In the mood for reflective and inspiring art, look no further DC lifers. Haitian American artist, Charles Phillipe Jean Pierre is the district's very own Basquiat. Using a perfected blend of folk, graffiti, graphic, and multimedia; Jean Pierre's talent breathes a distinct and refreshing air of life onto any canvas. A down to earth and soulful artist, Jean Pierre's work will have you marveling at the cross product of passion and inspiration. With a radiant palette of colors, Jean Pierre's art work has become the talk of numerous media outlets including but not limited to NBC, the Washington Post, and NKH TV. Hailing from Chicago, Jean Pierre's work can be publicly seen throughout the nation's capital and has even ended up in the hands of numerous politicians and celebrities. While teaching art at Macfarlane High for the past 3 years, Jean Pierre has also served as an artist in residence for a local DC nonprofit Bloom Bars and the National Arts Director for the Young and Powerful group. More recently, Jean Pierre has become involved with organizations like United Nations Association and continuously remembers to reach back into his community. Charles Jean Pierre is a highly acclaimed local artist that has managed to remain humbly grounded in his roots.
It can be difficult for individuals to realize what it is they want to do in life, but it’s obvious that art has always been what you wanted to do. Why art, and when did you realize that art was it for you?
Art was never what I wanted to do. It’s always been what I did. I remember branding myself with a hot iron and a crayon, just because I wanted to experiment and mix my own colors. I remember creating stories to go along with the paintings in my home. I’d practice by recreating the Haitian paintings on our walls. Art is a pretty large part of our culture. The reason I viewed as art as a plausible career path is because I had examples. Several of my family members are respected artists in their fields. I would be lying if I told you my parents did not push me towards a more traditional career path, but they collect art and have a certain respect for the arts, so it was pretty much inevitable.
Of all things your mother could have gotten you involved in, why do you think she chose art classes?
I don’t think my mother thought I’d be a professional artist. I think she wanted me to be a priest or a doctor. That’s funny. Actually, my mother originally enrolled me in piano lessons. Piano was a big part of family gatherings and holidays. Long story short, the piano and I did not get along. My piano teacher, Mrs. Mims, suggested that I take art classes. I was too young for the classes, so it took some time and patience, but they eventually allowed me to participate. I gained my foundation in art from this class, I learned about acrylics, collage work, and carving.
Besides your mother, were there other people who saw your talent and potential? Who were these people and what did they teach you along your artistic journey?
If I had to name one person it would be my piano teacher Ms. Mims. She never gave up on me. She saw my potential and knew god didn’t bless me with musical talents but she constantly reminded me that I was blessed. She definitely took me under her wing, helped groom me, and exposed me to American culture. She’d take the students from the Positive Youth Development program out to dinners and plays downtown. She gave me my first job and also helped me start my first business. She contacted the city and got a group of us a contract to cut the grass on abandoned lots. She is one of the main reasons I am so adamant about giving back.
Rejection comes with pursuing your passion and getting your dreams out, for any individuals that have a burning desire to pursue a passion what would you tell them about rejection? Did you experience any rejection on your path, and if so how did it shape you as an artist?
When you're not looking for acceptance, it's hard to get rejected. I was the guy wearing Chucks before they were cool (laughs). Being who you are is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life. It is so important when it comes to acceptance. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been turned down but it’s usually followed by encouragement. I’ve been blessed in that aspect. I will say that my biggest critic has been my mother. She is more into classical art and always thought my art was too urban. It keeps me grounded because the people that happen to love me most are my biggest critics. I’m just Philippe at home.
Well Phillipe, do you feel your talent has exposed you to anything? Any lessons learned or wisdom gained along the way?
I learn something new every day and I’ve definitely been exposed to different circles and rub shoulders with a lot of people that I would not normally mingle had it not been for my talent, but at the end of the day they are all driven and like-minded individuals. I’ve realized that a lot of people look to their past as the highlight of their lives. I look forward to the future. I am confident that I will be better tomorrow than I am today.
Your artwork reflects a lot of different concepts. I know that musicians like Run DMC and Michael Jackson influenced you. What exactly is it about these influences that allow you to come up with these concepts. How exactly does the birth of these concepts come about?
I paint what moves me and music tends to do that often. The morning after the BET Honors I woke up and started to paint. I decided to paint a 1942 Bomber inspired by the Tuskegee airmen that were honored the night before. That’s how it works most of the time. I have a sketchbook with concepts and ideas that I pull out for whatever I’m currently working on. My variety is from my background. I can't just stay in one box or under one label. I really just want to share my light.
You're originally from Chicago how did you end up in the lovely District of Columbia? Tell me a little bit more about how you ended up in DC doing the art thing?
Well, after I graduated college I ended up landing a manager in training program with a popular athletic shoe company who shall remain nameless (laughs). I was a huge hip-hop and sneaker head at the time. I was a top seller and got moved to the flagship store in Downtown Chicago in Oprah’s building. I was still painting like three days a week; I was doing great at the time. I had a pretty good buzz. I painted portraits for some high profile folks and I was doing shows around the city. One day the regional manager came to visit my store and asked me where I saw myself in five years. I had an epiphany. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was like a Kanye & GLC Spaceship moment. Long story short, I paid all my bills, put everything in storage, and drove to DC. I only had $900 dollars in my pocket, an acceptance letter from Howard University, and my paintings in the back of my truck. It was do or die at that point.
You're a part of something known as Culture District; can you explain what that is for all of the DC lifers out there?
When I got to Howard I met two other Howard art students Johnnie Best and Brock Horne and we formed Culture District. We came up with the name at Brock's house. Chicago is known for its African American culture and DC is its own district so we came up with Culture District. Our first art show was the spring of 2006 at Howard University's Spring Black Art fest. Everybody fed off of each other and we had great success with it. Johnnie is doing his thing down in Miami. Brock is based out of Atlanta and I’m holding down DC & New York. Culture District can be an interview all in itself with all its moving parts, but all in all it’s the family that we made for each other here in D.C.
I've seen your art gallery and a lot of the events you've been involved with; I know you've done live performances and open canvas events. You are also heavily involved with Bloom Bars, Culture District, and you've been teaching art for three years now. Can we expect to see Charles Jean Pierre involved in anything else anytime soon? Anything upcoming we can look forward to?
I am working with the United Nations Association Black history celebration. I am creating three unique paintings honoring the achievements of African American women. They will be honoring Barbara Lee, Rosa Whitaker, and Ruby Bridges. It’s an honor to even have my name associated with these regal women. I am also extremely excited about teaching at the Alvin Ailey Dance School this summer. I will work to develop their mental and cultural skills during the six-week camp. I’m also working with Passport Carriers, which is a non-for-profit based out of Chicago. It is a program that promotes exposure to inner-city youth through international travel. We will be taking a group to Germany in July.