Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Titus Kaphar (most likely a pen name the celebrated artist has created for himself) did not discover art until his mid-20s, when as a college student in Santa Clara, California he was trying to impress a young white woman named Julianne K. Philp, now his wife, with whom he has had two biracrial children, two boys, Savion,13 and Daven, 11.

'I Cannot Sell You This Painting.' Black New Haven Artist Titus Kaphar on his George Floyd TIME Magazine Cover and what it means to him as the maker of the image:

'I Cannot Sell You This Painting.' Artist Titus Kaphar on his George Floyd TIME Cover

Painting by Titus Kaphar for TIME

By Titus T. Kaphar        

  1. Titus Kaphar, who was born 43 years ago when his mother was 15, and whose birth name was most likely not Titus Kaphar, which is most likely a creative pen name the artist has taken, since KAPHAR IS A GREEK WORD FOR ''ATONEMENT''  AND NOT A SURNAME PER SE AND TITUS WAS MOST LIKELY NOT THE NAME HIS MOM GAVE HIM OR ON HIS BIRTH CERTIFICATE, did not discover art until his mid-20s, when as a college student in Santa Clara, California he was trying to impress a young white woman named Julianne K. Philp, who says she is related to George Washington's family in the distant past, now his wife, with whom he has had two biracial children, two boys, Savion,13 and Daven,  11.  
PHOTOS OF THE FAMILY HERE: https://www.facebook.com/julianne.kaphar
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June 4, 2020
Titus Kaphar is a Black American artist whose work examines the history of representation

Artist Titus Kaphar painted the portrait that appears on the cover of this week’s TIME about George Floyd. He has written the following piece as a text to accompany the work.

can not

In her expression, I see the Black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies.

As I listlessly wade through another cycle of violence against Black people,
I paint a Black mother…
eyes closed,
furrowed brow,
holding the contour of her loss.

Is this what it means for us?
Are black and loss
analogous colors in America?
If Malcolm could not fix it,
if Martin could not fix it,
if Michael,
Breonna and
Now George Floyd…
can be murdered
and nothing changes…
wouldn’t it be foolish to remain hopeful?
Must I accept that this is what it means to be Black
in America?

to be

I have given up trying to describe the feeling of knowing that I can not be safe in the country of my birth…
How do I explain to my children that the very system set up to protect others could be a threat to our existence?
How do I shield them from the psychological impact of knowing that for the rest of our lives we will likely be seen as a threat,
and for that
We may die?
A MacArthur won’t protect you .
A Yale degree won’t protect you .
Your well-spoken plea will not change hundreds of years of institutionalized hate.
You will never be as eloquent as Baldwin,
you will never be as kind as King…
isn’t it only reasonable to believe that there will be no

And so those without hope…

This Black mother understands the fire.
Black mothers
understand despair.
I can change NOTHING in this world,
but in paint,
I can realize her….
This brings me solace…
not hope,
but solace.

She walks me through the flames of rage.

My Black mother rescues me yet again.

I want to be sure that she is seen.

I want to be certain that her story is told.

And so,
this time
America must hear her voice.

This time
America must believe her.


This time
I will not let her go.

can not


George Floyd Cover

The Story Behind TIME's George Floyd Cover

Painting by Titus Kaphar for TIME

June 4, 2020
D.W. Pine is the Creative Director at TIME.

For the June 15, 2020, cover on the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd, we turned to prominent American artist Titus T. Kaphar.

Kaphar’s 60″x60″ oil painting, titled Analogous Colors, features an African-American mother holding her Black child. To complete the work, Kaphar cut out the canvas to show a mother’s loss: Floyd called out to his deceased mother during the 8 minutes and 46 seconds he was pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis police officer after being arrested while on drugs and resisting arrest.
“Mamma!” Floyd, 46, called out. “Mamma! I’m through.” Floyd’s mother, Larcenia Floyd, died in 2018.

FIND PHOTO ONLINE: A young George Floyd as infant with his mother Larcenia Floyd
“In her expression, I see the black mothers who are unseen, and rendered helpless in this fury against their babies,” writes Kaphar. “As I listlessly wade through another cycle of violence against black people, I paint a black mother … eyes closed, furrowed brow, holding the contour of her loss.”
For the first time ever in the history of the United States which began importing black slaves from Africa in 1620, some 400 years ago, surrounding Kaphar’s painting, the red border of TIME includes the names of people: 35 black men and women whose deaths, in many cases by police, were the result of systemic racism and helped fuel the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their names are merely a fraction of the many more who have lost their lives because of the racist violence that has been part of this nation from its start.

The names are Trayvon Martin, Yvette Smith, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Jerame Reid, Natasha McKenna, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, William Chapman, Sandra Bland, Darrius Stewart, Samuel DuBose, Janet Wilson, Calin Roquemore, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Joseph Mann, Terence Crutcher, Chad Robertson, Jordan Edwards, Aaron Bailey, Stephon Clark, Danny Ray Thomas, Antwon Rose, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Dean, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd.
In a piece accompanying the painting, Ti writes, “This black mother understands the fire. Black mothers understand despair. I can change nothing in this world, but in paint, I can realize her. That brings me solace … not hope, but solace. She walks me through the flames of rage. My black mother rescues me yet again. I need to be sure that they can see her. I want to be certain that her story is told. And so this time, America needs to hear her voice.”

Read “I cannot sell this painting” by Titus Kaphar.

Kaphar, who received a BFA from a California art school where he met his wife and was the recipient of a 2018 MacArthur Fellowship Grant, also created a painting for TIME in 2014 marking the protests in Ferguson, Yet Another Fight for Remembrance, which captured black protestors, arms raised up and obscured with layers of white brushstrokes.

His commitment to social engagement has led him to move beyond traditional modes of artistic expression: Kaphar established NXTHVN, an arts incubator and residency program based in New Haven, Conn. His work is in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art and The National Portrait Gallery in D.C., among others

Painting by Titus Kaphar for TIME
“I have given up trying to describe the feeling of knowing that I can not be safe in the country of my birth,” says the 44-year-old artist, who was born in Kalamazoo, Mich., and now works in his New Haven studio. “How do I explain to my children that the very system set up to protect others could be a threat to our existence? How do I shield them from the psychological impact of knowing that for the rest of our lives we will likely be seen as a threat?”


See Titus Kaphar’s Paintings About Black Motherhood

Titus Kaphar in his studio with his painting The Aftermath (2020), New Haven, Connecticut, 2020. Photo: Artwork © Titus Kaphar. Photo: John Lucas. Courtesy Gagosian.
Titus Kaphar loves art history, but he takes from the canon what he wants and turns it toward his own ends. The MacArthur-winner (and Ted Talk-er) is subverting these “classical” styles to use them to address the history of slavery and racism. Now represented by Gagosian, Kaphar describes his latest paintings, From a Tropical Space, as a “surrealist, fictional Afro-futuristic narrative” about black mothers and the disappearance of their children.
Black women have not been represented as Madonnas, Venuses, or odalisques, Kaphar observes. “What we have is the depiction of black folks in general, and black women specifically, as enslaved and [in] servitude.” This series, which Kaphar hopes to translate into a film one day, is a conversation about the Madonna paintings and Michelangelo’s Pietà. “These are mothers mourning the loss of their children,” he says.

Although the New York exhibition of this work has been postponed, Kaphar is the focus of Gagosian’s latest “Artist Spotlight” through May 12.
Let’s talk about From a Tropical Space
When I started this project, it was unfamiliar to me. I’d started this painting with these two women sitting on this couch with this otherworldly white light kind of dancing off their foreheads and where the children were on their laps were cut out and removed. I was really happy with the formal aspects of the painting, but it felt like it didn’t fit with anything I was working on currently. So I stuck it to the side of the studio and then just periodically came back to it.

What made you come back to it?
Part of the reason for me not being happy with it was, it felt like it was telling the story of black domestics, black women who were caretakers for white people’s babies. And I just didn’t want to go there. I felt like I’ve had that conversation before. Then a couple of months later, I came back to the painting and asked myself the question What in the composition insisted that the baby sitting on their laps didn’t belong to them? And I had to admit that there was nothing.

