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African art wins Dover man $6,000

Andre Lamar * Delaware
andre.lamar@doverpost.com
Dover Post

Aaron Paskins’ finished sculptures, especially his life-sized pieces, are no joke. The attention to detail and passion he injects into his works are enchanting.

It’s a skill he’s been honing for a long time, thanks to his dad.

“When other kids were outside playing, I was doing line drawings. I know now he was building my foundation for greater things to come,” said Paskins, 50, of Dover.

That sort of discipline, coupled with Paskins’ deep imagination, has led him to becoming one of 19 artists named an Individual Artist Fellowship by the Delaware Division of the Arts.

He won a $6,000 grant for his African-themed sculptures.

While Black History Month is nearly over, Paskins will keep that theme alive in his new solo show from April 3-24 at the Mezzanine Gallery in Wilmington.

That show will feature new pieces, including two titled “Kemba” and “Mufasa.” Paskins is staying mum about the details of the new show to keep it a surprise, he said.

In addition to his solo show, Paskins and the other 18 Fellows will have their works in a joint show, “Award Winners XX,” at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover from June 5 to July 23.

The Dover artist operates under the company Our Story Studios. His wife, Gina, is the chief operating official for the business.

Paskins is currently working on a documentary that’s tied to his recent trip to Togo in Africa. The film is slated for release in 2021, he said.

The sculptor dished on how he’ll spend his grant money, whether he thinks Black History Month is still a good thing, and the impact Togo had on him.

How would you describe the works you submitted?

What I try to do is push the envelope with anatomy. I’m sometimes moving more toward using animals and things like that, as far as expression, too. I’m always going to be a figurative artist. I try to show my works using indigenous tribes/African themes. 

How will you spend your grant?

My was award was for the established professional and I was awarded $6,000. I’m going to use it for newer equipment and better materials. I’m working with some of the top-line materials now, but they’re really pricey, especially the glass that changes colors; it’s iridescent. We work with materials they use for NASA. That stuff doesn’t come cheap. 

Some feel Black History Month isn’t a good idea anymore, because we’re only taught about the same six-to-eight people. Do you agree?

Black History Month is very important. I also feel as an African American, I call myself black because that’s how I’m seen in the world, every day that you live you should have a yearning for your history. Where do you come from? What are my cultural traditions? How is this all related? In particular, how does my culture, the African culture, fit on the global scale? 

That’s the missing link to all of it. How are we seen? How do we fit economically? How do we fit visually? Everyone created a big hoo-ha about the movie “Black Panther.” But they were using African designs in “Star Wars” years ago. It’s nothing new. It just finally made it to the [big] screen. Most black artists have been shouting this for eons: “Let’s use us!” Those are the kind of things I wanna push. I wanna push more out into the scene and make “us” more visual.

What’s one of the best responses you’ve received for your art?

We do a lot of shows. For instance, we did Essence Festival last year and had an overwhelming crowd. We were asked by the company Viacom to come back because we had over 300,000 people coming to our booth to see our work. 

What’s the film you’re working on and how is it connected to Togo?

We had just gotten back from Africa, a place called Togo. We talked to the president and [another leader] of that nation. We’re working with them and a movie is going to be produced on some of my works I’ve done in the past, present and the future. 

It’s going to relate to how I took my visit to Togo and met with the president and saw the overall needs of the country, its poverty, and how it touched me, my wife and our staff. We’re working towards helping that country. I’m going to donate some of my pieces to the country to help with its finances.

What did you and the leaders of Togo discuss?

When I saw the poverty, the average graduate student in Togo… first of all, they’re highly educated people. It’s a poverty-stricken country in some areas. Ninety percent of the areas are really hard. It’s sub-Saharan so it’s sill undeveloped a lot. 

What I found truly amazing is their thirst for education and yearning for life. Their thirst for spirituality is off the charts, which I love, in an almost unimaginable circumstances. What captivated me was thinking, “What can I do to help?” And not just by taking items from their country. But what can I do to help? In what way can I make an effect? My strongest weapon has always been my art and I wanted to use it.

What inspired your trip to Togo?

I create works that are African-themed/indigenous tribes. What I wanted to do for 30-something years is go to the homeland and bring something back that’s way more authentic than anything I could ever create, like bringing back the red earth (the sand) of the country just to give [my art] a more authentic feel. Like I said, I’m always pushing the envelope on what I’m trying to.

How important is your wife to your art business?

Without Gina, there’s no way I could do this. There’s no way, logistically, I could get from here to Africa, get orders completed, and all the things it takes to run this business. She is the brains of the operation. I just do the artistic work.