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Khari Turner: Painting Black Bodies of Water

“I paint to create a deeper connection to my identity and history as a Black American. Metaphorically, I see Black people as personifications of the magic that is the ocean. My paintings and drawings combine abstraction with realistic renderings of Black noses and lips to rejuvenate the relationship of my history to my ancestor’s history with water. I use water from oceans, lakes, and rivers from places that have either a historical or personal connection to black history -- water that I collect to mix with and pour onto my paintings. My focus is to create a direct relationship to my emotions and understanding of my past, a journey of spiritual connection. I focus on Black history to celebrate my ancestors for surviving the challenges they faced, not to display their pain. I paint to bring the stories and histories with images holding an elegance and chaos that comes with this existence.”

Khari Turner is an artist and a Milwaukee, WI native who lived there until the Spring of 2015. The influence of Milwaukee shows itself often in his work, especially with the use of water. Set on the coast of Lake Michigan and located at the merging of three rivers, Milwaukee is truly a water city and Khari often sat next to the water in reflection. At a young age, he took an interest in art from school peers and his grandfather, a draftsman and carpenter.

Khari found himself struggling between 2009 and 2015 which has been a big influence on the work he does currently. During this time, Khari wasn’t in school and found himself working a minimum wage retail job and switching between warehouse jobs. He worked for the NBA as entertainment some nights but life was stale and unfulfilling for him, except for the summer. His time as a child in the nonprofit called Lake Valley Camp, changed his life; He attended camp there in 2003 and later was able to work there until 2014 as Art Director. He counts his time at Lake Valley Camp as one of his biggest influences and it also led to one of his long-term goals: to start an organization that specializes in giving back efforts to young artist and creating murals in low income environments to promote community health, pride, and clean neighborhoods, while also trying to fight gentrification of these areas.

In 2015, Khari left Milwaukee and enrolled at Austin Peay State University moving his whole life to Tennessee where he received his BFA in studio art. Austin Peay was a large turning point for his artistic practice and helped him find his voice in his own work during the four years he was a student there. But, the biggest change came in summer 2019 at the Chautauqua residency. That is where his work started to form and become what it is now. In 7 weeks, Khari made a lot of work and had the open opportunity to really focus on what he wanted most, outside of class room and school limitations, questioning even if painting or sculpture was the right path to take. Eventually, Khari was able to find what he was looking for and currently he is at Columbia University. Although Khari has a lot of different ideas, what's most important to him is being a good person, donating what he can, and focusing on the actual work. There is nothing more Khari loves than creating.



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