Artist LaMonte French survives COVID and its ripple effects to jumpstart his career
French LaMonte Artist
Photo: Photo credit: Charles Silva Holt / Courtesy of Alise Art Group
COVID-19 has taken a toll on a lot of people. LaMonte French is one of them.
Eighteen months ago, the Houston-born and based artist was on the rise after his first gallery show at Winston Contemporary Art, titled “Samson’s Song,” where 13 of the 15 pieces he exhibited were purchased by collectors. But once the coronavirus sparked a pandemic, forcing many galleries to go out of business (and, in the case of the late Winston, permanently), French hit a brick wall.
âWhen COVID hit, everything in the world stopped – as did my creativity,â said French, who also contracted the disease around the same time last year. “The worst thing for me was, like, the first three or four days of the night, sleeping and going through those heavy sweats.”
But French has a knack for resetting his creative mission and starting from scratch. That’s basically how he got into the art game. The son of a high-level athlete (whose name in French will not be released), French was set to follow in his father’s footsteps by playing running back (while majoring in psychology and sociology) at the ‘New Mexico State University. He found the time to do activities that were less physically strenuous, such as writing and drawing. “It was my escape, whether it was doodling or making up little war scenes or writing poetry – things like that,” he says.
About seven or eight years ago, French says he came to a creative and personal crossroads that made him wonder if he could make that artistic leap. âThe ideas were in my head, but when it came to the discipline, the execution of creating these pieces – I was always running the streets and, you know, I was living a fast, fast life,â he says. “What I was going through personally, I took what was in my mind, in my soul, and I just started regurgitating these things on the web.”
French began to learn more about art and to study different artists – Jasper Johns, Kerry James Marshall, Jackson Pollock. âIt just evolved and it just got bigger and bigger,â he says.
He eventually began to organize his own personal exhibitions in places like the Houston Museum of African American Culture (HMAAC) and the Gite Gallery. His work has received praise from major collectors in the local art scene. Mayor’s Ambassador to the Arts Lester Marks bought several French pieces at this Winston show, and even has a French piece next to a Jean-Michel Basquiat at his house. âHe’s got a Basquiat influence, but he’s quickly creating his own style,â says Marks, who will be hosting a private exhibition for French and his art later this year. âI was so excited about the work that I wanted to show it to others. It is powerful work, and it must be seen.
When French moved into his Midtown studio last year, his creative block began to fade. âWhen I had this space, it was like I had new energy,â he recalls. âAnd then I was like, ‘Well, why don’t I just do a collection that portrays everything I’ve been through this year?’ So I literally had, like, this burn inside my belly, and the work was just starting to come out: bright colors, dark colors, blends, combinations. And then I thought of things that other people were going through – at that time – that I had heard about or thought about or seen. And then, this large-scale work that I have just started to produce.
That burning sensation led him to titling his latest exhibition âFUEGO,â which will only take place one night at Sanman Studios on Friday night, before collectors and gallery managers can start buying them the next day. âYou know ‘FUEGO’ really means a lot to me because it’s emotional and it’s really personal,â he says. âSo this is my most vulnerable job, and it talks about everything that has happened over the past two years, in our climate of the world. “
The French continues to work harder for the rest of the year, whether through private exhibitions or future exhibitions at the upcoming Ellio Fine Art. Thirty years from now, he said, when people talk about the best Houston artists who came from Houston, I want LaMonte French’s name up there. I want people to talk about it – the work I’ve done, the impact I’ve had not only here in Houston, but on the art world.
He adds, âWhat I always say is, ‘Hey, I’m just a Creole kid from Houston. My parents just allowed me to dream in color â.
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Or: 1109, rue Providence, office 3
Details: Release; eventbrite.com
Craig Lindsey is a Houston-based writer.