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Local Artist Spotlight: Gene St. Clair

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Local Artist Spotlight: Gene St. ClairPhotos courtesy of Roger Brackins/Gene St. Clair.
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Cleveland-born visual artist Roger Gene Brackins—also known as Gene St. Clair—recently returned to art after years of setting it aside.

Brackins is self-taught—he remembers failing all of his art classes in school—and has been doing art from a very young age, first picking up a pencil because he saw his older brother do it.

Then into his late 20s/early 30s, he returned to art during a challenging period in his life where he was looking to start something new. He’s been painting for the last three years now.

He paints images he feels would draw a certain reaction, what an image would represent or what meaning it would have.

“When I started to really get into my artistry, which is more so recently…I just wanted to make sure my artwork was meaningful,” he said. “So I started thinking about things that meant a lot to me. You know, things that mattered.”

Brackins spoke to Columbus Underground about his story, inspirations and what he has going on.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Columbus Underground: Can you tell me about your process?

Roger Gene Brackins: So my process of making art is I think of a concept…of what a particular piece is going to mean. Or, you know, what would it represent. What reaction would I get if I were to do certain things. So, when I started to really get into my artistry, which is more so recently, in the recent year, I just wanted to make sure my artwork was meaningful. So I started thinking about things that meant a lot to me, things that mattered. And first thing that popped in my mind was my mother.

Now that I’m 30 years old, I can actually have conversations with her about real-life things. Even raising us and so on and so forth. And when I started processing all of those things I realized that, I mean hell, my first inspiration was my mother. You know, Black women. There’s so many times that I just feel like the Black people in general, our people are just overlooked, but especially Black women are misunderstood. And then I think a lot of times society, the world, just doesn’t know how much Black women…go through. When I started to internalize all of that, I started to realize again…my mom went through more than just raising three kids. My father, he passed away when I was 10, and he was sick since I was 5. But even that situation alone was just really touching to me because you’ve seen a lot of movies and a lot of people’s situations where their spouse gets sick and they can’t take care of them and they have to put them in a home. Which is totally okay, I get it. [But] I get why my mom and my dad actually made a promise to each other, way back when, “[If] something happens, I don’t want to be in a home.” My mom kept that promise. I never knew that’s why she did it. So that was really crazy just to see her take care of my father, literally for five years up to his death. That’s something that always stuck to me as I got older, as I grew up. But, again, that’s kind of where I wanted to get my message across, is just painting Black women, bringing presence to Black women.

CU: What other inspirations do you take from your work? Do you get inspiration from other visual mediums, music, life experience, etc.?

RB: I don’t know what I would even do without music. I love music. I gain inspiration at random times throughout my days. It could be something as simple as a conversation I had with somebody at the store or a certain song I may listen to. Even a song I listened to 20 years ago that just now hit me, like it makes more sense now. It’s kind of hard to describe my inspiration—It’s a little bit of a rush. But yeah, my inspiration goes from this day-to-day life, movies, conversation, new people, you know, other people’s stories. I love reading. So it can be really anything.

CU: What are some things you’re working on now?

RB: Right now, I have an art exhibit in Manhattan at the end of November. I’ve shown at this gallery before. I’m excited for that though—it’s a pretty dope gallery. I actually had a show at the Columbus Museum of Art, but they had to cancel that due to COVID, so they’re gonna probably reschedule at a later time. So right now one of my main things with my artistry has been the same since I started. It’s not to get money or fame or anything like that. Honestly, I just wanted the platform. Because I just feel like…my story is unique, but also I just feel like too, a lot of other kids out there need to hear my journey as a young Black man but also an artist, a Black artist. I know when I was growing up, I didn’t have a mentor when it came to a lot of things, especially a passion like I had [in] art. Gaining that platform, I want people to know where I came from, Cleveland to the North Side of Columbus, Ohio. I just want people to know who I am, where I came from and I just want some people to relate to my story ultimately.

For more information visit roger-brackins.pixels.com.

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