By Arhur Lewis
On view in Ferrari Sheppard’s new show, Positions of Power, opening today at United Talent Agency’s Artist Space in L.A., viewers find paintings of Black icons like Tupac Shakur and Jimi Hendrix alongside Sheppard’s friends and family members. None are identifiable by their faces, which Sheppard depicts without their features—a trademark of the artist’s stylized approach to figuration. Rather, he invites viewers to recognize the individuals by their body language, and the commanding presence each holds within the world of their portrait—their “regality,” as Sheppard describes it.
Sheppard’s vision of regality is derived from the Golden Age of hip-hop: its Black music and style stars, generational tastemakers, and the youth that built the culture. Twenty-four karat gold leaf abounds throughout the show, elevating Sheppard’s large-scale figures to the status of saints. A polaroid owned by Tupac forms a metaphorical altarpiece in a “shrine,” bedecked with gold floors and a Rick Owens bench contributed by the Owenscorp co-founder and designer Michèle Lamy.
Sheppard himself has moved among the demigods of contemporary music. Following his graduation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sheppard worked as a journalist, interviewing artists like M.I.A., Little Dragon, Earl Sweatshirt, and Erykah Badu. Shortly after, he transitioned to music production, releasing an album with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), titled “December 99th,” in 2016. Despite his music industry success, Sheppard has always viewed himself as a visual artist, first and foremost.
Arthur Lewis, the Creative Director of UTA Fine Arts and Artist Space and a prominent collector of works by Black artists, has had his eyes on Sheppard since 2019. Interview joined Lewis and Sheppard on a Zoom call to hear the pair discuss how they met and the show they’ve created together. —ELLA HUZENIS
ARTHUR LEWIS: It’s nice to see you in Zoom, Mr. Sheppard. Are we not going to see your face?
FERRARI SHEPPARD: Just a second. Start video. Man, I should know this by now.
LEWIS: There you go. What’s up man?
SHEPPARD: Good. I was just having a little dance party by myself. I am doing great.
LEWIS: So I think it’d be really cool just to start with how we met—how I came to become a fan of Ferrari Sheppard—and let everyone hear that story.
SHEPPARD: Look, I was a fan of you first. I’ve been to a few shows and exhibits, and I’m a visual person. So the first thing that occurs to me, is like, “Oh man, this dude looks cool.” You had the dark frame glasses and I’m like, “This dude knows the fun.” If you get dressed, then you got style, you know?
But I’m not weird. I think it’s weird to just approach people. So it was just like, alright, whatever, it’ll happen organically. And it just so happened that Wangari [Mathenge], he was having an exhibit here, and it was an amazing exhibit. And then afterwards I came over to your house, and we didn’t get to meet officially, but we did say hello and I’ll always have some type of little book with my art or something like that. And your partner, Hau [Nguyen] was like, “What do you do?” And I showed him and he was like, “This is amazing!” And then I think he showed you, and then that kind of started our friendship.