I was invited by David Wirtschafter to participate in Ali’s annual Celebrity Fight Night gala evening and auction. An auction to raise awareness and funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Scottsdale Arizona. Creating a six foot piece that captured the spirit and exuberance of the young champ the painting was autographed by Ali and raised $30,000 for this special cause.
“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” Ancestor Muhammad Ali, the Greatest of All Time
Did it ever occur to you that we are the gold?
I often contemplate the wealth of Africa and our inheritance. There is always talk of what was stolen from us. But I mean Africa birthed humanity. And for us folk, darker than blue, melanin is the marker. We are the carriers of Her creative and triumphant spirit across the galaxies. It means that we belong to a special tribe of global and spirit explorers. What exactly was stolen from us? And I don’t dismiss the struggle, I affirm it with our presence. We are spiritual beings- special- walking in the physical – real. To put it in contemporary parlance – We are spiritual gangsters.
It occurs to me upon reflecting upon the presidency of Barrack Hussein Obama as part of recent history that he was in fact a key bearer, the “door opener” so to speak. That next generation that will further refine the struggle into pristine triumph is the one marching with Black Lives Matter signs. So many moans and groans in the community about the end. However, this is just a beginning.
“Ali was such a warrior and technician in the ring. He practically reinvented boxing by not accepting the flatfooted style of every boxer before him. Oh, how he danced around the ring floating like a butterfly.”
So, we stand on the shoulders of ancestors who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live our beautiful lives. We live in a time provided by spiritual providence. We look into the eyes of Jules Arthur’s work and subjects and we realize a mirror; we see a portal outside of time that is in fact our ancestors looking at us in all of their glory, daring us to be more, daring us to be everything they dreamed of when they made the unthinkable possible. We are the miracle. We are the gold. So, now in a time where we are losing a golden symbol, it’s time to look within for the treasures that we are. It’s our turn to pull the greatness from within out for another generation.
“But Ali was just as much of a warrior outside of the ring as he was inside of the ring. I view him as one of the great voices in civil and human rights.”
This ain’t just some mumbo jumbo. This is the truth of African ascendancy and how we do what we do. This period of time is lite – this load lite – light when compared to the 60’s and 70’s socio-economic struggle for Civil Rights; light when compared to Harriet Tubman taking thirteen missions to rescue nearly seventy enslaved families and friends via the Underground Railroad. It is light when considering the cost of 40,000 African Americans dying in the Civil War a never receiving their 4 Acres and a Mule. And it’s definitely light when considering the transatlantic… “voyage” we took to “becoming” Americans.
As poet of the people Jaki Shelton Green has noted, “We’ve been through tougher than this before. We’ll get through this too. This too will come to pass.” Light, light, light. So, let’s get ready to do some heavy lifting and just do the dang thang!
This struggle and specifically the fight are exemplified in Jules Arthur’s portraits of boxing fighters whose work documents in classic Americana the American struggle for dignity, achievement and triumph. In particular, meditates upon the great fighters leading into the golden era of the Civil Rights struggle – Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela… but in particular Muhammad Ali. It has been stated of this work, “His work is hypnotic splendor, his subjects draw you in with their eyes reading your soul and telling their story, poetry on paper.”
This is the 2nd of a 3 part series celebrating the work of Jules Arthur and seeking the architecture (spiritual and philosophical in addition to artistic) behind one of the great artists of our time.
For this painting I was approached by Keep A Child Alive Alicia Keys’ organization that provides treatment, love and support to families affected by HIV/AIDS. I painted a dynamic image of Ali that raised $11,000 for Keep A Child Alive. It was an honor to work with Alicia and this cause as she showcased the painting on Good Morning America and spoke of the importance of the auction.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.” Muhammad Ali, G.O.A.T.
1.) Muhammad Ali seems to have been a subject matter, a meditation and inspiration throughout your work – his spirit seems strong in you. How, if at all, does morality of the G.O.A.T. continue on in your work?
I would explain my passion for Ali as a symbol of love between father and son. My father was a huge Ali fan. He had a tremendous amount of love for Ali and would speak about him in such high regards on a regular basis. I would naturally adopt those same regards for the champ and eventual put that love into the many paintings I have done of Ali.
