The 23-year-old Los Angeles artist has risen to prominence with his photorealistic paintings, particularly of young black men like Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. His paintings are tender and contemplative, exploring how racism impacts people of color. They made up his first ever solo show, Some Things Never Change, which went up this summer in his hometown.
Courtesy Kohshin Finley
When and where are you most creative?
I don't think there's really a particular time of day or place where I'm most creative. But, I definitely prefer to work late into the night. My only friend at that time is music.
How did you get your start?
Early on, as I discovered the art world, my brother and I would make it a weekend ritual to visit new gallery openings. As I finished paintings, I would share the images with gallery owners and curators. They began requesting the work for new group shows. It happened quite organically as I built a relationship with each of these people, they in turn encouraged me to keep them in mind for future shows.
What are you working on right now?
I just wrapped up my first ever solo show. So right now, I'm working on some commission projects. A couple of these projects are confidential until their unveiling, so I can't really say much at this time. But I'm happy to be busy.
What is success to you?
I see success as a process, as opposed to a goal. It isn't a static thing you achieve. It's more about constant progression.
Do critics matter?
Not really. It's definitely interesting to hear different opinions and perspectives on my work. But its not gonna heavily influence or change what I make next. I'm gonna make the work that I feel best represents what I'm trying to get across.
Obviously you've seen success in your career but can you tell us about a time you failed?
I can't say that I've felt the pain of failure when it comes to my art career. I feel like there's cycles to every journey. I'm just fortunate not to have had that experience, yet. But I'm constantly "failing" within myself as I am working. This feeling keeps me pushing and striving to do and be better with every effort.
Do you think about legacy?
I've definitely thought about it. But I try to stay in the present and just make the best work I can. And make the work that I'm most passionate about. I feel like the rest will take care of itself.
What advice do you have for someone looking to break into your industry?
I would say just make the work that moves YOU. Don't get caught up with what you think other people would be into or what you think is 'hot' right now. If you're not fully engaged with your work and passionate about the subject, it'll definitely show in the final product. You'll get a lot of opinions on how to live your life. But It's your life. Do what inspires you. Trust your gut. Don't let naysayers weaken your determination. And use their negativity as a driving force to create the life you want to live.
Did you ever give up (or want to give up)? What were the circumstances?
When I first started painting, I wasn't very confident in my work. I felt like I needed a plan B. I wanted to have another way to support myself in case painting wasn't gonna work out. But at a certain point I really thought about it and I couldn't see myself doing anything else. I told myself that I never wanted to work for somebody again. I decided that if I wanted it badly enough I would push to be the best I could be.
How do you plan to build on your success so far? Is there anything you fear will set you back?
After my first solo show, I just want to keep painting. I don't feel like I need to approach my career any differently. The most important thing is to keep my focus and keep creating.
What was the first moment you knew you were going to be able to do this as a job – not necessarily your first big break or success, but the first time you thought, "This is it, this is my career"?
I guess it happened when my solo show sold out. And the feedback I've gotten from the people seeing the show has really motivated me to continue to keep creating.
What's been the biggest choice you've had to make in your career so far?
My biggest choice in my career happened early on. I found that everyone, and I mean everyone, had an opinion on everything I considered doing. I stopped listening to most and focused on tightening my inner circle of support. This clarity enabled me to shut down the idle chatter and helped me focus on what mattered most to me.
What is your morning routine like?
Since I tend to work late into the night, I'm usually not up until mid morning. I'm not much of a coffee drinker. I don't really drink anything but water. I usually eat breakfast then run errands if I need to. Then I go to work at the studio and I usually don't leave until the wee hours of the morning.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I'm fortunate to be able to make a living from what I would be doing regardless. I'm excited to see what I'll make next and where my love can take me.
What are you most worried about for the future?
I'm not really worried about anything. I'm living in the present and taking things as they come.
Are you good at giving advice? What is the best advice you've ever given?
I don't offer advice unless I am asked for it, but when I do, I hope that my words encourage a person to find their way through their current situation.
Are you good at receiving advice? What is the best advice you've ever received?
Growing up my dad would always say "closed mouths don't get fed." Its kind of engraved into my brain. I apply it to my life daily. I tend to not procrastinate in communicating my expectations or needs. I remind myself of this simple fact quite regularly and it always brings much clarity and conviction to my decisions.
What makes a person beautiful? What makes you beautiful?
I think a person is beautiful when they're completely comfortable in their own skin. They tend to live their life truthfully representing who they really are. I find beauty in the imperfections. If I'm perceived as beautiful, I hope that its for the same reason that I find beauty in others. I'm definitely comfortable in my own skin.
What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of my family. It is such a gift to have each one of us doing what we are good at and thriving in each of our fields. My brothers and I grew up with parents that celebrated our individuality and stressed us to find what made us happy. We were encouraged not only with words but also by how each of our parents lived their lives. It is very gratifying to be a part of a family who supports each other in everything we do and who praises each accomplishment. It makes it easy to want to always strive to always be and do better.