In the paintings of Troy Lamarr Chew II, a multi-layered tribute to hip-hop

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The paintings that make up “The Roof is on Fire” continue in this vein. During the first months of lockdown, Chew was completing an artist residency at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito. “[The pandemic] didn’t feel real then, not like it would later. We were hustling music all the time, we were chilling out,” he says. Once he left that safe community environment, however, the gravity of the situation sunk in and Chew greatly missed the feeling of being lost in motion with another or with an entire crowd. Instead, there was TikTok, a paltry substitute. And Chew didn’t lose sight that most of the popular moves on TikTok were created by young black dancers and then appropriated by white people.

Once he decided to explore specific dances on the web, he was keen to include, alongside some current fads like the Renegadecreated by Jalaiah Harmon, and the Savagecreated by Keara “Keke” Wilson, older moves that have yet to be co-opted into the mainstream of cyberspace: dances like the Tootsie Rollwhich dates back to the track of the same name by 69 Boys released in 1993, and the Milly Rock, named in a 2011 song by Terrance “2 Milly” Ferguson. Chew’s mix also includes, to name a few, Mop, SpongeBob, Whip, Humpty, Hammer Time, Chicken Noodle Soup, Robot, Butterfly, Tom & Jerry, Snake and the Sprinkler.

Chew doesn’t care that paintings take time and effort to figure out. “Once I got to college, I stopped spelling so much,” he says. “If you really want to know, you’ll go get it.” He continues, “That’s what I’ve noticed about fine art, or memorable art. It is just what it is and if you want to know more, go ahead and do it. In other words, if you know, you know. And Chew will also continue to figure things out on his own — he plans to explore the vernacular of other parts of California and, eventually, other parts of the country. “I still think of myself as kind of a rapper in my head, because I play with words,” he says. “Rappers are like Picasso with their words. I feel like the opposite: I’m Jay-Z with a brush.

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