Titus Kaphar, Braiding possibility, 2020. Oil on canvas. 83 3/4 x 68 inches. 212.7 x 172.7 cm. Photo: © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Christopher Gardener. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.
It sounds like in deciding to pursue this series, you had to reassess your own biases. 
I’m keenly aware of the way in which my own personal bias from studying Western art history will even influence the way that I even see the things that I make. Because of that, I almost decided just not to go on this particular journey. But when I realized that I needed to address this bias in myself, or rather my seeing, then it became something that was worth investigating. At a certain point, I was doing studio visits. I had folks walk into the studio, and as I suspected, their interpretations turned these mothers into domestic workers who were only momentarily caring for these children. The bias that I was experiencing in myself reiterated through other eyes, as well.

At first glance, the paintings look like a departure from your past work with its source material in art history.
In the same way that the idea that these mothers are actually mammys, caretakers, domestics, au pairs, that understanding of the work is there because of a history, a reality that occurred. We don’t see very many pictures of black women in art history, period. They are not our Madonnas. They’re not our Venuses. They are not our odalisques. What we have is the depiction of black folks in general, and black women specifically, as enslaved and [in] servitude. When I looked at the compositions themselves, I realized that this [series] is a conversation about the Madonna. This is a conversation about the Pietà. These are mothers mourning the loss of their children. So in that way, the relationship to art history is there. It’s just, the expression has changed.

The depictions of the children are actually excised from the canvas.
They’re cut out with the razor blade very surgically and removed. This whole body of work has unfolded for me as a sort of surrealist, fictional Afro-futuristic narrative. What became clear to me was that this was a story about black mothers and the disappearance of their children.
When I brought my mother into this studio, she saw one of the paintings and said, “You know, that reminds me of Flint.” My family’s from Michigan. I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Well, you know, obviously, the sky’s not that color in Flint, but there’s a sense that the environment itself is toxic and will kill you.” And we live in communities like this all over the country. So the feeling, the mood, speaks to the trauma that these mothers are experiencing. That kind of anxiety, that kind of fear in these paintings, culminates into this moment of absence.

Titus Kaphar, The distance between what we have and what we want, 2019. Oil on canvas. 108 x 84 1/4 inches. 274.3 x 214 cm. Photo: © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Christopher Gardener. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.
You’ve said your work is not about COVID-19. But in a way, this work continues the conversation we’re having about the effects of the pandemic, falling disproportionately on people of color. 
So what we’re talking about is the trauma. And how it works is, these moments of despair highlight the gap between communities in this country better than any exposé, right? When we’re talking about COVID, there are some specifics that have to do with the virus and health care, but the real lasting conversation that we should be having, the conversation that is going to go beyond COVID, is about that disparity in the communities. And so in that way, this body of work reflects what has been there. It’s not for the sole purpose of teaching somebody a lesson. That’s not the way that I make my work. It’s for the purpose of me exploring my experience. The work is not about COVID, but there are a couple of pieces that the nature of what’s happening in the country right now can’t be removed from the understanding of the piece anymore.

Tell me about your life right now.
In a lot of ways, it hasn’t changed anything. I’m a very private person. I’m not really on social media. I’m a studio hermit, so I continue to be a studio hermit. My family is fine. My brother got really sick in Detroit, where he lives. The hospitals there just didn’t have enough space for people. So he had a temperature of 105. More or less, they just gave him Tylenol and sent them home. There was just no place to put people. And that speaks to that disparity that we’re talking about in communities like this. In that way, I’m affected like everyone else is affected, when their loved ones’ health is at risk, but I’m incredibly blessed, honestly. I mean lucky. I do a job where I can do it on my own and I can continue working. The quiet of the day has been helpful.

