, Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and London. His photography, videos and paintings have appeared everywhere from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston to the International Film Channel, and he has received many awards and fellowships including a BID Fellowship in Italy and a Dr. Kwame Nkrumah International Study Scholarship in Ghana.

Garrett has published two collections of poetry: Songs in Blue Negritude, a reflective collection addressing many social issues, but its primary, he says, is music. His newest work is a chapbook, ZURI: Selected Love Songs, a sampling of poems that chronicles his travels around the world and focuses on love in unexpected places, he says -- for a kid and his grandparents, for an inanimate object, for a country -- and musicality.

At the heart of his work, Garrett says, the key to his artistry is sincerity.

"I'm just a storyteller," Garrett says. "And I want the reader to appreciate the sincerity in which I'm writing...to understand that what I'm writing is not some flowery poetry, some poetry to make you feel good, or some snap your finger type poetry...the reader can take away whatever meaning they get..but I'd rather have a room of five people that get it than 500 people that don't care, that just want to be entertained...it's more than just all the smoke and mirrors...what's the message, and is it sincere?"

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Van G. Garrett
Snaps of Ghana Exhibit, 2009 - the strong ones
there is power
in the numbers of regimented youth
standing confidently on the front line
ready to take on the world
with firm and tender hands

What Inspires Him: Garrett's work is motivated by many different artists, writers and musicians. His passion for music and literature -- the early influence of hip hop defined by groups like Public Enemy, and then in writers like Nikki Giovanni and Sandra Cisneros -- was a vehicle for his artistic expression and style; those artists who aren't afraid to gamble in their work, and speak out about things considered taboo, he says. Also moved by many Asian-American artists and writers, Garrett models their ability to step outside the lines, allowing them to bend and take shape, saying a lot in a small space.

"I just have respect for any artist that's not afraid to take risks, and not afraid to be who they are, to be an individual, to think as an individual," he says.

Garrett says he was fortunate to study with professor and poet Lorenzo Thomas at the University of Houston and have the opportunity to meet a lot of writers in the Black Arts Movement, as well as Thomas's colleagues and peers and many famous writers and artists throughout his travels.

"One thing that I've been able to take from all of that is that they take their work very seriously...and I think that's why I've been able to maintain some longevity...because even though I don't take myself so seriously all the time, I take what I do as an artist, my craft of writing, very seriously."

Two of his primary influences in the visual arts, he says, are Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo, because they're self-effacing artists -- very raw and authentic -- who portrayed their art the way they saw themselves: Putting their imperfections out there for everyone to see, rather than hiding them behind their art.

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Van G. Garrett
Self Portrait, "Wolf" Spray Paint on canvas

"It's a personal statement first before it's something public," he says. "Any time I create art, I put myself out there, and I think that's true to all my art forms. I don't mind getting outside the lines...that's the way I see the world...I don't try to hide behind language, or my art, it is what it is...I don't like to use punctuation...you can still say very interesting, intelligent things about society, but you don't always have to subscribe to what's considered correct."

Why He Likes It: "One, it's therapeutic...it's a release, being able to create art, to write, to create music -- it's a freeing experience," he says. "Also, knowing that there are like-minded people in the world that also appreciate it, that can express what they're trying to say...to fellowship and network with people who like what you appreciate and enjoy is always a good thing because you're not living in a vacuum...I'm just fortunate that I have some people that appreciate my art."

His travels across the world have shaded his writing, and he enjoys bringing together those conversations, dynamics and relationships to give others a chance to live those experiences through his art.

Tuscan Hills, Van G. Garrett

there is a deep vibration inside an opened hill in tuscany
full-bodied sounds like vino begging to be lip-pressed

held around the waist with sensibilities only a writer can supply

an unfathomable beauty upon a bosom scented with lavender
proudly wearing the light of day like a sundress of purple splendor

a suppleness of flesh silhouetted at night as
soft-blown winds swirl over the neck and spine

of a honey-hued torso breathtaking in silence
fragrant in every moment--outstretched like fingers across a body

sweetened by dew in the mornings as praises are sung
like lullabies into air echoing notes like watermarks

"John Donne said, 'No man is an island entire of itself,' and I understand that, it's not just me in the world, and the things that you can take from other people, other cultures, it's just awesome."

In Africa, he says, even though there were people that looked like him, their experiences were completely different from his own, and in Italy, there were people who looked nothing like him, but welcomed him into their homes.

"We're sitting down and eating and having conversations, listening to the same music, or watching a video in a different language...laughing at the same time...I get a chance to meet people that I would not have ever met, and we're able to have stories and to laugh about similar things, and be more serious about some things...just being able to look at life in a different way, and I'm better by that whole experience... a more informed individual, a stronger person, a more appreciative person, and not just a better artist, but a better human being."

In traveling to these places, he says, and to places that others say to avoid, those they would like to forget, brings awareness, and opens your eyes to unseen beauty and perspectives in life.

If Not This, Then What: "Maybe something with animals...probably primates, because I like language, or sociology, because I like being around people...but you're still interacting with people, so to me, that's still an art form...I also consider myself a sociologist, because when I'm writing, that's how I kind of view my artistic statement... but, no, I couldn't see myself without art -- I see the art in everything."

What's Next: Awarded a grant with the assistance of Writers in the Schools, Garrett will be traveling to Latvia in September where he will be performing, as well as lecturing at a university and conducting workshops in creative writing, poetry and performance arts. In the fall of this year, he will be debuting as a fiction writer with the book The Unbuckling: The Days of Stacy Adams, under the pen name Gee Van Garrett.

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