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Chester County Press

The man in the chair

09/17/2015 09:34AM ● By Richard Gaw

Everett's studio is in the basement of his home.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Club Kid

In the late 1990s, when Chad Cortez Everett was a graduate student at the Hoffberger School of Painting, a division of the Maryland Institute College of Art, he went out one night in Baltimore with his school colleagues.

Everett enjoyed the clubs. He went there for inspiration, for ideas, for subjects. He was becoming known around school as the Baltimore Club Painter, and although it was a tag he didn't mind – the work he was creating was getting him noticed – he felt the hard and raw pull coming from somewhere in his mind that said that his art needed to be about more than just pretty paintings.

On this particular night in Baltimore, an Asian man approached him. He asked Everett if he could sing. Everett replied that he was not a good singer. The Asian man then asked him, 'Can you dance?' Everett replied that he could dance, but not well. Then the Asian man asked him, 'Do you rap?' Everett said that no, he did not rap.

“Well, then you must not be black,” the Asian man told Everett, “because all of the black people I run across do all of that.”

Privately seething, Everett then asked the Asian man whether he knew karate. The Asian man said that he did not, and called Everett a racist. “I told him, 'Well, what did you just ask me?'” Everett said.

Everything crystallized in his head when Everett returned to his apartment. Everything about how we assess people, he thought, is wrong, he thought. He hated the way we look at people who wear baggy jeans and are all tatted up from head to toe must be a criminal, just like how we believe that all people who wear a Confederate flag patch on their sleeves belong to some backwoods militia hellbent on promoting the Aryan race.

Artist Chad Cortez Everett outside his Landenberg home.

 And there it was. “You Don't Know My Name,” where the hollow face of an African-American man seems to burst from the canvas and behind the image, a prism of infinity, stairways going everywhere, headed to new journeys and new places. Then Everett took out his paints, sat near a blank canvas, and waited. He listened until his rage quieted down to a sweet stillness, and he continued to wait until his thoughts were crystallized and hard as sandstone. Then he took the tip of his brush, dipped it into paint, and then onto the canvas.

“I thought at the time that we need to get to the point where instead of just looking at the outside of someone, we need to step into their minds,” Everett said. “Ignorance is bliss. Sometimes getting to know someone is harder than just passing judgment.”

nearly two decades removed from that night in Baltimore, “Face” is now displayed in the family room of the Landenberg home Everett shares with his wife and young daughter.

Who is Chad Cortez Everett?”

In 2002, Everett, who in addition to receiving a Master's from Hoffberger had previously studied painting at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia, produced a solo exhibition of his work at the Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington. He called the show “Who is Chad Cortez Everett?”

In a career that has taken him to 14 solo exhibitions and 18 group shows from Philadelphia to Wilmington and seemingly a dozen towns in between, it's a question Everett has been attempting to answer on his own ever since.

Everything you need to know about Chad Cortez Everett begins with his hunger. It manifests itself in a self-driven motivation to perfect what happens when he applies a paintbrush to a canvas. It began when he was a little boy, when he was just another kid running around the Bartram Village Projects in Philadelphia. He was not the best athlete there, but his cousin was one of the cool kids in his neighborhood, and it wasn't because he could toss a footbal a mile or slam dunk on a basketball court. It was because he could draw. Everett asked his cousin to teach him to draw and soon, with the fundamentals of illustration now in his kit bag, drawing was soon his obsession. His cousin used to look at Everett's drawings, and one day, he told him, "You've got to go to Overbrook's art school."

Leslie Kamison, Everett's art teacher at Overbrook High School's art magnet program, was a former Marine, and he drove the students in a military-like tutorial of discipline. In class one day, he told the young Everett, "I need you to commit to me."

"Mr. Kamison used to say to us, 'If I'm going to teach you guys to paint or draw, I need to know that what you reate is coming from your heart,'" Everett said. "He told us that if it was not my from the heart, then we're just playing around. He taught us that it has to be soulful art, which comes from the soul. I've always carried that with me.

"He taught us that we all have a voice. Some people may understand that voice, some don't, but it's the voice that makes us different from other artists. If we all painted the same way, I have a funny feeling that art would be too predictable."

"Can you show me something I have not already seen?"

In 2013, the Vivant Art Collection in Philadelphia presented a solo exhibition of Cortz' work. "Human: Trials, Transformation, Triumph -- Believe the Hype, A Story of Enlightenment" was a 24-piece tribute to everything that Kamison taught Everett back at Overbrook. His sould burst from the canvases. His voice told a narrative that reflected society, identity, mental illness, and introduced the audience to the message of what the artist was trying to convey -- to heal and transform.

"I tell other artists all the time, 'You have to be honest with your viewers about the stories you're telling as an artist,'" Everett said. "Nowadays, when I look at the modern art scene, I feel like a lot of artists are not being truthful toward their audience. They're trendy artists. They just go with what's going on at the moment. They paint it and abandon it.

