Raheem Fitzgerald at The Factory through March 10

Don’t miss Raheem Fitzgerald’s Re:Definition exhibition at The Factory’s, 2606 Fairfield Ave. S, in St. Pete, through March 10 

BY J.A. JONES | Staff Writer

ST PETERSBURG – Raheem Fitzgerald’s portraits startle with the emotional information each piece delivers.

“It’s in the eyes,” intoned his cousin Juan DaCosta. “The way they look at you.”

Fitzgerald has been a curator at The Factory in St. Pete for several years, bringing several art shows and music events to the space. “Re:Definition” is his first solo show in the space.

The description for “Re:Definition” notes that it presents Fitzgerald’s unfolding studies into art history and the Black experience. His work forms a continuum with the expressive figurative painting and politically engaged works of European and Black American artists.

Ice Cold, 2024 Raheem Fitzgerald

A St. Pete native who spent a chunk of his childhood in Atlanta, Fitzgerald returned in 2016 and has been an active member of the creative community. His evolution has included being a digital creator, DJ and founder of NHO, a lifestyle company created by himself and three friends outside a Starbucks in Atlanta.

He described his journey as embracing the artistic life with intentional decisions about everything from his singular hairstyle and demeanor — black and white images of Harry Belafonte and Sammy Davis, Jr. may offer a clue to his signature, somewhat retro clothing style of a white tee with fitted, slightly above the ankle jeans.

He’s also happy to credit the “artful tradition that preceded him,” which, according to his writing, “ultimately model a grander vision for himself and society. His work allows us to indulge in his belief in the idea of the masterpiece as an achievable aesthetic pursuit at a time when most have become disillusioned with the implication that the current economic and social order represents any semblance of a meritocracy.”

While his journey to find inspiration while presenting himself as an “icon” may be informed by named movements, he gives a nod to the Fauvists of 1920s France. His ongoing evolution as a painter ensures that his ultimate creations are self-determined. One of the artists involved in creating the “Black History Matters” mural in front of the Woodson (his was the first “T” in Matters), the bio for “Re:Definition”  notes that Fitzgerald is “looking to ‘redefine’ traditional subjects and reconstruct painting for his own purposes.”

Black Carmelina, 2024 Raheem Fitzgerald

While many of his works are strictly portraits of unnamed individuals whom Fitzgerald brings to life with rich, dark shades and haunting gazes, his interest in social and historical periods of unrest is also evident.

His examination of our fractured democracy undergirds his both whimsical and heavy painting “America Responding to War.” Painted in early 2023, after a trip to New York’s Modern Museum of Art, Fitzgerald explained, “It’s about, you know, being Black in America and like having to kind of keep it together when there’s like, excuse my language, really fucked up stuff happening around you. Those Ballerinas are dancing around a painting called The Charnel House by Pablo Picasso that features a pile of dead bodies; I went to the MoMA, and then I came back home and painted that. It’s what I think a lot of people can relate to; whether you’re Black or white, you got to keep it together in the face of some stuff that really ain’t easy. “

Another painting, “Black Congress,” is his rendering of images of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense.

Aware of his increasing abilities and craft development, Fitzgerald has considered taking training at an MFA program. He admitted that his interest is “mostly just wanting to pursue higher education. It’s funny when I said that, you know, I think a lot of people in my family were like, ‘Wow.’  My grandma said, ‘Wow, I’m so happy to hear this,’ and my mom … always knew which kind of kid I was going to be.”

Les Femme Asisse, 2024 Raheem Fitzgerald

While he may shrug off the urge to go to school for painting to make his family proud, it’s also evident that Fitzgerald is a serious painter who desires to take his raw talent to a level that will have his work in international museums. When asked how he’s moved beyond the work of a young artist who is still relying on digital tools to do work, he’s cautious about judging; instead, he attributes it to consistent work.

To his mind, his abilities are the natural product of constant woodshedding. “[I] couldn’t say, “I’m a basketball player — when LeBron James goes to the gym every day. So, I think it just comes from the fact that I do this a lot … That’s why it looks different, or that’s why it occurs differently. Probably.”

His hard work and time spent indicate that Fitzgerald is going places; another sign is his curiosity about what makes other great artists tick and his awareness that it is more than technique.

For him, learning about painting is also “studying painters and the techniques they use to produce their work; the rooms they hang out in; the conversations they had with their peers. That’s more so what I mean. It’s like painting is about the actual putting the liquid and then letting it dry into a solid onto a surface, you know, but it’s also about just other things.”

Raheem’s evolution as an artist can be seen on Instagram, where he shares his work under the handle @abstractpoet.

“Re:Definition” runs through March 10. Click here for more information.

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