Two Generations: One Love for Art

Visual artists Carl Karni Bain (BAI) and Courtney Minor possess unique creative processes that allow them to instigate the power of African-American images. Their artistic expressions prompt viewers to question the power of isolation and its impact on the African Diaspora.

Both Bain and Minor are Harlem transplants who are navigating the world of art--from a business and artistic perspective--with experiences that are influencing their creative process.

A former technology salesman from California, Bain, moved to New York City eight years ago to manage his business as an artist. Bain’s artwork is inspired by African masks that he believes always demand a response from the viewer.

“I’m in love with what I do,” Bain says. “I was born with a gift to create and I must use it everyday.”

Minor, originally from Houston, moved to Harlem five years ago. By day, she works in market research. In Minor’s spare time, she uses mixed media collage and photography to discover ways to capture themes such as freedom and truth.

“I make what I feel,” Minor says. “Being a Black woman in this world is hard. But with art I can create my own world, my own niche.”

Bain and Minor have chosen to reside in Harlem at an interesting moment in the village’s history--on the crux of never-ending development and an undying celebration of African-American creativity that is reminiscent of the Harlem Renaissance. 

And this is where their similarities end.

Bain is a classically trained artist who graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts. A working artist for more than 30 years, Bain’s work has been featured in galleries throughout the United States and in more than 25 international art fairs. 

Minor proudly proclaims that she is a self taught artist who is still learning and discovering the power of her creative process. Minor began her career as a visual artist in 2018 while vacationing in Vietnam. She opened an Instagram account to share her work and was soon featured in Red Rooster before being featured at galleries, art fairs and group expositions.

NILU chatted with Bain and Minor recently about their creative process, their love of travel, and of course, Harlem.

Why visual artistry? What emotions or moments or ideas fuel your creativity?

Bain: When I was six years old, I knew I was an artist. I had the ability to draw and I could do it better than others. I read a lot of comics and then moved on to a set of encyclopedias. I saw a Balu Mask and it was love at first sight. It captured me and I was really moved. There was something about the earthly innocence of Africa that I really, really loved. And I realized that others were greatly influenced by it, too. So at six and seven years old, I could look at Picasso and say, “I’ve seen this before.” To this day, African masks move me.

Minor: I have always loved art, design and the creative process. As a child, I sketched buildings and houses. I won a ton of art awards. I created a little bit and always had friends who were creatives. Most people didn’t realize I was creative. Two years ago, I spent a month in Vietnam. I had been playing around with my Iphone--taking photos of travel and my family. While I was in Vietnam, I began looking at the photos. I printed one on canvas. Then I started painting on the canvas. When I got access to the prints in the United States, I rebuilt the image completely. This was my first piece of artwork. Then I tried my hand at another and another.  But before this, I had not done anything creative in about 10 years.

I didn’t study collage. I make what’s in my head. I make what I feel. I make what I see in my head and its abstract.

What’s unique about your creative process?

Bain: I’ve been doing this nonstop since 1989. I’ve created every day. Sometimes ten images per day. Sometimes I realize that I need to rest. However, I always find myself going back to Africa for inspiration--in masks and in landscape. In my work there is a mix of African and European cultural presence.

Minor: It’s my focus on emotion and human express that makes my work unique. It’s not always intentional but it's what is happening in the moment. It pours out of me when I’m creating. When I create all of my emotions show.

Right now, tears are a huge motif. These tears are showing up as joy, anger and happiness. Whatever I am feeling always comes through my images.

I do a lot of canvas because it is easy for me. I feel like I need a hard canvas and start gluing and painting. Then I learned to prime and seal. I learned a lot of different techniques just by asking in art supply stores. I’d find ways to combine and play with elements and ideas until it made something I wanted to make.

What music do you listen to while you are creating?

Bain: I need quiet when I’m creating. Music distracts me. For me, I’ll start sketching and if I’m listening to a song, it takes away my time. I need complete silence for whatever is my subconscious to come out.

Minor: While I’m creating I listen to modern classical. It’s a very relaxing and dramatic soundtrack. My favorite composer is Max Richter and when I’m painting, Philip Glass. I also listen to Florence and the machine because it’s otherworldly. I find instrumental Kanye to be invigorating yet mellow.

If/how does New York--particularly Harlem--inspire your creativity?

Bain: I first came to New York in the 1990s to test out the market. I stayed with a friend in Bedford Stuyvesant. I loved it--the culture and museums--the rhythm and vibe. It reminded me of  Carl Sandburg’s poem, Chicago. New York sings a song. When I returned around 2001, Harlem was not developed like it is now. It was dangerously romantic. I was showing my work at a gallery in East Harlem. There were still lots of addicts present but there was also lots of hope. You knew that if Harlem took the next step, it would be great.

Minor: I’m often inspired by people and what they try to hide. I like the convenience of Harlem and I believe I’ll stay put for a while.

Travelling is powerful and informative for artists. Where have you travelled? How did it make you feel? How does it inform your artwork?

Bain: I spent four years living in Europe. I’ve visited South America, Panama and Ecuador. I am  a big fan of National Geographic--particularly lions and elephants. The behavior and landscape of their space is inspiring. I have never been to Africa but I would love to visit Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa. I also enjoy the peacefulness and isolation of upstate New York. Country living is relaxing and simple as opposed to brick and mortar of city living.

Minor: I’ve been to more than 50 countries. I’m a big traveler and I believe there is endless wonder in travelling. But then reality hits when you have to think about racism or being careful. And then, I don’t feel as free. Black women always have to be careful in spaces. But when I’m creating art, I don’t have to care. I can be free and that’s really nice.