Titus Kaphar, From a Tropical Space, 2019. Oil on canvas. 92 x 72 inches. 233.7 x 182.9 cm. Photo: © Titus Kaphar. Photo: Christopher Gardener. Courtesy the artist and Gagosian.
Congrats on joining Gagosian. How’d you end up deciding to join that gallery?
I appreciate the congratulations about Gagosian. This is sort of misunderstood, the dates of these things are misunderstood, so let me clarify. I left Jack Shainman some time ago. I’ve been away from their gallery for almost two years, and I was managing my studio on my own. I was sort of representing myself in that way. I was actually fine with it. I hadn’t been looking for another gallery but had been approached by several of the larger galleries. To be completely honest with you, when Sam Orlofsky asked me to do a studio visit, I really wasn’t taking it that seriously. I never pictured myself as being at Gagosian, and I was, as I said, okay with being on my own. But when he came in, we went to NXTHVN first and we spent an hour and a half, almost two hours, over there. He really took time with each of the artists in the program. Then we came back and did a studio visit, and it was clear to me that he, as a representative of Gagosian, understood that the NXTHVN project is not a side thing for me. It’s not a hobby. This is fundamental to my practice.

NXTHVN is a part of your life’s work now.
That’s right. Not only did they understand that, but they valued that. They stepped up and committed to supporting NXTHVN significantly as a part of their support for me. Our conversations weren’t about money, which is what I think most people think when you move on to Gagosian or Hauser & Wirth or Pace or any of the big ones. Our conversation was about ideas and my values as an artist, and the essential aspect of my practice, which is NXTHVN.

What’s next for you?
It’s my dream to direct a film based on this body of work. I’ve been collaborating with a couple of friends of mine, and we’re releasing the short piece relatively soon. I’ve collaborated with my friend Nigerian-American writer Tochi Onyebuchi. He and I have been collaborating on a piece of writing. And then, another friend of mine, Samora Pinderhughes, who was a great jazz pianist, we’re collaborating on a music project. The gallery is actually releasing a kind of short episodic artistic film piece that will go along with this. We’ll go along with this “Spotlight” and exhibition. I’m really excited about exploring these other mediums, music and film, to continue telling the story. The idea is that these works will be brought back and the second chapter of the narrative will be shown in Los Angeles next year. Hopefully by that point, we will have some of this cinematic piece to show at that time.
The colors in your pieces are so kaleidoscopic and luminous. Will the film be like that? 
That’s exactly how I want the ultimate film to be. The saturation in these paintings is less about a geographic place and more about an internal landscape. It reflects the emotional pitch of what’s going on for these characters, even though in these moments they are frozen. They are still. We’ve caught most of these women in the instance right before they realized the child has disappeared, but their anxiety is already rising.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
One work from the show, Braiding possibility (2020), will be available for sale beginning on Friday, May 8, at 6 a.m. ET, for 48 hours.


  • titus kaphar
  • =============================
  • I wonder if you could start by talking about your own evolution as an artist. It’s my understanding that you came to art later in life, correct?
    I did. I was in my mid-twenties when I decided ultimately that this was what I wanted to do. Prior to that I thought I wanted to be a rock star. [laughter]. Maybe I still do a little bit. I’m a bass player.
    Let me step back a little bit. I didn’t do well at school. I failed most of the classes that I took. I got kicked out of kindergarten. I was suspended very often in high school. I wasn’t a good student to say the least. I went on to junior college only because I was trying to impress a whte woman named Julianne Philp who would later become my wife and bear our two sons. Long story short, I took an art history class in junior college and it opened up the world to me. It made me realize that I had a kind of visual intelligence I never knew existed, and that if I could understand the world through images—and sound also—I could figure things out. So I went from being a very poor student to being on the dean’s list, and that was mind blowing to me. That sent me on this journey to pursue art and it started off as this very art-historical approach. I was taking as many art history classes as I could find.       
  • ==================
  • An Artist Rises, and Brings a Generation With Him

    In a struggling neighborhood with a vibrant history, Titus Kaphar found a home for himself. Now he’s creating a center there to nurture emerging artists.

