By Sheryl Aronson
On Thursday April 27th, Walton Isaacson Agency in Culver City, sponsored artist, Chaz Guest‘s BUFFALO WARRIOR ART/BOOK SIGNING EXHIBIT. As I walked around the rooms admiring the paintings and graphic designs of this Artist, I wrote the following comment in my notebook…
The prolific and fertile images that Chaz Guest created cascaded one’s imagination with a powerful quietude that slowly, subtly, submerged one into the eternity of the human spirit. Every painting conjured a visceral experience as well as a visual.
When I interviewed, Actress, Dawnn Lewis (“A Different World” “Major Crimes”) who owned some of his work, she said, “His work is so powerful. You look into the heart of the subject… the pieces are audible as if the person is telling us something.”
Although Chaz Guest’s paintings are collected by notable celebrities such as Herbie Hancock, President Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Williams, to name a few, he revealed to me in our interview that he feels the established Art World hasn’t really accepted his work. He first studied Graphic Arts at Southern Connecticut State University then furthered his education at the Fashion Institute of Technology Hones in New York City. In the late 1980’s he became a successful fashion illustrator in New York City and Paris, but the Muse that seemed to call out loudly to him was painting. Since 1990, Chaz Guest has been actively exploring the medium of painting and adding his unusual touch to the work. For example, he has painted on Japanese Zori sandals and called them his Geisha Series; he has also used cotton that was hand- picked from the fields down South and named those paintings, The Cotton Series.
Now, in his 56th year, Chaz Guest has added another dimension to his Art, he created an African American Super Hero, Buffalo Warrior. First he illustrated and wrote the graphic novel that was on display the evening of April 27th. Secondly, the story has caught the interest of movie producers, and Chaz is in the middle of negotiations for getting the film made.
I was able to attend the wonderful reception and Art/Book Signing event at Walton Isaacson in April, but I had the privilege of also attending Chaz’s 56th birthday party held at the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip. Before the guests arrived, I interviewed the Artist regarding his career and newest project, Buffalo Warrior.
The Hollywood 360: You have studied martial arts since you were an adolescent… How has your study of martial arts influenced your creative output?
Chaz Guest: The form of martial arts that I do is called Kyokushin karate whose headquarters are in Tokyo, Japan. It is one of the most discipline forms of martial arts by way of the physicality you put into it. I feel that anyone who spends that amount of physicality and enters this realm of mental thinking, will be able to explore places that they’ve haven’t gone before. So in my mental discipline, I’ve been able to find unchartered areas to expound on my creative process.
The Hollywood 360: So what you’re saying is that this discipline has helped you gain the strength and mindset to keep reaching outwards and not be afraid of the unknown. In other words, there is no ending to where your creativity can go.
Chaz Guest: No ending. No beginning. I’ve also learned about that while painting with jazz musicians. When I was painting onstage in Japan with Kenny Garret, a jazz sax player who had played with Miles Davis, his band forced me to paint being engulfed in their sound.
The Hollywood 360: Let’s go back to your interest in the martial arts and why you became interested in it in the first place.
Chaz Guest: It wasn’t martial arts at first, it was gymnastics. When I was twelve years old, I was watching the Olympics. It was a Japanese team against Russian team. I remember the Japanese gymnast dismounting off of the rings with a broken knee. His name was Shun Fujimoto. The moment he thudded on the mat and I saw him grimace yet keep his composure, that man’s ‘Zen’ traveled clear around the globe to this little boy in Philly. I was really after that way of living… to dedicate yourself to that way of living… far beyond yourself. I was able to pick that up as a young boy. When my brother came home from Okinawa, he had been training in the Kyokushin karate and brought that back with him. He also brought a book called, This Is Karate. When I opened it up it was the same guy from the Japanese gymnastic team. I told myself these guys are from another realm of discipline.
The Hollywood 360: Talk about the different artistic influences you bring into your work.
Chaz Guest: As you look at my work you can see an Asian influence; you will also see my own culture as an African American, and as an American with long lost roots in Africa. I am attracted to the art of Africa too. So I combine all of these.
The Hollywood 360: So you are pulling from all these different influences.
Chaz Guest: I am searching all the time. I’m not interested in finding.
I’m not interested at arriving at a place. Just interested in living in the moment of this journey.
The Hollywood 360: How is it it to live your life that way. Most people live linearly.
Chaz Guest: It’s wonderful. I remain grateful that the Universe or the power that is out there has allowed me to do what I do. I really appreciate it. Sometimes I pray and I don’t know who I am praying to.
I’m very lucky and work very hard. I’m also very blessed. However, the Art world has not yet accepted me.
The Hollywood 360: Can you explain what you just said because your paintings are displayed in art galleries and very well -known people have bought them.
