100 Creatives: Van G. Garrett
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.
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.
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?"
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.