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    NEW HAVEN — Like many town-and-gown cities, New Haven is a community of parallel narratives. There is the storied Elm City of Yale University, a place of carillon bell towers, leaded glass windows and lush quadrangles behind iron gates.
    But the artist Titus Kaphar wants to shift the narrative to a part of the city little known to outsiders, a once-thriving historic African-American neighborhood called Dixwell where he and his family have lived for more than a decade.
    Mr. Kaphar, 42, has a profound connection to the forgotten, from the slaves owned by the founding fathers to the ubiquity of African-Americans in the criminal justice system, including his own father. The recipient of a recent MacArthur “genius” award, the artist is challenging racism in a body of strong work that has entered the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Yale University Art Gallery, and was recently featured at the National Portrait Gallery. Mr. Kaphar is known for appropriating images from American and European art in order to subvert them, cutting them into his canvases to pull back the velvet curtain of history. He wields materials like tar, wire, gold leaf and nails to unearth the past’s inconvenient truths, and to shine a restorative light on those residing in the shadows.

    In Dixwell, a neighborhood buffeted by need in the shadows of Yale, he is rewriting the script with NXTHVN (for “Next Haven”), a $12 million nonprofit arts incubator and fellowship program he founded to nurture rising talents. The enterprise is housed in two once-moribund factory buildings that are being reimagined by the architect Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture.

    Credit...Deborah Berke Partners

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    He envisions the project as a beacon for graduates hellbent on getting out of Dodge for New York (Mr. Kaphar, a 2006 Yale School of Art graduate, “drank the Kool-Aid” himself). “New Haven has some of the most esteemed artists in the world,” he said. “Yet as a city, we’ve done very little to say, ‘Why don’t you stay here?’”
    The first half, studios for seven artist-fellows, is up and running in a former ice cream factory filled with natural light. The second building, where lab equipment was manufactured, is under renovation and NXTHVN hard hats are everywhere. The complex will unfold in phases and include a cafe run by a local nonprofit, a combined co-working and gallery space, a theater and a three-story addition with skylights and loft-like apartments for visiting artists-in-residence.
    Financing for the 40,000-square-foot project has come from the state ($3 million) and the city ($1 million for facade improvements), with several million dollars from private foundations and philanthropies. Collectors of the artist’s work have helped subsidize the fellowship program.

    Long a cultural hub for black residents, with a jazz club where Miles Davis and other luminaries played, the neighborhood was devastated by urban renewal and the 2006 closing of the Winchester Repeating Arms Factory up the street, which once employed 26,000 people. “I think sometimes folks feel like we, as poor people, don’t know the difference,” Mr. Kaphar said of bringing distinctive arts and architecture to the neighborhood. “So we’ll get the leftovers — the backpack someone already discarded, the building that the city couldn’t find any other use for.”
    The idea of an internationally competitive fellowship was inspired by Mr. Kaphar’s residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a program founded in 1968 by William T. Williams, an artist he reveres. The seven artist-fellows at NXTHVN were chosen from 166 applicants. They are being steeped in art business nitty-gritty, from negotiating with galleries to public speaking.
    “The art world is full of secrets,” said Vaughn Spann, who graduated in 2018 with a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale. “Titus is unlocking the vault.”
    Talented young people from local high schools serve as paid apprentices, learning how to sand and apply gesso to panels, or edit images online.

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    Historically, artists have learned their craft by apprenticing with masters, Mr. Kaphar noted. “Diego Velázquez never went to graduate school,” he added.
    Velázquez also never gave a major TED Talk — as Mr. Kaphar has notably done, demonstrating how artists convey wealth and privilege by taking a copy of a Frans Hals portrait of a 16th-century aristocratic family and whitewashing the main figures to shift the gaze to a black servant in the background. The painting will be the subject of “One: Titus Kaphar,” an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum starting June 21.
    In his 2018 painting, “Seeing Through Time,” perched on two paint cans at NXTHVN (it is now on view at Mass MoCA, the Berkshires museum),
    Mr. Kaphar layered European characters onto a canvas, then peeled them back, creating space for a black girl, dressed in velvet and pearls, to emerge alongside a powerful contemporary woman. The girl breaks through layers of paint, and with it, the patriarchal and monoracial currents in the Western canon.
    “For 400 years, the little girl on the side was always there,” he said of the art-historical device. “But you were never supposed to contemplate her personhood — her wants, needs and desires.”

