American artist Auudi Dorsey was born in 1992 in New Orleans, probably the most unique city of the USA, with its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage, its distinctive music and celebrations, the continuing influence of African culture, Creole cuisine and unique dialects.
His first exhibition in Asia, We Just Got to See Us, is being held at WOAW Gallery Wan Chai until 22 July, showcasing artworks depicting the experiences of African Americans in the Southern Region of the USA, through quotidian urban scenes seen from a contemporary lens.
On the occasion of his exhibition in Hong Kong, the artist shared with us his inspirations and artistic practice, deeply rooted in the city he grew up, as well as his enthusiasm and curiosity about Hong Kong.
The city of New Orleans is at the centre of Dorsey’s life and autodidact art practice, being both a driving force and an inspiration. From the people, the culture, the cars, the history, and even the way some residents choose to paint their homes, this place embodies what the freedom of creative expression should look like, according to Dorsey.
“Being a New Orleanian taught me how to personally move at my own beat. I visited my first museum when I was 10 years old, but it was never something that drew me closer to being an artist. Revisiting that same museum eight years later, and seeing there the same black artist developed my curiosity. That artist was Barkley Hendricks. I picked up my first brush that same year”, Dorsey recalls.
With a father working as a full-time mechanic, Dorsey started at a young age to be fascinated by cars, their design and speed, and he developed his love for art by making blueprints on his favourite vehicles. But this is his late mother, a nurse organising charity art events and collecting paintings, who pushed him into painting. A natural gifted drawer, Auudi received his first brushes, canvas and painting materials from his mother.
Auudi Dorsey, Boy in the Summa, 2023
To bring his ideas to life, Dorsey is using a very spontaneous approach, based on his daily life and activities in the city, calling himself a “visual learner”.
“My process is typically how I choose to spend my day. Some days, I run or walk, which allows me to engage more with what’s going on in the city. I consider myself more of a visual learner, so being outside helps me to build ideas or perspectives on whatever I’m trying to convey”, shares Dorsey.
While Dorsey’s inspiration is based on spontaneity, his creative process is nothing but carefully planned and deliberately designed, through meticulous sketches and drawings, and even colours being applied on his mockups, as if the artist was designing maps or architect plans.
“Before I approach any canvas, I enjoy doing mockups, sketches and colour blockings. I really like to feel that I’m building something from an architectural perspective”, explains Dorsey.
Auudi Dorsey, Its a Reason why, 2023
Apart from African American artist Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017), that he discovered in a museum when he was a teenager, Dorsey has been influenced by African American artist Henry Taylor (born in 1958), as well as American realist painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967).
More significantly, Dorsey draws his inspiration from regular people, mostly African Americans in their everyday life, the “black kids from the hood”, the people whose stories are often untold or described negatively, those living outside the visible part of the city, the unseen people.
“It’s real, it’s in your face and it’s the physical form. The people are more valuable to me than anything I paint, because, without them, I have nothing. Without people, there would be no story”, Dorsey says.
Dorsey is not afraid to reflect reality in all its aspects, from the poverty, the joy, the pain, the exuberance of his subjects to his own life and emotions, in an attempt to represent and celebrate the different layers and complexities of black lives in New Orleans, and to show how adversity can be overcome and turned into opportunity. This also serves, for the artist, as a reminder and a source of pride of where he comes from.
Auudi Dorsey, Two men, one pleasure, 2023
The artist emphasises the significance of each person and skin tones by using predominantly sepia and walnut brown shades in his palette. He also integrates the names of brands into many of his works to evoke nostalgic memories of urban and domestic life. Through subtle facial expressions and gestures, Dorsey’s paintings convey complex and emotionally charged narratives.
Dorsey’s intention and message are clearly defined by the title of the show, We Just Got to See Us, which is inspired by the final lyrics of The Neverending Story by Jay Electronica ft. JAY- Z: “Everybody wanna be us for real, We just gotta see us”.
“That line spoke to me as a black man growing up in America, but also existing in the art world. As black men, we are sometimes only valued by people outside our own culture on how good we can perform. Barkley Hendricks made me feel at home at an early age, with his elegant figures, bright colours and jazzy movements. His work inspired some of the works in this show. But I would like to paint images of black people who do not get a chance to be in the spotlight”, the artist explains.
Auudi Dorsey, “We Just Got to See Us”, Woaw Gallery, 2023
The exhibition at Woaw Gallery has been for Dorsey the occasion to visit Hong Kong for the first time. He has chosen his artworks for the show based on his perception of the city, which he sees as a melting pot city similar to New Orleans, filled with festivals, celebrations and mixed culture, as well as a green, dense and humid city, pretty much like New Orleans.
During the few days that Dorsey spent in Hong Kong, he was authentically curious and enthusiastic about the city, always carrying his sketch book, taking notes and making drawings. Hong Kong will be for sure the inspiration for his next artworks and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the artist coming back to town for a second exhibition featuring paintings of the city.