I remember as a kid my father screaming at the TV during the Ali vs. Holmes fight in 1980. “STOP THE FIGHT STOP THE FIGHT!” Ali was taking a really bad beating in that fight and my father couldn’t take seeing Ali in such a vulnerable position. Ali stayed up on his two feet taking the heaviest of blows to the head from Holmes as retribution for the champs unrelenting verbal taunts towards Holmes. Some boxing aficionados say the hits that Ali took during this fight contributed a lot to his decline in health. Ali was such a warrior and technician in the ring. He practically reinvented boxing by not accepting the flatfooted style of every boxer before him.
Oh, how he danced around the ring floating like a butterfly. Ali’s style even inspired Bruce Lee to adopt the dancing style of fighting in his fluid Jeet Kune Do approach to combat. Real badass.
“His spirit was great in life so shall it be now that he has passed on. Rest in peace you mighty warrior.”
Ali and the Nation of Islam have distinct history records that are unchangeable. Either of them was perfect so I don’t place the guise of morality upon their history. But Ali was just as much of a warrior outside of the ring as he was inside of the ring. I view him as one of the great voices in civil and human rights. To hear him speak so eloquently about justice and equality is a testament to the Nation Of Islam’s teachings and to the convictions of his own character. In ways I am a student of Ali by adopting his fortitude and perseverance in setting out to achieve my goals. A burning desires to prevail against great odds. I don’t live just for myself but for the greater good of all. You will see this manifestation in the humanity I put into the work I create.
I find it extremely important to engage in the fight for equality, justice and love for all walks of life.
Did you have the opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali?
I was invited to present and participate in Arizona at Ali’s annual Celebrity Fight Night gala. The purpose of the auction is a gala to raise awareness and funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Scottsdale Arizona. I created a life sized piece that captured the spirit of the young champ. The painting (see above) was autographed by Ali and raised $30,000 for this special cause. This was a definite highlight in my career.
“Not so much for the image as for the overall execution of the piece. First of its approach I combined authentic textural elements into the painting to emotionally connect the viewer to the piece and the respective era I intended to transport the viewer to. In this case Vintage 1910. Distressed leather, canvas, wood, metal paper, typography. It sold to my first client of a certain echelon which spring boarded an incredible domino effect of collectors. Thanks Mr. Carter.
Why does the fighter dominate a particular period in your work — I’ve studied work with heavy weight champs Jack Johnson and Joe Louis. It has been noted by Live Fast Magazine, “boxers such as Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Jack Johnson and Nelson Mandela now hang on the gallery walls.”
There is lineage or a legacy. Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight world champion in 1910, also resonated with me. He was cut from a different cloth but it is the same spirit. It’s that spirit that I’m drawn to. When Joe Lewis came into the ring 30 years later, promoters and marketers started telling Ali, he had to be the opposite of Jack Johnson, a little more muzzled. They wanted him to be more like Joe Louis. I think that’s why he came out so strong. There is a pattern, a legacy where the champions build off the previous generations.
“Thank you President Obama for bringing class to the office of the presidency. Like everyone it is impossible to get all things right but warriors in the battle for good have the best intentions towards justice, peace and equality. Thank you for serving us Obama. I will miss you in that office.”
2.) Does GOAT’s spirit live on after his passing?
Ali was on my mind in Cuba so I inquired with folks about their opinion of the champ. Ali was right at the top of the most admired individuals from America in Cuba. I suspect those feelings for Muhammad Ali is unanimous in every corner around the world. His spirit was great in life so shall it be now that he has passed on. Rest in peace you mighty warrior.
“It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” Muhammad Ali, who conquered the whole world with love, a fighting spirit and charisma
3.) Your work seems to feature fighters – the spirit of the struggle, both past and present – is Barack Obama a fighter? Might future work feature either Barack or Michelle Obama?
