Flint, MI–Local painter and muralist Isiah Lattimore is on a mission: to bring the world of fine art to spaces where it is lacking.
“Kids think it’s normal when they see Nike advertisements on the corner,” says Lattimore. “They should think it’s a little more normal when they find fine art on the corner.”
Lattimore’s works can be spotted in a number of places in Flint: both inside and on the outside of Courtside Cuts, inside Comma Bookstore, Magnificent Cuts, and more.
Lattimore says he is influenced by the works of Chuck Close, Caravaggio, Kehinde Wiley, and a variety of religious art. With Close, he says his works depict the power of naturalism– representing how an image looks in the real world– in painting.
Experiencing Kehinde Wiley’s works for the first time was life-changing for Lattimore. Wiley is known for his highly naturalistic paintings of African Americans. Lattimore had been exposed to the world of fine art through Mott Community College, and having grown up in Flint, began to realize that the world of fine art had a place in his hometown as well.
“This is a very common phenomenon with kids–they know there’s a whole other world that’s separate from where they live,” says Lattimore. “So they categorize that way, if it’s for me or if it’s not for me. A lot of these kids view fine art as not being for them because it exists separate from where they live.”
“But Kehinde Wiley showed me that there is a space where I can bring this painting back into the north end of Flint. Or I can bring the north end of Flint into these paintings.”
Lattimore also says he takes great inspiration from the painter Caravaggio of the late 16th and early 17th century. “He made the experience for the common people of the church,” says Lattimore. “At that time, the church kept things very separate. They were debating if the church should keep commissioning paintings.”
He continued, “In Caravaggio’s mind, the church should bring people together. He was successful in honoring this long tradition of artwork that has always existed but finding where it is more palatable where traditionally people got left off from that experience.” Lattimore says this philosophy influences his own outlook of bringing fine art to spaces where it is not necessarily common.
It was during his time in high school that Lattimore began to consider art as a long-term goal. His father was a model at Mott Community College, and Lattimore was able to occasionally see the studio space. Getting a first-hand glimpse at how the artistic process was conducted gave him inspiration to try it himself.
Since getting his start in the fine art world Lattimore has participated in art shows at Buckham gallery as well as the Lansing art gallery. Lattimore ended up winning the Lansing show, which was the first art show he entered.
Lattimore says the aesthetic of antiquity is important in his work while giving the figures contemporary dress for the modern day. “I always try to keep the models of an urban feel, but it’s really just people I know,” he says. “I try to make sure I’m conveying where I got them from so that when people look at it they’re seeing a little bit of that area as well. Not just old bougie paintings.”
Lattimore’s piece, The Pieta, depicts a mother who has lost her son, inspired by the Renaissance sculpture of the body of Jesus on the lap of his mother, Mary. “It was this image of Mary pulling Jesus’ body off of the cross and it was supposed to invoke empathy, this feeling of losing a child” says Lattimore. “And I thought that message was very appropriate for a lot of what we see going on in our urban areas, particularly to our young Black youth.”
“As much as this one was me trying to bring fine art into this area, I was really trying to bring this area to those that look at fine art. I’m trying to get you to recognize these kids that don’t make the news and you don’t hear about them.”
Lattimore says his family tree is unique. His biological father was mixed-race, and his stepfather is Black. Lattimore says he has siblings and half siblings that are mixed-race and Black as well. “Our family tree is like a greyscale and I’m just the furthest white one,” he says.
“People ask me what race I consider myself,” Lattimore says. “I always say the distinguishing factor is not what I think I am. It’s what the world says you are. And the reason is that if my skin was darker and I looked more Black, the world would treat me differently. Because the world doesn’t treat me that way, I don’t think I have the right to claim to be the same thing.”
The process between oil paintings and murals, Lattimore’s two primary areas of art, have vast differences in their artistic process. “With oil painting it starts with the idea, then it goes to image, then to canvas,” says Lattimore. “I can make the canvas any size I want. With murals it typically works backwards. You find the space, then you talk to the owner and see what they’re willing to have up there.”
“In canvas painting there’s no one else to consider,” he says. “It’s whatever I want. With murals there’s understandably always some reserve with what’s going up there.”
Lattimore says his murals can take several days to complete, with the quickest one he’s ever completed being done in two days, whereas the oil paintings can be month-long projects.
Having dabbled in teaching art, Lattimore says he is also interested in being a professor someday. However, his next step in his artistic career is planning a workshop in Flint. “When you see the Sistine ceiling most people don’t know Michelangelo had 50 people to help with scaffolding and such,” he says. “You can have a workshop where kids need work and want to learn how to paint, and you can start delegating jobs to them. I can do five jobs by myself, or one hundred with a workshop.”
Follow Lattimore’s works on his website at https://www.lattimoreart.com/