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.


Generous support for On and Off the Streets: Urban Art New Jersey is provided by the Joseph Robert Foundation and Loop Colors.
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