Chaz Guest: I’ve got to work harder and getting in the mind to perhaps one day have a show at these museums more like MOCA. One day I would like the MET to collect a piece of my work. Later on this year, I think I will be having a show at the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris. So maybe that will orchestra something for me.
The Hollywood 360: What is your ultimate dream or goal for yourself in regards to your Art?
Chaz Guest: To be like James Kerry Marshall and have a show down at the MOCA. That’s the level I dream of reaching one day.
The Hollywood 360: However, if people are collecting your Art, and well known people are buying it, you seem to be making a significant impact.
Chaz Guest: There’s this thing called the Establishment and I’ve been operating outside of it. Part of that comes from the fact that when my son was born in 1994, I had to find a way to have us survive. I had to make money with my Art. I tried to keep the integrity of my work as much as possible. I didn’t have time to concentrate on the way the Art world does things like fill out grants, apply to Art Schools like Yale, etc…. and it’s no joke when you’re looking after a child. We had to eat, I had to dress him, clothe him and now he’s graduating from Morehouse College this year. So we’re done. I’ve accomplished one thing, but the acknowledgement of the art world has evaded me thus far.
The Hollywood 360: You have a new project out now called the Buffalo Warrior.
Chaz Guest: My son asked me five years ago if I would create a superhero. I thought that was amazing. The next morning, I just thought of the Buffalo Soldiers in our history and I don’t think there was a rhythmic beat missing coming down…the story, the script, the vision of him. What you see right here is pretty much what my first vision was in my head. It just streamed down. A complete download. I love the way people gravitate towards the Buffalo Warrior. I have a literary agent for this. I didn’t try to do that. The movie that they will be making in Hollywood…the whole thing caught on by itself. I had the producer call me and say, “Can we write you a check, and meet you at the premiere.” That was my first phone call with him.
The Hollywood 360: When you have a creative project such as this, it seems to have been channeled through you. You know other forces are at work from above.
Chaz Guest: I know… we talk all the time. In regards to the movie producers however, I’ve been skipping around with them. We’ll be seeing Lionsgate this week, then I will be very close to selling the underlying rights for a limited time.
The Hollywood 360: Who is the Buffalo Warrior in your graphic novel? He seems to exist in many different dimensions.
Chaz Guest: My character, the protagonist, is Booker Cooper. He’s raised in the cotton fields of America in the 1800’s. His best friend’s parents own the plantation, so they play in secrecy. They are in love with nature, they are in love with peace and harmony. While they are growing up through the years, the great American Buffalo is overlooking Booker’s life. There’s a reason… because Booker always looked up into the sky at the stars, since he was a little boy.
When the boys grow up, Booker joins the Army, and they are known as the Buffalo Soldiers. He’s training, he’s riding into War. But he doesn’t want to fight in the War. So he rides off into a barren field where Native American Indians mistake him for a soldier in battle. They fire arrows into his body and Booker falls into the sacred grave of The Great American Buffalo. He’s dying and breathing in the essence of the buffalo at the same time. Three days later, Booker crawls out, and the buffalo talks to him. The buffalo tells Booker that he had been following him his whole life and he is going to grant him the power to fight evil on the spiritual plane.
He tells Booker that now you will be known as the Buffalo Warrior. He transforms him into Buffalo Warrior. Booker fights for 150 years panning the future, waiting to pass his baton onto someone of his family line who is worthy. Here, in 2016, is another Booker Cooper who is mistakenly shot by the police and causes him to die at home. What really causes his death is when he is shot, the bullet grazes his head. He then falls onto the sidewalk and hits his head. The doctor is able to fix that wound in the hospital, then Booker is allowed to go home. But then he dies in his room and he is taken out of his window at 3am, where a transformation happens. They take his body up to the star planet where he meets his great/great/grandfather, Buffalo Warrior. Buffalo passes the weapon onto his great/great/grandson then dissolves into ashes, where he is inhaled by his grandson. They become one. The new Booker lives on this earth as a ghost known as Buffalo Warrior. A book is left for Booker’s parents, so they know what is going on.
The Hollywood 360: Why does the original Buffalo Warrior say in your drawings… ‘Give me six minutes?”
Chaz Guest: When you read the graphic novel, you will find out that Booker didn’t like to work in the cotton fields, so when his mother told him to wake up, he would ask her for five more minutes. However, his mother told him very lovingly, “Booker, you can take six minutes.” That catch phrase follows him all of his years, through time.
The Hollywood 360: How did you create your graphic novel?
Chaz Guest: I illustrated the book in Japanese Sumi ink on handmade paper.
The Hollywood 360: How long did that take?
Chaz Guest: Not long. I was moving like a train. I was listening to John Coltrane the whole time so I was moving very fast.
(He shows me an illustration in the book.)
