Artist Profile: Jerry Gant
Newark, Essex County
Born in 1961 in Newark, New Jersey, the late, legendary, multidisciplinary artist Jerry Gant (1961-2018) drew his initial inspiration from the 1980s New York City graffiti scene. Adopting the tag Two Nastie Nas, he was one of the few Newark youth to venture across state lines. Once in New York City, he spent hours just watching the painted trains roll by.
While his preferred work site was initially any place off the beaten track where he could get up, his studio eventually became the center of his flourishing fine art practice. He liked solitude. “He was often alone,” recalls Linda Street, his business partner and head of Pink Dragon Artist Syndicate, “but he was never lonely.”
And as his art transitioned from illegal tags and pieces to a distinctly eloquent urban fine art, he counted among his influences David Hammons, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the American sculptor Alexander Calder.
Yet, Jerry Gant’s extensive body of work—encompassing a range of mediums from stencils to textiles to sculptures—remained rooted primarily in the African-American hip-hop culture that he lived. It was the vantage point from which he perceived the world. And as a visual artist and spoken word poet, he perceived himself as the “voice of the people,” as he switched seamlessly from one creative discipline to another.
Passionate about countering injustice and deeply concerned about his community, Gant was intent on challenging stereotypes, battling racism, and motivating the youth. He loved transforming public space and painted over 100 murals throughout Newark in his efforts to “detox the ghetto.” He was determined to positively impact those who felt desperately defeated by their circumstances. He, too, had known those feelings and clearly identified with others experiencing them, as he cajoled them not to let the all-pervasive negativity and hopelessness overcome them.
Jerry Gant died at the age of 56 in 2018 following a career that spanned over 25 years. But the spirit and teachings of this prolific, socially conscious artist continue to live in the minds and hearts of all those he touched in Newark and beyond. His 13 sculptures installed at Nat Turner Park, the largest city-owned park in Newark, along with his five-piece metal sculpture outside of Newark Penn Station, remain as a legacy to us all.
As stated by the noted Newark-based sculptor Kevin Blythe Sampson, “If Newark were to look for an artist that most represents it, it would be Jerry Gant. No artist in this city has had a more visible presence or impact on the people of Newark.”
Jerry Gant’s work is featured in On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey.