When Swizz Beatz Instagrammed photos of himself making a spin painting with Damien Hirst last week, both the art and music worlds started buzzing. Would they be doing more than spin painting? Would these works be part of an exhibition? Are they planning to sell the pieces at all? Naturally, it's a topic that Swizz, who Jeffrey Deitch compares to Jean-Michel Basquiat, wants to share but can only speak about minimally. Ultimately, he considers himself a student of the greats, and as a multi-faceted producer, designer, and artist, he's been planning an exhibition and gallery space that he wants to open in the future. We got the scoop on everything he is allowed to talk about below.
I'm just happy to be a student, happy to be a friend, and happy to even be in his presence.
How and why did the Damien Hirst collaboration happen? Have you been friends for a while?
Unfortunately I can't really get into that. It's something bigger than the pictures. A picture says a thousand words. It will be better to hear about it from him, because he's the superstar in that world, not me. I'm a student. When the time is right, he will speak on everything.
He's a great friend. For his art to be so dark, his spirit is so bright. It's amazing to see somebody that's so complete and into their craft that they bury themselves in it. I'm grateful that he embraced somebody like myself from South Bronx and has shown so much love. I'm just happy to be a student, happy to be a friend, and happy to even be in his presence.
Are you allowed to say whether or not it's one piece or multiple pieces?
Not right now. I'm not really allowed to say anything. I got myself in trouble with posting them damn pictures; I don't even wanna talk.
What was your reaction to Jeffrey Deitch comparing you to Basquiat?
Bless Jeffrey Deitch for saying such an amazing thing. For me, personally, there's only one Basquiat. I don't think that I'm anywhere near Basquiat, but I love that Deitch put that in ink, especially since he was around Basquiat when he was alive. Maybe people see things in me that I don't see in myself.
I know that I'm attracted to Basquiat because he did what his passion led him to do—to go against what everyone else thought he should do. He went out there and did it, and I can relate to that, because my parents didn't want me doing music or anything like that. All parents want you to do is to go to school. So to break away from that, to be homeless, to live for your passions, and then to turn around and be able to buy your mother a house—I think that's really amazing.
I want to make an outlet for the new Picassos, Jackson Pollocks, Andy Warhols—you name it.
You've talked about plans to start a gallery. What inspired you to move beyond your own work and help artists from around the world?
While I've been traveling, I've seen so many new artists. There are too many names to even mention. I've seen so many talented artists, and I just thought to myself, "Man, nobody knows about this kid right here in Korea, in this back loft. It's like he's the next Warhol. How can the world see this stuff that I'm witnessing right now?"
And then I go over to another country in the Middle East, and I find this crazy sculptor. Then I come here to the UK and see all these amazing street artists. There's not a real outlet for these types of new artists. I want to create a gallery, a place that's very well-known, for people to come and learn about new artists around the world. I want to make the gallery like a globe, and when you walk into it, it's labeled by country. So if you want to find the hot new artist from India, we have that hot new artist from India, and you can connect with artists in Africa, Brazil, and beyond.
Art is a global thing and should be presented in a global format. I want to do a documentary on all of it, as well. You know, all of it takes time. I'm in the middle of finding the best location and the best team. I got people like Tony Shafrazi, Jeffrey Deitch, and Damien Hirst who I can get guidelines from to make this thing a success and an outlet for the up-and-coming artists. I'm more into the artists to come than the ones who were here already or that passed.
Nobody really knew that Basquiat was Basquiat before he was Basquiat. I want to make an outlet for the new Picassos, Jackson Pollocks, Andy Warhols—you name it. That's what my passion is with art, and that's why I've let the exhibition I'm planning take so long. Because I'm like, "Man, I know so many people who are better than me."
Everybody thinks I'm crazy when I say that, too, but that's just me. I'm not blind to the fact that I've already been successful in music, which makes it hard for me to be successful in art, because people usually just do one thing. I'm like, "Nah, man. Art is everything." That's why I'm into fashion; that's why I build cars. That's why I do so many things, because it's all under the art umbrella. If we use the outlets that art gives us, then the world can become a more creative place for everybody who's stuck in these boxes. And I don't know how to be stuck in a box.
Do you feel like your gallery could come to fruition this year?
No, it's gonna take months to build out, because it has to feel global. It has to feel like you're walking onto a set in each country. I want people to feel like they're in India. I want people to feel like they're in Africa. I don't want it to be just white walls with some titles. I want it to be an experience, because art is an experience.
It's gotta be detailed like Cirque du Soleil. You know the detail that goes into Cirque du Soleil? That's how the gallery has to be. The detail brings you in that world, where you walk outside and you're like, "Oh, I'm back! I just came from another world, and now I'm back to reality!" I want to take people on a journey.
I never even knew that I could be a producer, because all I wanted to be was a DJ.
What kind of advice would you give to young artists, whether they're fine artists, musicians, or otherwise?
I'd tell them my quote, "The sky's not the limit; it's just the view." I'd tell them to explore all forms of art. I never knew that I could design a shoe until I met with a mentor, Christian Louboutin, and now I'm working with Reebok. I never knew that I could work on a car with Aston Martin or Lotus until I tried it, and those were big successes. I never knew that stuff.
I never even knew that I could be a producer, because all I wanted to be was a DJ. But I had to cross the lines and be a producer, as well. If I didn't explore other options and my artistry, I would still be a DJ. No disrespect to the DJs, but now I can say that I DJ and produce. I have a lot of different things under my hat. You just gotta try everything.
I collect art, and then one year I was like, "You know what? I'm not gonna collect this year. I'm gonna pick up a paintbrush, a canvas, and a camera to see what I can do." That's how I started developing my style as a painter, as a photographer, and as a visual artist doing mixed media. You know, I invested in myself, but at least I tried. Even though I'm hard on myself, I tried.