A brush with... Theaster Gates

Ben Luke talks to Theaster Gates about his influences—including writers, musicians, film-makers and, of course, other artists—and the cultural experiences that have shaped his life and work. Gates is an artist whose every gesture is transformative, whether that’s in the form of social projects in his native Chicago, works repurposing found materials from significant disused spaces in the city, presentations honouring and reimagining collections of materials he’s gathered over time, or the ceramic sculptures that were his earliest medium and remain at the heart of his work today. He discusses his engagement with artists as diverse as El Lissitzky, Agnes Martin and Arthur Jafa; his transformative encounters with Martin Puryear and bell hooks; how he came to be custodian of Chicago House pioneer Frankie Knuckles’s personal vinyl collection; and his abiding passion for ceramics, which, he says, are “made for the eternal as much as they are made for tea”. Gates also gives insight into his life in the studio and answers our usual questions, including the ultimate one: what is art for?

Theaster Gates: Young Lords and Their Traces, New Museum, New York, until 5 February 2023; Vestment, Gagosian, New York, until 23 December; A Movement in Every Direction: Legacies of the Great Migration, Baltimore Museum of Art, until 29 January 2023.

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