Kae King: In Case I'm Next


A look into the studio and creative process of the internationally renowned painter-sewer.



Jonni Cheatwood's giant canvases line the walls of his space in a warehouse-converted-studio-artist-community. He's hunched forward on a wooden work table with a calm, casual smile. His all-black outfit is interrupted by random pops of color, from the paint scuffed on his clothes to the paint that covers every inch of his workspace. Color is everywhere—the signs of someone whose been at his craft for years.

Cheatwood's "thing" (as he describes it) is to sew patches of fabric together, making the backdrop for his painted work. He prints on these fabrics—from nostalgic photographs by his wife's grandfather to old graphics to Gucci patters. As we discussed, 17 different fabrics made up one of his current canvases. His paintwork is Cy Twombly, Pollock-esque; a refined-graffiti thickly plastered in perfect chaos.

It's clear, Cheatwood's work is not "Christian"; at least not in any direct sense of the word, nor in its symbolic implications. For Cheatwood, the action of painting is the act of faith.

"As far as my actual [paintings], I don't know if I see a one-to-one connection to God. Like, you can't see [my painting], and be like 'oh there's a cross in there.' But the act of painting, that's a reflection of my faith."

"Action" becomes apparent as Cheatwood begins the creative process. He mixes some white-paint on a large glass panel. He cakes a brush in the mixture and walks up to one of the canvases, applying methodically. He walks to a second canvas, painting there as well. The process repeats, again and again, Cheatwood walking from canvas-to-canvas in a rhythmic theatrical dance. He ends up applying paint to six different canvases in total.

"It's just my 'thing,' I gotta be working on like six paintings at once. I don't know; it's just my thing."

When asked if he feels "called" to painting.

"Well I think just making work is what I'm supposed to be doing. I don't feel called to painting specifically. I feel the calling to do work, if that makes any sense."

"Everyday changes. Today I have to build frames and stuff like that, and some days it's just stretching canvas. Some days it's only sewing. Some days it's going to the fabric store. Some days is getting art supplies and doing administrative stuff, which I hate doing but, yeah, there's really no set day. Every day changes."

There's a flow to Jonni Cheatwood. Flow in his ease of jumping from building frames, to sewing fabric, to painting. Flow in his ease of painting from one canvas to the next. But, also, flow in the sense that he can come off as so care-free and, at the same time, be so dedicated to the process of "doing."

"[Painting] is about repetition, but I'm also just to the point where I'm curious to see what next and then from there, like the repetition that happens after that. And so it's just, I don't like using the word evolve, but like, it's kind of like evolving—I want to see how much deeper I can go as an artist."



Learn more at: https://www.jonnicheatwood.com

Words and Images: Bryan Ye-Chung

An interview with Kae King—the writer, poet, and spoken word artist—on experiencing writing as a gift from God, creativity as a means to humanize justice movements, and her newest film: In Case I'm Next



Kae King begins the conversation—thoughtfully and deliberately—on the power of the written word. Immigrating to America from Ivory Coast when she was seven, writing became her solace, her heart language, her method for intaking the world.
 
"I’ve always loved the written word and I think it’s because I read and I wrote out of desperation, right? When I came to the States, I picked up reading and writing much quicker than learning how to speak. I didn't have many friends. I didn't know the culture. The first thing I remember when we came to the States is my parents handing us English Bibles and saying that this is what we were going to read instead of our French one. Since then, my first step of learning, my first step of going into a different space or de-stressing or learning more about myself, learning more about the world, has always been through writing. I think that continues to be the way that I communicate with the world."
 
It was from this core medium of writing that Kae King began to branch out into other forms of creating; today she is most well-known for her spoken word pieces—recently producing a piece with Adolescent Content titled, In Case I'm Next, which she describes as articulation of "my pain, my desires for justice, my cries to God for what's happening to the Black community in America."
 
When asked to talk more about the relationship between the written word and spoken word:
 
"It's something that has been bred into me: this idea of taking care of the words that I speak out loud, taking care of the power that my spoken words have, take care of how I speak to the people around me. What is my tone? Am I being harsh? Black women are so used to being filtered for what they say and it's so easy when I'm speaking to be seen as this angry Black woman if I don't match my tone, if I don't watch what I have to say. But it's a lot harder for someone to confront you when they're reading your words."
 
"So I write first, to get to the heart of what I'm trying to say—emotions that I'm trying to portray. It's easier for me as a person, as a creative to write those things out first and then translate that to something spoken (also, find out Jonni Cheatwood and Jon Collins' say on the subject). It becomes the real heart of what I have to say to the world."
 
"Thinking before speaking"—phrases like this take on new, often disheartening, meaning in communities of color. Yet Kae King has found a way to empower it, to write thoughtfully and deliberately and—through it—produce spoken work that is honest, raw, true, beautiful all at the same time.
 
As we delve deeper, it becomes clear that being with God is at the center of it all:
 
"I used to thinking writing something for myself was an indulgence, that my time should be used on something else. I should be advancing my "regular job" or career. All these things I was telling myself that I had to do, that I couldn't rest at God's feet."
 
