Sitting in the back of his middle school classroom, a young Steven Cogle would recollect his favorite childhood super heroes and remix them into his own hip hop versions through his sketches. “As much as I liked superheroes like Superman and Batman, they didn’t look like me, so I couldn’t relate to them.”
Although we are seldom aware of it at the time, our childhood hobbies are often a great indication as to who we will become in the future. As a young Brooklynite in the early 80s, Steven hit up the library daily, checking out sketchbooks, and thus getting sick with the pencil as a shorty. In today’s modern art world, where so much emphasis is put on the classical approach of formal university training, the act of self-learning is undervalued. In all actuality, it is those who are self-educated that tend to excel beyond comparable measure. If one looks at the greatest emcees or dj’s in hip-hop, each one of them was self-taught by simply being born into the culture and remaining honest to their calling. The same goes for Cogle, and his pursuit to become a visual artist.
Cogle’s route was by no means direct and straightforward however. Throughout the years, Steven Cogle worked a wide range of occupations before finally settling on his lifelong calling. One of these occupations included serving in the military, an experience that surely shaped his outspoken political perspective. This social commentary is visible in a number of his paintings such as “Detainee" and “Detainees,” which document the story of America’s War on Terror.
When taking on a Cogle piece, an observer must be aware of the many layers of meaning and complexity. Each painting that Cogle paints keys-in on a sacred story, a story that documents the tradition of African people who were spread throughout the diaspora, from the Ivory Coast to the Caribbean to East Flatbush. “When people ask me what my art is, I say its tribal Africa crossed with urban blight. You can definitely see the African influences in my artwork, but yet I want to tell a story about my environment where I grew up.”
Very often, when observing a Cogle piece, people are compelled to draw the connection to the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, the well-renowned Brooklyn native who came out of the neo-expressionism movement in the 80s. While it is certainly a compliment to be held in this regard, Cogle wants the people to know that he should not be perceived as the second coming of the late painter, but rather the next one up in a long, rich tradition of Black artists who’s work goes far overlooked by the mainstream – painters like Bob Thompson who originally paved the way for artists like Basquiat. It is for this reason why compromising will never be an option for Steven Cogle, who has been critiqued by museums for his unorthodox, abstract approach. Artistic integrity means everything because, as Cogle puts it himself, “art means life.” Every breath proves to be a new brushstroke