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Unraveling Phillip Gabriel Steverson’s Narrative Through His Art

Phillip Gabriel Steverson has experienced various defining moments throughout his life that have inspired his career. Steverson is a multi-faceted artist with experience in poetry, fashion design, painting and other visual art. He is an Arizona State University alumni and a proud fan of superheroes from West Philadelphia.

Steverson explained that one of these defining moments included sitting in a classroom for creative writing for the first time when he decided to pursue his passions at a college level. Another moment would be his travels in Amsterdam during the summer of 2019 where his perspective of art’s capabilities and forms was altered.  Steverson was able to see how art could be manipulated and how it could look through his own lens.

“I just recently was asked by a friend of mine what I would be doing if I was not doing art, and I am so fearful to answer that question. I have no idea what I’d be doing without art because I use art to kind of keep myself sane,” Steverson said.

A beautiful mural of poets, such as Langston Hughes, in the hallway of his elementary school where he found himself leaving class just to reread and the melodic rhythmic of rappers such as Common sparked his interest in Steverson for poetry at the age of 10. 

Steverson shared how he would go to Dollar General, grab a pad of paper and a mechanical pencil, and just start writing from there. This would advance to writing songs for an entertainment group that did music, dance, and host parties.

Although Steverson knew he had an interest in the arts, he was not approached with the prospect of college at a young age. He was brought up in an environment where there was not much guidance in regards to academics and some kids did not even make it past elementary school. He mentioned that he knew peers who would not show up to the class the next day.

“Some people don't make it through high school when you're in those settings because there's a lot of exterior factors that come into play such as violence, which is apparent in this exhibition,” Stevenson said, “Or you have family issues that happen, and generational trauma that happens, so you're kind of distracted, but that's me putting it lightly.”

Steverson mentioned that there was a moment when he felt like there was more out there than the neighborhood he grew up in. One of his math teachers took him downtown in Philadelphia and he found himself being starstruck. In that moment, he realized that there were other places he could go and it changed his perspective on what was out there for him.

These pronounced memories throughout his life showed him that he went down the right path and kept pushing forward and evolving as an artist, according to Steverson. Although these moments fueled his inspiration to continue his career, art has always been a significant part of his adolescence.

 Steverson uses his artistic capabilities to dig deeper into his traumatic experiences through his various paintings and sculptures within different mediums of art. Steverson explained that he is still in the process of being comfortable enough to speak about his emotions at a deeper level but that his art subconsciously taps into that aspect of his life. The art does not remind him of that part of his life but helps him accept that those experiences did happen.

“Think of me as a gardener, just metaphorically and there are specific tools that you use to do different things when gardening and trying to plot different lands. I think each of the mediums that I've been trying to pick up is a different gardening tool or different shovel to kind of dig in deeper ways or dig in specific ways.” Steverson said.

Steverson explains that he uses these mediums to dig things from different places. This is seen more specifically with the type of materials he uses for his art. He uses things such as punching bags, leather, military drab, etc., all materials that have abrasive histories to them. These materials have a connection to welfare or have physical aspects that have been put through some sort of abuse which is unintentional according to Steverson.

Steverson uses his tools to process his own life and the world around him, especially with being an African American artist and being able to portray his experiences through his artwork. 

“I love this idea of multiple realities that are happening at one time, so I think I’m just telling a story of my personal Black experience or African American experience from that reality and the bubble that I lived in and how that bubble is transferring over to a different one,” Steverson said.

One goal Steverson wants to achieve is for people to understand where he is coming from concerning his work. He explains that he is from a place in West Philadelphia where the success rate for anybody coming out of there is slim and it is hard to get out of that situation. He wants people to understand and know that story when going into the exhibition.

The exhibition mentioned was a solo exhibition named Relics of a Chameleon at Luna Culture Labs in Downtown on April 5. The focus of the exhibit is showcasing his experiences with “discipline” within both the physical and spiritual beginning from adolescence to adulthood. It was a pleasure seeing his transition from one reality to another through the pieces of his artwork. 

The concept of discipline is an umbrella term that includes three different aspects, these include physical, spiritual, and artistic discipline. This includes how he has evolved through those disciplines and how they’ve evolved in reaction to him.

The exhibition was based on the idea of discipline and how these aspects have shown up in his life. He thought about the type of discipline he faced when he was younger, why he was being disciplined, and what caused him to be disciplined.

 He has had various muses for this exhibit but he highlights one specifically done by Authur J called Lower Age. The piece is a printout of a photoshopped image of the Hulk with a big afro and gold teeth. The piece’s purpose was to capture a stereotypical image of a Black man when he is enraged. Steverson explains that similar messages are seen within his work, where he makes familiar references within his community that may be traumatic for some people.

Steverson wants the readers out there to not let their creativity get neglected. Steverson says to just do whatever the mind may take you and not just leave it as just a thought. One of the things that Steverson hopes for in the future is to achieve an honorary doctorate and from the looks of the path he is on, I do not think the wait for such an achievement will be long.

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