Ta-coumba T. Aiken’s prismatic paintings begin in black and white—because that is how he sees. He starts with a black stroke that contrasts against the white canvas. Then, in a process Aiken calls spirit writing, he repeats the freeform dark lines to fill the canvas and build abstract shapes. He adds color—dioxazine violet, cadmium yellow, light magenta—reading their names from tubes, jars, and bottles to augment his skewed vision of color. Aiken embraces his color-blindness and experiments with further altering his view while painting, alternating between wearing and removing his glasses.
A story unfolds as Aiken decides what lines to keep or cover. The technique mirrors what his parents taught him about belongings. His mother, a housecleaner in upper-class Evanston, Illinois, and his father, a garbage man, observed the objects their customers chose to keep or discard. They studied people, understanding them based on what they held onto or threw away.
Aiken’s rhythmic patterns are created in a similar manner of exploration. He stretches tape across the canvas, masking the surface before applying paint. Intuitively, he adds new layers of colors that fill in gaps and conceal prior coats. Aiken peels back the tape, adds new layers of color, and repeats.
Often, viewers are drawn in by a detail, then their eyes take them on a journey. Following a line throughout the canvas, one discovers another story, and then another. “It’s like life,” Aiken explains, “I paint a new story, remove tape to reveal an old story, and there they are side by side, connected. It’s the way I see, we’re all connected. Now, tell me what you see.”
Ta–coumba T. Aiken lives and works from his studio home in St. Paul, Minnesota where he is an artist, educator, and community activist. Aiken was appointed as a Guggenheim Fellow in 2022 and his artwork can be seen in public spaces throughout the world, including St. Paul’s Union Depot, Walker Art Center, McKnight Foundation, Bush Foundation, and The Spritmuseum’s Absolut Vodka collection in Stockholm, Sweden.
Image Credit: Ta-coumba T. Aiken, "Conversations With the Future," acrylic on canvas, 2023, 48”x24”
Keep an eye out—one DTA bus currently features a full-side view of Ta-coumba's painting "Onward"!
This exhibition made possible by the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation Unity Fund.