A Night at the Sock Hop

In each installment of The Artists, T highlights a recent or little-shown work by a Black artist, along with a few words from that artist putting the work in context. This week, we’re looking at a painting by Honor Titus, whose work has been shown at Henry Taylor’s studio gallery, and who will have his first New York solo exhibition at Timothy Taylor Gallery in January 2021. He draws from a range of influences, including music, and used to sing in a punk band.

Name: Honor Titus

Age: 31

Based in: Los Angeles

Originally from: Brooklyn, N.Y.

When and where did you make this work? I painted this work in the late summer of 2020 at my studio in Vernon, Calif. I’d just returned from a really refreshing trip to New York. There was quite the harsh contrast between the jubilant attempt at life that I was privy to in New York and my isolated existence in the studio (and out of it) in Los Angeles. A daydreamer by nature, I was flooded with reminisces — memories of careless nights that are long gone tend to give me the impression that there are more to come.

Can you describe what is going on in the work? A young woman is captured middance at a sock hop. “Hops” are associated primarily with the early rock ’n’ roll culture of the 1950s. Teenagers would dance sans shoes to avoid scuffing the hardwood floors. The formality inherent in such an idea really strikes me.

What inspired you to make this work? An allusion to a simpler time, however rooted in nostalgia (or misaligned) that may be. I wonder if the cares and ambitions of youth have truly changed over the years. Perhaps they are vulnerable, longing for validation and belonging, now as much as then. I wanted to capture a sense of uninhibited innocence. The spontaneity/emotion/honesty of a dance also really appealed to me at the time. I’ll also add that I love doo-wop.

What’s the work of art in any medium that changed your life? Oh, there are so many! Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground definitely altered the trajectory of my life. My mother would play “Walk on the Wild Side” (1972) really loudly throughout the house (in Canarsie), and I remember trying to understand. Trying to make sense of Candy Darling and amphetamines at the age of 12. That song let me know that there was more — more than I’d known up to that point. And then “Ragged Dick” (1868) by Horatio Alger Jr. — a book from the tail end of the 19th century about a young, smart-mouth Bowery bootblack who, through honesty and hard work, climbs his way to respectability. This book let me know that a virtuous outlook and disposition could afford you some fortune.

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