Israel Solomon’s studio is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Harrison Center, where my colleague Natalya Herndon and I met him on a sunny Friday morning early this fall. He greeted us in the lobby, where a huge screen behind the desk was playing about him and his work, he brushed it off modestly saying, they do that for everyone.
Surrounded by his colorful and precise paintings, we talked about his life-long dedication to being a respected professional artist, his role as an educator, and his particularly important role in the Black Lives Matter mural.
Emily Sogard (ES): Have you always been an artist?
Israel Solomon (IS): Yes and no. Some of my earliest memories are drawing with my dad and brother at home in Kokomo, IN. I loved drawing cartoons, ThunderCats, He-Man, Star Wars. I always felt like they were better than I was, and it motivated me to get better.
ES: You’ve always been an artist, and aside from a few corporate jobs in your twenties, you have been a professional artist and practicing art educator. How does being a professional artist inform your teaching?
IS: When I was in undergrad at Ball State University in Muncie, IN I didn’t feel like being a professional artist was an option. I didn’t know any professional artists, especially ones who looked like me. Now, as a teacher and an artist, I am able to share personal experiences. It’s important to show students I’m not different than they are. That’s a blessing.
Natalya Herndon (NH): How do you describe your work?
IS: My work is very figurative, somewhat representational, but it’s abstract too. It’s very rhythmic. My challenge as an artist is to create an image that feels there is movement within the image. I take my work very seriously. I want the work to be respected for its quality. I am always trying to develop my work to grow and change and evolve.
ES: How did you get involved in the Black Lives Matter mural?
IS: When George Floyd was murdered so much was going on, all of the protests. I went downtown with my family to take pictures for a commission I was working on, and I felt the energy. I believed in the protest, I wanted to support. Later, I saw on social media that there was going to be a mural. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to be involved in this. I reached out to Mali and Alan, they told me I was accepted as one of the artists, and it was a go from there.
ES: You painted the second T in ‘MATTER’, but you also had the privilege of literally laying the foundation for the mural. Can you tell us about that?
IS: It was such a cool process. Dan Handskillz, a local graffiti artist who I had worked with before, recommended I be the person to layout #BLACKLIVESMATTER on the street. I had noticed all of the BLM murals popping up all over the country looked similar. They had a basic font. I wanted to design the letters myself, and I got the go-ahead to bring my geometric style into the letters, which made them stick out from other BLM murals.
NH: Has your experience as a Black artist in Indianapolis changed post 2020?
IS: There has been a shift and it has been a positive shift. GANGGANG is helping, but we are still trying to catch up, we aren’t caught up. I am thankful for the opportunities I have and the ones that are coming, however, I am definitely not satisfied. I do see a lot of positivity coming out of The Eighteen too. There is more to be seen. I think the best is yet to come. More positive energy to output from the collective.
NH: I felt the same energy at the exhibition opening for We. The Culture, how was that experience for you? Having your work on view in the Indianapolis Museum of Art?
IS: I was overwhelmed in a positive way. It was positively overwhelming. Being able to share my story and our story as a collective is amazing.
You can see Israel Solomon’s work in the exhibition We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective on view in the Indianapolis Museum of Art now through September 24, 2023.
To see him in action, follow him on Instagram @israelsoloart, and watch his artist highlight at https://discovernewfields.org/wetheculture/eighteen-art-collective-artist-bios
We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective is presented by Aaron Wealth Advisors, Gary & Hannah Hirschberg. Lead support is provided by Rachel M. Simon & the Herbert Simon Family Foundation and June McCormack. Associate support is provided by IceMiller and its Racial Equity Solutions Team. Additional support is provided by Judy Donner, Nathan & Deborah Oatts, and Emily A. West.
Installation view of We. The Culture: Works by The Eighteen Art Collective in the June M. McCormack Forefront Galleries, September 23, 2022–September 24, 2023. Artworks © their respective creators.