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Contrast Magazine
Devin Troy Strother


Words / Lila Lee
Images courtest of Artist and Richard Heller Gallery

My earliest memory of Devin Troy Strother is hot boxing his truck in the back of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena’s parking lot. He kept a bong in his front seat and would pack the fattest snappers. And, of course, afterwards we had to go to Church’s Chicken to get those bomb ass honey biscuits, even if that meant being late for printmaking (sorry Tony). When you see Devin’s current work—sculptures, paintings, installations—and read their titles, you can see that same sense of humor that he’s always had, something I hope he never loses.

Lila Lee: What has been keeping you busy lately, man?
Devin Troy Strother: Well I just had a show in LA called “They Should’ve Never Given You Niggas Money.” It went up two or three weeks ago. I was in New York for a week right after the show and I got sick. I had tonsillitis so I couldn’t talk. I’ve gotten it twice already.

Damn. You got it twice?
Yeah. From not getting enough sleep. I’m probably going to have to get them taken out, but you don’t really need them so whatever.

Tell me about your recent show’s title.
I was kind of perplexed about what to call the show because I’ve never been able to use the word “nigga” in the title for shows. I had too many titles to choose from, but I ended up going with “They Should’ve Never Given You Niggas Money” which is a quote from Chappelle’s Show when Dave Chappelle plays Rick James.

Yeah, I remember that skit. “Fuck yo couch!”
Fuck yo couch, nigga! [Laughs] So originally I was going to call the show “Nigga on a ‘Nana” cause I was doing all these things with a black guy and a white guy riding a banana. Umm…I just had bananas on my mind, a lot. One of my studio assistants, Barry, eats bananas a lot. Plus bananas, I don’t know, it’s a sexual, phallic, kind of thing. It looks like it could be a hard dick or a limp dick depending on the orientation of the banana. It’s also got the whole Andy Warhol, Velvet Underground reference so it’s kind of like an arty fruit in a weird way. I didn’t want to use a watermelon because I thought that would be too obvious of a black reference, so I went with a banana. But yeah, I spent a lot of money for the wallpaper, the carpet and all the sculptures. There is a whole hologram room we installed: those neons. Basically everything was expensive. The show took so much money to make, and in the middle of trying to figure out what to call it, I was thinking about how I was spending money, the show had to do with the market value for stuff and being an artists in a studio that’s orchestrating installations for a show rather than making paintings. I also had a theme of young black kids sometimes don’t invest wisely. You just don’t know what to do with a large sum of money. When you’re young and get a bunch of money, it’s usually from something like music or sports. Not to say that all black kids are into music or sports, but it’s definitely a stereotype that’s kind of true. Young black kids aspire to be rappers or basketball players, going for platforms where you can make a shit load of money in a small amount of time. So I was also talking about the whole vernacular of being young and black and having some money. The title came from all that shit.

So you thought of the title once you were done preparing for the show?
Yeah. It was a week or two before the show was going to come up.

So is that how it works with your paintings too? How do you come up with those names?
Before I would make paintings off of shit I would hear. When I was living in Brooklyn, I would hear a lot of hectic things on the train and would write it down, but I don’t live there anymore so I don’t have that commute with people.

Wait, you’re not living in Brooklyn anymore? I thought you had a place in LA and New York?
Yeah, I did but I gave that up. It was too hectic going back and forth. I live in K-Town now. But yeah, before I would get titles randomly, or come up with some of them in my head.

Okay. So I’m going to name some of the titles of your paintings. Tell me what’s stuff you heard and what’s made up. “I Normally Don’t Do This, But Momma Said You Was Specials.”
Ahhh. [Laughs] That’s a combination of both. Someone told me a girl I was dating said that, and half made up. Embellished basically.

We’ll keep that one ambiguous.
They’re all kind of different. Now I usually make the work and the title comes afterwards or during.

What about, “I Don’t Know if That’s Your Dick or Your Leg, But Please Baby Baby Don’t Make Me Beg! Just Take Me to the Bahamas and Fuck Me Like I’m Your Big Mammas.”
[Laughs] That one I made up…after I made the painting.

So what are some of your influences?
Well it fluctuates depending on what I’m making or the time. Currently, it’s George Gershwin. He’s a jazz pianist, composer guy [laughs]. Yeah. George Gershwin…the source of all my inspiration as of right now. And Yuri [Coloured Publishing]. Throw Yuri in there too. And Donut [Devin’s corgi pup].

What is the piece that you enjoyed making the most so far?
Probably the book “Nigga Shit” that I put out at the end of this year with Yuri. We got it printed at a spot out in the valley that is run by an old conservative white couple. When I came to pick the book up, they were like, “We’re so glad you look the way you do.” And I was like, “You’re glad I’m black huh? If I came here as a white dude, this would’ve been a whole different story.” [Laughs] It was pretty funny.

So you’ve come out with a book, made aluminum sculptures, paintings, custom carpet, wallpaper, neons, shoes and pool floaties. What’s next?
I want to do some animations but I don’t know if that’ll be done anytime soon. I’ve been working on a book of drawings. I’ve been drawing late at night before going to bed…weird little ballpoint pen drawings of stupid shit. I have a bunch of those laying around that I want to show.

Is that your nightly ritual? Brush your teeth, bong rip and do some drawings?
I guess sort of a ritual. I’ll probably do a couple till I get tired. I don’t do it all the time. Sometimes I get too fucked up and don’t feel like drawing.

Speaking of bong rips, do you still have your truck? Still rollin’ with that bong in the front?
[Laughs] Yeah I still got the truck but I broke my bong when I was moving. I’ve been rolling J’s.

Damn, sorry man. You want to do any shout outs?
I feel like only rappers do that, like that’s more of a radio thing. But shout out to Donut even though he can’t read. Shout out to Yuri. Shout out to Urbyn. You owe me money.

Lastly, tell me one thing you’ve never said in an interview.
Umm. I pee sitting down…most of the time. I’m just lazy. I don’t want to stand peeing. Depending on where I’m at. If i’m at home or at my mom’s I’ll sit. If I’m at a restaurant I’ll stand.

This feature can be found printed over 10 pages in Contrast 16

New nigga abstractions in an Ikea frame, part 18, “No new niggas allowed,” 2015
Acrylic, mixed media, glass, Ikea frame, framed
21.5 x 17.25 inches
(top image)

Lemme get a fade #1, 2015
36 x 36 x 5 inches

Ruscha quotes revisited (Baby), 2015
Autobody paint and acrylic on panel
60 x 48 inches

4 niggas on a plate (where’s my abstraction), 2015
Autobody paint and acrylic on aluminum
66.75 x 16 x 16 inches

A wave of niggas on a plate, 2015
Autobody paint and acrylic on aluminum
97 x 20 x 21 inches

Three niggas on a box, 2015
Autobody paint and acrylic on aluminum
40 x 12 x 12 inches

New nigga abstractions in an Ikea frame, part 19 “count up the niggas and the banana’s, you got you title nigga,” 2015
Mixed media and acrylic on panel and glass
41.25 x 29.25 inches

49 Niggas and 7 Bananas in an Ikea Frame, 2015
Mixed media on glass and various materials, in Ikea frame
41.25 x 29.25 inches

For more about Devin Troy Strother: