Rounding out the month of February, students at The New Century School put on a first-of-its-kind show at the school. Although celebrating Black History Month has always been a theme in classrooms, this year, at the suggestion of TNCS Parent Council Director Sakina Ligon, it expanded to the stage. (Read about TNCS’s Inaugural Black History Month Celebration and see photos of projects as well as videos of choral and other performances here.) Also note that Head of School Shara Khon Duncan and Curriculum Coordinator Adriana Duprau ensure that African Americans—as well as people from a variety of backgrounds—are represented across the school curriculum throughout the year.
In last week’s post, Immersed hinted at what made the Black History Month celebration extra special even beyond all the wonderful student efforts led by Javan Bowden (aka, “Mr. B”)—the visit by Florida artist Harold Caudio—but this visit warrants a post all of its own. So, it’s time now to meet Mr. Caudio, take a closer look at his one-of-a-kind art, and hear his inspiring message.
Welcome to TNCS, Harold Caudio!
Asked to present at the evening by family friend Ms. Ligon, Mr. Caudio made the 13-hour drive from West Palm Beach to Baltimore in a single day. This huge effort was not lost on the TNCS community, and the audience continuously demonstrated their immense appreciation. Something else elevated his visit to legendary status. . . the date, February 26th. On the same day back in 2012, high school junior Trayvon Martin was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by a neighborhood watch captain, launching nationwide protests. Trayvon was unarmed, carrying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea. He was 17 years old.
The Colored Collection
That injustice haunts the country, but for Mr. Caudio it was the impetus to create “The Colored Collection,” a series of portraits of iconic black individuals, the first of which was Trayvon Martin titled “Justus.” The medium he uses? Mr. Caudio’s portraits are done in Skittles, in honor of Trayvon. The name of his collection is thus a play on words on many levels: In an artist bio, the author writes, “Harold named the artwork ‘The Colored Collection’ because we, as ‘colored’ people have had a huge impact on society and culture; we color the world. It’s a way of flipping an insult and making it impactful pop art. The idea of the collection is to bring people together, no matter what color or background while spreading unity and peace.” It’s also a nod to the Skittles themselves, which are known for their bright colors that invite us to “taste the rainbow.”
The story of Trayvon resonated with Mr. Caudio personally. As a black (Haitian American) man, it struck him—again, quoting from the bio—“how easily it could’ve been him, or his son, brother, cousin, or friend.” That sense impelled him to do something, to make art, in fact.
Mr. Caudio was not new to the creation of art. “From as far as I can remember,” he says, “I have been making art since I first learned to pick up a crayon and color, doing kiddy stuff like drawing on the walls and getting trouble,” he joked. Although he didn’t necessarily take art seriously at the age of 3, he has since worked with several media, including clay, bronze sculpting, acrylic, pastels, and so on. In addition to his portraiture, he currently has a clothing line called Cultured Revolution that he talks about briefly in this clip.
Back to the “The Colored Collection,” other individuals he has immortalized include Michael Jackson; Tupac; Xxxtentacion; Beyoncé, Rihanna (pictured below, though many mistake this one for Lauryn Hill); Toussaint Louverture (also pictured below; hint, he’s the only one wearing epaulets) Bob Marley; Will Smith; ; Michelle Obama; and, his most recent work, Kobe Bryant, which he débuted at TNCS. That was one powerful moment, with Kobe and his daughter Gianna having tragically died in a helicopter crash only a few weeks prior.
So how does Mr. Caudio choose the people he portrays?
I choose people that I relate to Skittles candy. Those who make people feel good, who move the culture forward. If they have a sweet, positive impact on society, I aim to immortalize that message with my art. When I think of Skittles, I think of the mantra ‘taste the rainbow.’ The different colors represent us as a people. If we come together, we can be beautiful just like the figures I choose to do are doing.
The process he uses to capture these faces so beautifully, he says, is all about lighting. “I maximize seven colors and play with the lights from darks until it makes sense.” He had to borrow white Skittles from the UK, where they were made to celebrate LGBTQ Pride, but otherwise, he buys Skittles by the gallon from Walmart. White Skittles don’t have a special flavor—they taste like another color, but the taster won’t know which one until it’s on the tongue! Even in the white Skittles, though, there is inherent symbolism. Although white is itself achromatic, it reflects all the visible wavelengths of light. According to the “additive color theory,” all the colors of light together create white. Apply that to Mr. Caudio’s art, and you again get his idea that society comprises people of all colors, and their individual contributions are beautiful, as is what those collective contributions create.
Most of Mr. Caudio’s 17 total pieces are on exhibit in South Florida, but he accepts commissions for custom portraits (“dog, cat, bird,” he joked) and is also willing to auction pieces for charity. JUSTUS, for example, was purchased by Queen B’s mom for her WACO (Where Art Can Occur) Theater Center. His works are designed to last, he explains. “They’re coated with resin and mixed materials to last forever, from what I can see. They don’t attract bugs,” he later joked. They take, on average, about 2 weeks to create. JUSTUS, though, his first, took 6 months while he got the hang of his process and absorbed the import of what he was creating.
If you’re detecting an influence from another Haitian American artist whose pop art–esque portraits were also saturated with color, you wouldn’t be off base. Mr. Caudio cites Jean-Michel Basquiat as a primary influence as well as Bob Ross and Roy Lichtenstein in the modern world. He also appreciates many of the Renaissance painters.
Q&A with Harold Caudio
After the student performances on Black History Month night, Mr. Caudio gave a brief presentation about his work, then Ms. Ligon facilitated a question-and-answer session between audience members and the artist.
Ms. Ligon also made sure to give TNCS students a chance to grill Mr. Caudio. (Perhaps not surprisingly, many of their questions are about candy.)
Mr. Caudio’s works remained on display in the auditorium after the student performances so attendees could get a closer look at the portraits and meet the very generous, very warm, and very funny Harold Caudio. His visit will certainly go down in the annals of great moments at TNCS!
More From the Artist Bio:
His most recent collection was featured at Art Basel Miami 2018 and Art Palm Beach 2019. Harold created the ‘The Colored Collection’, an emotion-evoking series of portraits made entirely out of Skittles. Word has traveled and continues to spread rapidly about this collection, it’s already been viewed by millions of people, gone viral on social media sites and featured in numerous big publications & networks such as Business Insider, Young Turks, NBC, ABC world news, Palm Beach post, LA Times, Fox News, Wearable Art Gala feat Beyoncé, 60 minutes, and more.