Chaz Guest: This is Buffalo Warrior’s nemesis. The Coke Brothers, they are shape shifters. Buffalo Warrior kills one of the brothers and the other becomes his arch nemesis. They come from a family back in the 1800’s so they have a family vendetta.
The Hollywood 360: Your graphic novel tells the history of how the Buffalo Warrior came into existence.
Chaz Guest: This is the origin, the history.
The Hollywood 360: Can people can see the modern day Booker now on earth?
Chaz Guest: Yes. However, Booker loses his mass given time on earth, so he has to go back and revisit the portal to get recharged.
(He shows me more illustrations from the the graphic novel.)
The Hollywood 360: This is going to be a huge hit when it comes out on film. Do you have an actor in mind to play the Buffalo Warrior?
Chaz Guest: Sure. The actor who portrayed Jesse Owen, Stephen James, in the film, “Race.” That young man, I can see as Buffalo Warrior. I will just have to teach him some martial arts. It’s also going to fun casting the 7 Queens in the story too. I would love Angela Bassett to be one, Vanessa Williams, Octavia Spenser… I also want a very large woman…Hollywood hasn’t seen her yet. A very full size lady who is funny. And maybe Jennifer Lewis will be one of the Queens because she is very funny.
The Hollywood 360: How did you start incorporating jazz into your painting?
Chaz Guest: I’ve always been a lover of jazz and wanted to become a jazz sax player. I met Ornette Coleman and he gave me a few sax lessons. But after those, I realized I wasn’t good enough to pursue a career in jazz. Then I met Kenny Garrett, a jazz sax player, who bought one of my paintings… a Coltrane painting. I had painted Coltrane and Miles Davis. I am a great lover of jazz so I would listen to their music and watch videos and get inspiration.
The Hollywood 360: You have created paintings while being onstage with live jazz groups performing. Describe the experience.
Chaz Guest: When I paint with jazz, it is transporting sound to a visual. Plus, I can get lost in an instrument. I can get lost in McCoy Tyner’s playing, I can get lost in Pharoah Sanders, Miles, Coltrane, Kenny Garrett…it’s so spiritual to me. My father was a Minister. Sometimes I hear in their playing the way Gospel Ministers preach.
The Hollywood 360: Oh, the rhythmic patterns of speech.
Chaz Guest: Yes. When you’re growing up in a house where your Dad is a Gospel Minister…you are going to be tuned into something…
The Hollywood 360: What have you never said in an interview?
Chaz Guest: I had a magical experience with Oprah Winfrey. I believe in magic. Oprah Winfrey called me on the phone… the night before she did, I had looked out the window and made an affirmation…”Oprah, call me.” She had been sending me emails trying to explain images that she wanted me to paint. Now, I wanted to talk with her on the phone, so I sent out the thought, or affirmation. And the next day, when I turned on my computer, she had sent me an email, asking for my number. It was almost like she had heard me.
There was something that she had said which I have never have told anyone. Here’s the background. I never paint with pressure on me. Oprah told me that the painting I was doing for her was going into the room she had dedicated to Maya Angelou. So without knowing it, I had pressure on myself. I realized I had been working under that pressure when Oprah said to me, “Saying the painting is beautiful, is too mild of a word.” I felt a sense of relief when I heard that. I realized I was waiting to hear her feedback and had felt pressured that she would like it. The fact she loved the painting so much made me realize that I did care very much what she felt. I have never told that story.
So between President Obama writing me a letter thanking me for the painting of Thurgood Marshal and Oprah Winfrey being pleased with my painting, I have been very happy.
The Hollywood 360: Please tell us about the painting that President Obama bought from you.
Chaz Guest: I painted the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have painted him, but that particular day I just felt I should paint this great man. Sure enough, as history would have it, it would wind up in the White House for eight years. Now that this President has moved on to his civilian life, the history of that painting being in the Oval Office, means so much more.
The Hollywood 360: It’s your birthday today, 56 years old. What significance does this play in your life now?
Chaz Guest: I am moving to the next rung on the ladder. It’s time for me to do something really huge. I feel very powerful. I feel very enlightened. I feel very healthy and blessed. I just need to do something gigantic. To help humanity. If I can push humanity just a bit further, I won’t die pissed off.
The Hollywood 360: And would that be through your Art?
Chaz Guest: Through the Buffalo Warrior… I want his story to wake up humanity.
No doubt, Buffalo Warrior will awaken humanity because Chaz Guest’s paintings evoke dynamic, consequential characters that permeate your mind… looking you directly in the eye, not backing down, asking one to look beyond and into the heart of man’s character.
For more information about Chaz Guest: http://www.chazguest.com/about.html
Photo Credit: Sheryl Aronson/The Hollywood 360 (unless otherwise noted)