"But I've learned to recognize that my best, most authentic, most impactful work always comes when I'm writing with God. My gifts are an extension of God's grace and power that he has bestowed upon us all. Looking at it as that—it is not a waste of time like I grew up to believe. It's more like the story of Mary and Martha, where God invites us to sit at his feet. To just be in God's presence. To me, that's what writing is most of the time. It's sitting at God's feet and being in his presence."
 
Kae King is articulating a simple, yet incredibly difficult reality to live out: that life is not just about doing; that God does not just want to use you, but instead God wants to be with you. And somehow in this mystery of simply being with, of sitting at God’s feet—somewhere creative work and creative power is given to us a gift, to share and love with the world.
 
We end the interview talking more about her new spoken word piece, In Case I'm Next:  
 
"I wrote the piece to the Christian community. To my church community. I wanted to humanize what was happening in the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement, all of it. For everyone who personally claimed to love me as a sister in Christ, I wanted to pose the question: how would you treat my death if I was the next Black person to die at the hands of police?"  
 
"My deepest hope for [In Case I'm Next] is just for people to put themselves in my shoes and make it not about the details, not about 'is this person a criminal?' 'Should they have done X, Y, and Z?' But about, did this person deserve to die? As Christian artist who believe in Imago Dei, in Shalom, the answer should be no; it should always be no."



Watch: In Case I'm Next
Words: Bryan Ye-Chung
Images Courtesy of Adolescent Film

An interview with Kae King—the writer, poet, and spoken word artist—on experiencing writing as a gift from God, creativity as a means to humanize justice movements, and her newest film: In Case I'm Next



Kae King begins the conversation—thoughtfully and deliberately—on the power of the written word. Immigrating to America from Ivory Coast when she was seven, writing became her solace, her heart language, her method for intaking the world.
 
"I’ve always loved the written word and I think it’s because I read and I wrote out of desperation, right? When I came to the States, I picked up reading and writing much quicker than learning how to speak. I didn't have many friends. I didn't know the culture. The first thing I remember when we came to the States is my parents handing us English Bibles and saying that this is what we were going to read instead of our French one. Since then, my first step of learning, my first step of going into a different space or de-stressing or learning more about myself, learning more about the world, has always been through writing. I think that continues to be the way that I communicate with the world."
 
It was from this core medium of writing that Kae King began to branch out into other forms of creating; today she is most well-known for her spoken word pieces—recently producing a piece with Adolescent Content titled, In Case I'm Next, which she describes as articulation of "my pain, my desires for justice, my cries to God for what's happening to the Black community in America."
 
When asked to talk more about the relationship between the written word and spoken word:
 
"It's something that has been bred into me: this idea of taking care of the words that I speak out loud, taking care of the power that my spoken words have, take care of how I speak to the people around me. What is my tone? Am I being harsh? Black women are so used to being filtered for what they say and it's so easy when I'm speaking to be seen as this angry Black woman if I don't match my tone, if I don't watch what I have to say. But it's a lot harder for someone to confront you when they're reading your words."
 
"So I write first, to get to the heart of what I'm trying to say—emotions that I'm trying to portray. It's easier for me as a person, as a creative, to write those things out first and then translate that to something spoken. It becomes the real heart of what I have to say to the world."
 
"Thinking before speaking"—phrases like this take on new, often disheartening, meaning in communities of color. Yet Kae King has found a way to empower it, to write thoughtfully and deliberately and—through it—produce spoken work that is honest, raw, true, beautiful all at the same time.
 
As we delve deeper, it becomes clear that being with God is at the center of it all:
 
"I used to thinking writing something for myself was an indulgence, that my time should be used on something else. I should be advancing my "regular job" or career. All these things I was telling myself that I had to do, that I couldn't rest at God's feet."
 
"But I've learned to recognize that my best, most authentic, most impactful work always comes when I'm writing with God. My gifts are an extension of God's grace and power that he has bestowed upon us all. Looking at it as that—it is not a waste of time like I grew up to believe. It's more like the story of Mary and Martha, where God invites us to sit at his feet. To just be in God's presence. To me, that's what writing is most of the time. It's sitting at God's feet and being in his presence."
 
Kae King is articulating a simple, yet incredibly difficult reality to live out: that life is not just about doing; that God does not just want to use you, but instead God wants to be with you. And somehow in this mystery of simply being with, of sitting at God’s feet—somewhere creative work and creative power is given to us a gift, to share and love with the world.
 
We end the interview talking more about her new spoken word piece, In Case I'm Next:  
 
"I wrote the piece to the Christian community. To my church community. I wanted to humanize what was happening in the Black community, the Black Lives Matter movement, all of it. For everyone who personally claimed to love me as a sister in Christ, I wanted to pose the question: how would you treat my death if I was the next Black person to die at the hands of police?"  
 
"My deepest hope for [In Case I'm Next] is just for people to put themselves in my shoes and make it not about the details, not about 'is this person a criminal?' 'Should they have done X, Y, and Z?' But about, did this person deserve to die? As Christians who believe in Imago Dei, in Shalom, the answer should be no; it should always be no."



Watch: In Case I'm Next
Words: Bryan Ye-Chung
Images Courtesy of Adolescent Film

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