By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Ahmad Austin, 41, specializes in chiseling bold, music-inspired textured paintings and has been working at his craft for more than half of his life. His “palette knife” allows him to manipulate the colors in his paintings and add textured characteristics to his canvases.
Other important elements of Austin’s paintings: “I paint with a lot of emotions. I paint mostly jazz musicians, and I paint them with square heads.
“It’s like icing a cake,” he said. “I layer the paint—or the icing, so to speak—on top of the canvas and just move it around and play with it to manipulate the colors and textures.”
Why the heavy jazz influence in Austin’s work?
“Music is my biggest inspiration. … I play a lot of music when I paint. It could be jazz. It could be hip-hop. It can be a little bit of everything. I think it’s all kind of derivative of each other anyway,” he said.
“Art is my first love. I used to play the saxophone when I was younger. My dad was a musician; he used to play the trombone. My brother plays the drums. … So, yeah, music is in our family.”
Austin’s musician paintings have no facial features. Faces are left blank intentionally, which allows consumers to visualize their own interpretations. Many of the faceless musicians are in red shirts or jackets “because red just pops out.”
He described the narrative behind a few of his pieces. On one, “We have a guy playing a guitar with a bird on him and three more musicians: the trombone player, the bass player, and the piano player.”
Instead of focusing on their facial features and expressions, Austin said, “I’d rather [that the viewer focuses] on the position of the musicians. Their stances … whether they’re leaning back or leaning forward, the colors, the texture, the expressions, … they all evoke emotions.”
“When the viewer looks at my artwork, I don’t want them looking at the person so to speak, I want them to capture the music [that’s being portrayed], and I don’t want you to focus on the eyes.”
How would Austin describe his style?
“It’s mostly energetic, a lot of movement, and a lot of energy,” he said. “A lot of people say, when they see my art, it makes them happy.”
How did he join Artwalk? To monetize his passion after college, Austin said.
“When I got out of [Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University in 2005], I knew I wanted to start applying [for art shows] and making my paintings available for purchase. Artwalk was the first real show I’d applied for and the first I’d ever attended [and sold at.] … Ever since then, I’ve just been applying.”
Selling in the art world can be a challenge, Austin said.
“Some years are better than others. … Some [art shows] I get into, and some I don’t, but that’s cool,” he said “Sometimes I do better [at certain art shows] than others, but that’s all good too.”
Austin currently teaches art at Harriette W. Gwin Elementary School in Hoover. Prior to taking this position, he taught in Birmingham City Schools for eight years.