A Thin Line Between Art & Truth: Esteban Whiteside & b. Robert Moore On 'Amerikkkan Monopoly Game' Series
Artists, at their best, are the mirrors and windows of the world, and no two artists exemplify that sentiment more than Esteban Whiteside and b. Robert Moore. Their works have been featured everywhere, from The Fridge in D.C. to Art Basel in Miami. We spoke to these virtuoso artists about their Amerikkan Monopoly Game series, their influences, creatively expressing the truth, and much more.
What makes art your calling?
Robert Moore: I just wanted to find something that I love and was a place of freedom. Somewhere that I could broadly create, and it just so happens that painting is that medium I'm in right now.
Esteban Whiteside: I've always loved looking at and admiring art, but once I got into it and started creating, I became addicted to it. Art is super therapeutic, and there's freedom in expressing myself through painting.
You've both, understandably, mentioned the word freedom, but having said that, does it matter how people interpret your art?
RM: It absolutely matters how people interpret my art, but it equally matters how I feel, releasing my thoughts and feelings onto the canvas. However, as artists, we don't share everything, so some things are left to be interpreted by ourselves.
EW: My work is pretty polarizing, so there's not much of a gray area to interpret it; my art usually gets an immediate response. People are either on the same side of the message I'm delivering or the opposite side of it, which means the art is targeted at you. I want people to feel empowered by my work or guilty when they see it. To answer your question, it's important how people receive my art.
As artists, a lot of your time is spent alone while creating about the state of the world. Where do you guys find the balance between being informed and not overconsuming?
EW: I watch way too much news [laughs]. Even my wife gets tired of me constantly having the news on because it is unhealthy, but I want to be on top of the issues and need my work to reflect that. It's weird because I need to be on top of things, but continuously taking in bad news doesn't make me happy.
RM: Esteban's answer resonates with me because I canceled cable in 2019. Then in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which had us stuck in the house and gave me more time to paint. So that's my linear timeline, and I stay disconnected because I'm more in discovery mode. Better understanding myself and how to paint things that reflect future imagery that can connect us to our current inner paths. I think that process is timeless, and that's one of the reasons Estaban and I are friends; we have similar overlaps in some of our experiences while remaining true to our individual identities.
This exudes empathy.
RM: Just like Esteban said, the news doesn't make me happy, but I understand that sacrificial investment that we make to stay close to things that are relevant in the world, socially, culturally, and otherwise, for our art. Even the research we did for the Gentrification Monopoly Board was exhausting because the reality of it is jarring.
Let's stay there. What made you guys decide to collaborate on a Monopoly board centered around gentrification?
EW: We both admire each other's work a lot, and I was counting down the days until we could collaborate because I would be amazed at the pieces I would see him post. And we cover similar topics but go about it in different ways, and that meshes well together. Also, we were talking for a while about collaborating, and one day, he sent me something Monopoly-related, which is something I wanted to touch on, but I didn't expect it to be a whole series. Once we dove into it, we both realized we should focus on gentrification and how it affects everybody.
RM: I have another brand called BlackityBrown, and it's centered around reimagining classic cartoons that were missing characters that looked like us. I'm always in the space of flipping something on its head, and that's what the whole Amerikkkan Monopoly Game series was about. When we were kicking some early concepts around, it was realized that there was something here because Monopoly is iconic, recognizable, and relatable, and we haven't seen anyone do it in a reimagined way in the Black art community. The real magic happened when we got together to start working, and I'm still shocked by the symbolism and connection to the work.
What do you want people to gain from the game itself?
EW: I want people to see all the different ways that gentrification affects us and to teach the history of it all going back to Black Wall Street because it's (gentrification) always been here; it just changes form.
Legendary music producer No I.D. once said, "I look to see what people are doing, to know where I don't want to be because then I'm creating." Is that relatable? And how do y'all stay original, creative, and inspired?
RM: We're both self-taught artists, so it's a continuous state of evolution. I stay creative based on the No I.D. quote you mentioned because I love watching how everybody moves, whether past or present, and I see how I want myself to move in the future. I admire and am inspired by the movements others have made, but I pay attention to the moves I wouldn't necessarily make, and that's guided me into my own lane.
EW: I'm inspired by a lot of folk art, and once I dove into it, I started noticing a lot of the art today doesn't look like what I studied. It was a marriage of the art I love the most but see the least of, which created a lane for me.
If painting wasn't your lane, what type of art would you be creating, or would you be creating at all?
EW: I'd be producing music and making beats. I've had the most fun trying to make beats and learning about music.
RM: We're real-life homies like Redman and Method Man; we talk a lot and know about each other's family, and we're both dads, which is my favorite job that comes before painting and anything else. It's hard to say what I'd be doing if I wasn't painting because with or without creating, I'm still a dad first and always.
You mentioned Redman and Method man earlier. How influential is hip-hop on your work?
RM: It's a heavy influence, especially on my expressionism works. I always like to intertwine a few things, hip-hop culture, religion, and community, throughout almost all of my work. Somehow, I can quote a bible verse and reference a rap lyric in the same piece of art that can help define what I've created. Most often, there's a song that can coincide with my art, which is pretty damn intentional but natural. Some of the best rappers are great storytellers, and painters are the same because rappers can have melodies, bars, and a great beat, and painters buy good paint, great paintbrushes, and other material but how do we compose all of it together?
EW: Hip-Hop is the soundtrack to my work, and I get a lot of ideas from different rap lyrics. A lot of titles I have for my art stem from music as well. Rap music goes hand and hand with art, and I don't think I could ever create without having it playing in the background.
What would you consider a dream project?
RM: Doing shows together, having public showings with our works, and expanding on the meaning of the Amerikkan Monopoly Game series. To create art that will have a significant impact on the communities impacted by gentrification.
EW: A collaborative show when the time is right in a space that feels like home.
We interviewed Kendall Hurns, who manages both of you, and he made it a point to say everything is art. Let's reverse that; how would the world look if art didn't exist?
EW: I can't even imagine that! The world would be the most boring shit ever. I don't think the world would exist without art.
RM: An artist's job is to change space, from architecture to music to dance. We vibrate as the earth turns and vice-versa, so without art, the world would sit still.
What's a piece of advice that you'd give to an artist who is looking to find their footing in the art world?
RM: Do what you love before doing what other people love, work on mastering your craft, reflect every six months or so to check your progress, and only compare your work to your previous work.
EW: Be intentional, do research on the galleries you're offered placement in, and make sure you maintain your freedom.