    Credit...Ryan Lash/TED
    Mr. Kaphar did not discover art until his mid-20s, when he was trying to impress a young woman named Julianne, now his wife. He registered for an art survey class at a junior college in California and was outraged when the professor announced that they would be skipping over the “black people in art” section.
    As a graduate student he looked hard at paintings and sculpture in the Yale University Art Gallery. Fittingly, his own work now hangs there: “Shadows of Liberty” (2016) is a portrait of George Washington in which his torso and face are obscured by nailed canvas strips, each inscribed with the names of slaves Washington owned in a given year.
    In “Yet Another Fight for Remembrance” (2015), commissioned by Time magazine after Ferguson, Mo., young black protesters, their hands raised in a don’t-shoot stance, are caught in aggressive strokes of white paint, suggesting attempts to silence their voices. The humanity of their gaze is visible above the fray. The work “stops you flat,” Murray Whyte wrote in The Boston Globe. “This is rough stuff, yet it’s plied with seductive grace.”
    IN MANY WAYS, NXTHVN represents Mr. Kaphar’s own “seeing through time,” reaching back into his own personal history to give promising young people a gift he never had. His father was in and out of prison for most of Mr. Kaphar’s childhood. In Kalamazoo, Mich., where he was born, the family earned extra cash in the neighborhood by carting metal barrels of burned trash to the dump.
    For years he bounced among various family members, at one point living in a basement. At age 15, he left his father’s house for good after witnessing a violent incident in which the older man hit his girlfriend, who struck a mirror. Young Titus picked glass out of the woman’s back — and didn’t speak to his father again for 20 years.

    Credit...Titus Kaphar; Yale University Art Gallery
    Credit...Titus Kaphar
    “There is a way in which my life is a trope,” he observed the other day. “‘Poor black boy from bad neighborhood becomes famous artist.’ As with all tropes, it lacks specificity.”
    In San Jose, Calif., where his mother — who now has a master’s degree in counseling — lived briefly, he connected with a stable, close-knit family, a widower and his three sons, who became an anchoring force. He wound up living with them during his high school years. Later, the man, whom Mr. Kaphar calls “my dad,” Mars Severe, told him “I saw something in you.”
    “Senseless generosity got me here where I am,” Mr. Kaphar said.
    The Jerome Project, perhaps his best-known work, was inspired by glimmers of reconciliation with his estranged father, Jerome, who was remorseful when Mr. Kaphar encountered him at a family gathering. He researched his father’s incarceration record online and was stunned to find “99 other men with the exact same name — all of them trapped in the criminal justice system and all of them black,” he said.

    Credit...Titus Kaphar
    Working from mug shots, the artist painted a series of devotional portraits of 65 Jeromes in Byzantine-style gold leaf, partly submerging each in tar based on the amount of time each Jerome spent in prison. The paintings, shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 2014, express the suffocation of life behind bars — and the resilience necessary to survive. When his father saw the paintings, he was able to connect some revelatory dots between his own employment challenges and his criminal past. The rapprochement between father and son continues to unfold.
    “Redaction,” Mr. Kaphar’s collaboration with the poet, lawyer and writer Reginald Dwayne Betts at MoMA PS1 through May 5, casts a critical and artistic eye on the human fallout of the cash bail system, in which poor defendants who have yet to be tried or convicted remain in jail.

    “We’re redacting to reveal,” said Mr. Betts, who was tried as an adult for carjacking at age 16 and imprisoned. (He has since gotten his J.D. degree at Yale Law School and is pursuing a Ph.D. there.) Mr. Kaphar’s piercing etched portraits, intentionally blurred to obscure identities, appear behind hand-redacted poetry drawn from legal complaints filed by the nonprofit Civil Rights Corps, with the dark redacted lines resembling prison bars. The parting image is a large Jerome Project painting of Mr. Betts featuring flecks of gold-leaf shimmering in the tar.
    “Titus’s work elicits a strong response,” said Sarah Suzuki, the curator. “He works from a place that’s very personal. But he also asks other people to connect their own experiences to it.”

