At Starbucks one day, in walks a work of art

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Reality often has a way of making it onto Jesse Howard's canvas. The artist, based in Maywood, is well-known for his gripping charcoal drawings that capture African Americans suspended in various degrees of raw marginality -- during a protest, under arrest, navigating homelessness. 

The backstory of one of Howard's works of art, which he calls "The Emerging Black Male or Not," has its origins at the Starbucks at 711 Lake St. in Oak Park, where Howard can often be seen reading a newspaper. 

"I got this guy out of Starbucks," Howard said, referencing the artwork's subject, during reception on Oct. 3 at the State Street Gallery on the campus of Robert Morris College, 401 S. State St. in Chicago, where the artist's work is on exhibit throughout October.  

"He's only 26 years old and he was getting ready to go to a shelter," Howard said. "They hang out at the Starbucks until 7 p.m., and they go to the shelter. While he was there, I asked to take his photo. I'm pretty good at meeting people and just talking to them. I had seen this young man for a few weeks and just talked to him. Finally, I asked if I could take his picture and he was more than happy to let me take it." 

Howard said drawing is a faithful illustration of the man's eccentric hairstyle. 

"You can see he diminishes, but yet he comes forward," Howard explained. "The panels are what you see a lot in African-American homes. Those tiles? I wanted to put that in his face. I wanted him to be so much faded into this blackness that you ask the question …" 

What's the question, you ask? It's yours to pose. The answer is in the art. Howard's exhibit, "The Love & Hate of a Culture in Defiance," will be displayed at State Street Galley until Oct. 31. 

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Michael Romain 


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