"You have to expereince these life moments in order to paint. You have to do a lot of soul searching before you produce a painting. You have to release it down and ask yourelf a lot of questions. Some artists don't want to accept the truth about their work. Sometimes their messages fall short because they don't take it to a more intellectual level. They tend to play it safe and remain in the box that has been built for them."

There is, arguably, not an artist of color in the United States who has not thought about applying his or her reflections on the issue of Race in America onto a white space or a garage wall. In light of Ferguson, of Staten Island, of Baltimore, their numbers are many and their leap has been ferocious. It's not a topic that sprang up overnight; Everett began pouring his emotions on the topic years ago, but instead of painting images that depict violence, he goes softer in his narrative. Rather thn guns, for instance, "Happy People" and "Change is Coming" portray African-Americans with outstretched arms, paintings that reflect the quiet steps of Hope rather than the gun-toting fist of Despair.

"It's all a duplication of effort," Everett said of the art world's response to race. "If you want to do this kind of work, please come up with solutions, because otherwise, you're just adding gasoline to the fire. Can you show me something that I have not already seen?

"Too many black artists are on this subject simply because it's a hot issue," he added. "I try to dig in as deep as I can because I want my viewers to understand that the angles I'm coming from are personal images, but at the same time are universal that they can relate to. That's the narrative, to tell the story about what's going on in the artist's mind. That's the formula that separates the artist from the rest of the pack."

Light Tower

Since 2007, Everett has been an art techer at the McCullough Middle School in New Castle, De., where he teaches visual arts and art history to students from the sixth grade to the eighth grade. In more ways than he can count, the students he teaches at McCullough are different than those -- like him -- who attended Kamison's art classes at Overbrook. When he was a id, Everett had the love of his mother and his grandparents to see him out of Bartram Village and into college, but every year at McCullough, he can count on more than one hand those who come to school not having had breakfast that morning, or from splintered family factions that are not focused on learning but with mere survival. They arrive at school loaded not with books but with burdens and barriers, both real and invented, and Everett knows that being able to express themselves through art is the furthest thing from thier minds.

"These students have been told over the years that they can't draw, but I tell them that if they have the desire to do it, and even if they don't have artistic skills, they can still apply some of these principles in every day life, in terms of overcoming odds," Everett said. "They have been taught that if they fall down, stay down. I tell them that if they fall down to get back up. I tell them that the race is not over, nd that they may have 80 more years on this planet."

In order to reach these students, Everett funnels his lessons through the prism of pop culture relevance: music, celebrity...and footwear. Recently, he supervised a project that gave his students the creativity to design their own sneakers.

"You have to make a connection in the classroom," he said. "I might be the only light tower in the their lives, so I want to plant that seed of inspiration in their mind."

Promised Land

Chad Cortez Everett's avatar – his incarnation, his embodiment – is in the form of a man sitting in a chair. There it is, in his painting “Second Chance,” a figure of a man in the painting who is attached to a chair. He's also in "Running From the Truth," and "Capoeria," and "Knowledge as Power."

"I am the man in the chair, and the fact that it's attached represents immobility," Everett said. "You go through roller coasters as an artist, and at that time, the art world was not accepting my work. When I left Hoffberger, I thought I'd be a rock star artist coming out of art school. It didn't work out that way, and in many ways, even though I've contnued to pursue my art on my own terms, it's still an upward climb."

At 41, Everett realizes that he is no longer the Club Kid artist soaking up the nightlife scene in Baltimore as a care-free art student top heavy with talent and desire. He sees the transient choices made by contemporary artists in an effort to shock the public rather than ask them to ruminate. He struggles with the big weight of aspiration versus obligation, the common thorn shared by ninety-nine point nine percent of creative people in America. He begins a new painting and questions whether its intended meaning will strike the right chords. He attends solo or group exhibitions of his work and watches the faces of the people who stop to look at his paintings. 'Am I reaching them?' he thinks. 'Is it the story they want from art -- the message -- or is it merely for the colors?'

Before he heads off to McCullough Middle School, Everett wakes up at 4:30 a.m. most mornings and enters a very small room on the lower floor of his home. He calls it his studio, but it really isn't one in the traditional definition of the word. It's made for function only; there are utility objects and inner guts of the home protrude down from the ceiling. There are no windows that overlook a meadow or a lake -- like the way we uually think of artist's studios -- and therefore, there is no natural light. The painting he is currently working on is at eye level in front of him, unceremoniously fastened to the far wall in the small room.

"I picked it because I'm isolated there, and it is my separate world from my real world," he said. "My wife has tried to get me to get my own studio away from the house. I tell her that it wouldn't be the same, that I would waste time. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can come right here and work. This way, I'm focused, with less distractions that may interfere with my feelings and my thoughts."

And so the man in the chair continues to work, and what comes out of that litle room -- Chad Cortz Everett's artistic narrative -- screams sometimes, and other times it hums, whispers or prays.

"That's just the way life is," he said. "There's all different kinds of emotions that enter in and out of your life. You express all of it by finding your vehicle, and you drive it to your desired location. Once that vehicle breaks down, you have to get another vehicle, because where you're trying to get to is the promised land."

To learn more about Chad Cortez Everett, visit www.chadceverettart.com

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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