Yes, I consider Barack and Michelle Obama fighters in the struggle for freedom and humanity. I put the two of them in the category of a long list of individuals who answer the call of duty for the betterment of all. The two of them are young so it is possible that their greatest work is ahead of them. President Obama will have less power than he had in office but will not be tethered by the constraints of upholding the office of the presidency. I think he will be able to speak louder, freer and roll up his sleeves to do some heavy social/political lifting outside of the White House as he did before entering the White House.
So, you think he will definitely have less power outside the office than tethered to the institution of the office. I mean you yourself in many ways are outside the system. You are not in corporate America. At this stage of your career, You are not beholden to a corporate charter except for what Jules Arthur believes and that seems to have been a defined visions.
There is no power greater than the power of that presidency. That is undeniable. In not having that chair. But as you are referring to- not being tethered to that office. You do have other powers. We haven’t seen that in him. He’s always had his focus on that office. You need to be a certain person to gain that office. When we look at him as a young senator and the work he was doing in Chicago as a young organizer. You saw this incredible spirit, this fight.
It’s funny that you mention that because I remember this recent interview with Obama in the Vox in which he said, to mirror your point – “once out of office, I’m going to stop being polite and start getting real. He went on to essentially say he wanted to use his post-presidential bully pulpit more like an activist than a venerable elder statesman.
“There are institutional obligations I have to carry out that are important for a president of the United States to carry out, but may not always align with what I think would move the ball down the field on the issues that I care most deeply about,” he said.
I agree with him. It would be impossible for him to speak freely in a manner that goes to the heart of issues without America feeling it was an attack on them. He was very perceptive about this. Case in point is every time he spoke about race from the bully pulpit. Every time he mentioned “race” it was scandalized by the press and reception by mainstream America.
He has a brilliant mind. He is the sharpest knife in the drawer. Michelle is his match in sharpness. Yes, I can see myself doing works of art based on their character and achievements. It would be quite an honor.
“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.” Muhammad Ali, ancestor, The Greatest of All Time
Barack is a student of Madiba ( Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela ) who threw out all of the old rules (after his imprisonment on Robben Island). Mandela said I am going to embrace my enemy – I am going to show them that it does not work to work on vengeance. He turned South African around at that moment. I think Barack Obama is and was a huge student of that. He gave the Republicans so much leeway and that might have been an error early on.
But it was the challengers of Ali that made him great. It is that challenge that will make Obama great.
Thank you President Obama for bringing class to the office of the presidency. Thank you for passionately pushing important common sense agendas that are for the greater good of all. Like everyone, it is impossible to get all things right but warriors in the battle for good have the best intentions towards justice, peace and equality. Thank you for serving us Obama. I will miss you in that office.
Listening to Jules Arthur talk- who is himself a prize fighter on another plane, someone who struggles mightily for his people and embraces not only the struggle but refinement of the spirit and betterment of his people… It is in listening to Jules Arthur talk and thinking about the process of becoming an ancestor, I am reminded that Muhammad Ali’s spirit is stronger than ever in all of us. The equation would be Muhammad Ali by a factor of the population on earth.
He is a legend. He is spirit. He is a myth, we speak to our children about him in personal anecdotal manners. His life is fabled. He is beloved and venerated. He is an idea. He is the triumph of principal over struggle. He is the eternal fighter in all of us. He is the Greatest of All Time in all of us. He is our ancestor.
Thus, We are the Greatest of All Time. Literally, we are the aggregated sum of all who came before us. So, as manifested in the creed of our ancestor who proclaimed with such audaciousness, “I am the Greatest of All Time” to realize that ambition, let’s roll up our sleeves, WAKE Up! and let’s get to work. In many ways, the last 8 years were a dream. But dreams don’t pay the bills, so let’s stand tall, stand together and manifest.
“In the religions of Africa, life does not end with death, but continues in another realm. Death, although a dreaded event, is perceived as the beginning of a person’s deeper relationship with all of creation, the complementing of life and the beginning of the communication between the visible and the invisible worlds. The goal of life is to become an ancestor after death.”
“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” Muhammad Ali, G.O.A.T.
More about Jules Arthur’s work can be found at www.julesarthur.com and purchased at www.saatchiart.com/account/artworks/57597
(via The Good Men Project)