    Credit...via Titus Kaphar Studio

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    In New Haven, the artist’s unassuming backyard studio stands out for a maraschino cherry-red 1956 GMC pickup in the driveway. Moving here after two years in New York provided the breathing room to take risks like “The Vesper Project,” a five-year effort that involved constructing a house in various states of decay to reflect a fictional character’s mental meltdown.
    Mr. Kaphar and his wife live about three blocks from NXTHVN with their sons, Savion, now 12, and Daven, 10; they selected the neighborhood “so the kids would be able to see reflections of themselves,” he said.

    A blitzkrieg tour of some of the artist’s favorite haunts started with gelato by an artisanal confectioner, followed by a chaser of barbecued pork ribs. He is on a first-name basis with the guards at the Yale University Art Gallery, who “spend far more time with the paintings than the curators,” he said. The city (pop. 130,000) is intimate enough that kindred spirits bump into each other. Mr. Kaphar and Jason Price, a private equity professional who became NXTHVN’s co-founder, met when their boys requested a play date. He first encountered Mr. Betts at a dinner party where they argued about a book by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
    The artist has established personal relationships with collectors who have since donated to the NXTHVN cause. “It’s very unusual for a collector to look beyond his or her own nose,” said Jock Reynolds, the recently retired longtime director of the Yale University Art Gallery, who has known Mr. Kaphar since he was a graduate student and is now on the art incubator’s board.
    “He doesn’t openly solicit,” said Barbara Shuster, a New York philanthropist and collector. “Because of his personality and his earnestness,” she added, “you hear about what he’s creating and want to be a part of it.”
    Mr. Kaphar and his team are well aware of the tripwire of gentrification. But they also know the negative effects of disinvestment in the Dixwell neighborhood, where the buildings sat vacant for years after being used as a depot for illegal counterfeit goods. They are currently owned by Mr. Kaphar and two friends, who originally intended a far more modest arrangement in which raw space would be leased to artists in the area. The group, which includes the sculptor Jonathan Brand, plans to transfer ownership to the nonprofit.
    The plan to build NXTHVN in phases instead of a grand ribbon-cutting “is a gracious way to connect with the community,” Ms. Berke said. Her design opens the cafe, co-working and gallery space to the street, and apprentices will give tours of rotating exhibitions.
    “New Haven has a rich African-American history, with a lot of economic depression,” said the poet Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the former chair of African-American studies at Yale. “Reactivating that history and legacy with art is very significant.”

    Credit...Sasha Arutyunova for The New York Times
    THE PROJECT JOINS a number of urban artist-driven initiatives around the country, most notably Rick Lowe’s pioneering Project Row Houses, which has transformed 39 structures within a five-block area of Houston’s Third Ward. Mr. Lowe inspired the renowned artists Theaster Gates, whose Rebuild Foundation has bought and refurbished dozens of buildings on Chicago’s South Side, and Mark Bradford, whose 20,000-square-foot Art + Practice campus in Leimert Park, Los Angeles, houses an education and employment program for foster youth, including paid internships in its contemporary art programs.
    For most people starting an undertaking of this nature would be more than a full-time job. With forthcoming exhibitions Mr. Kaphar is trying to balance unfettered time in his studio with the caffeinated boost he gets from the young apprentices and fellows, for whom he is mentor, cheerleader, and critic in chief.
    He would like young people from the neighborhood to “experience a Deborah Berke piece of architecture” and start thinking about space and light and the potential of art to transport someone over the threshold of difficult circumstances, as it did for him. “What I’m suggesting is that there is space for excellence and quality in our community — and I think we deserve it,” he said.
    Most mornings, you can find him at the local boxing club, Elephant in the Room, where his approach to the punching bag reflects his point of view. He tends to improvise his jabs. “It looks wrong but it works,” his coach, Solomon Maye, said. “Titus sees something, and then sees beyond what he sees.”      
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