Monday, May 13, 2013

POST: Melvin King

Artist Melvin King photographed June 16, 2012. BlackArtistNews photo. All rights reserved.

Portrait of An Artist As a Black Man
Text | Frederick Lowe
Published | The NorthStar News & Anaylsis, May 7, 2013

Painter Melvin King's three-story brick house on Chicago’s southeast side is a residential version of the Louvre in Paris without the ceiling frescoes.

Paintings hang from every available space on the walls of King's home. When there is no more wall space, paintings are placed on the floor, where they lean against walls. They also are stacked in boxes. And they are stored under tables and desks or they are stacked on top of them.

A black and white zebra mask looks out from a second-floor window on to the quiet street below. Paintings, including one of a beautiful dark-skinned black woman, greet visitors as they enter the building's foyer. They take up most of the space in the tiny first-floor office they share with a seldom-used computer. 

In the middle of the kitchen is an easel, where King, a soft-spoken man, who is 77, paints at least three hours a day. His imagination is stimulated by V103, a local R & B radio station, and by television, both of which are often on at the same time. Life on the streets also feeds his imagination. His bedroom is off the kitchen.

The building's entire second floor from the front door to the back door is filled with paintings. The paintings hang on walls down the back stairs that lead to the back yard. They are in a cluttered storage room off the back stairs and in the second-floor bathroom. Some of the paintings are framed, others are wrapped in plastic. Still others have cardboard packing protectors on each of the frame's four corners.  

When King ran out of space on the two lower floors, he had a third-floor attic built with two skylights to house an overflow of paintings, shipping boxes and other materials to support his work.

“The first time I walked into Melvin’s house, I thought it was awesome. It was like being in an art museum,” said Willie J. Morris, a fellow painter and a close friend of King’s. “When you walk into Melvin’s place, you know he chose the right career path. You can feel his passion.”

Melvin King stacks paintings against the wall because he has run out of wall space to hang them. 
Photo by Frederick Lowe II via

The paintings are the result of King's prodigious productivity and undeniable talent that has landed him a who's who list of clients.

His patrons include Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Tina Turner, Cicely Tyson, former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Tom Joyner, the National Football League, DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago, University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School, the Chicago Cultural Center and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn.

"I don't know how many paintings I have. More than 1,000 reproductions and originals, I guess," said King, who has been painting 70 years. The floors of paintings cry for a curator to catalog them, King admits.

The phone rings and King begins to talk through his Bluetooth. "Yeah, I am working on two paintings now," he says to the caller.

The paintings will be displayed at the annual Hyde Park Community Art Fair in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. The Hyde Park Community Art Fair, which runs concurrently with the 57th Street Art Fair, will be held June 1-2, Dorri Ellis, the art fair's chairman, tells The NorthStar News & Analysis.

"Melvin was part of a group of artists who sold their work in Bixler Park before we organized the Hyde Park Community Art Fair in 1969 or 1970," said Ellis, a high school classmate of King. "We have one of the most racially mixed art fairs in Chicago."

King said: "I knew most of the artists there [Bixler Park], and they were more open to having black artists than art festivals on the North Side. I have always done well there as far as sales, meeting other artists and making contacts."  

He commands a large exhibit space near the fair's entrance, where he sells prints and original works.

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