What happens when you combine Japanese paintings, manga comic books, a love for music, and scripture? Artist Keith Rosemond II is on a mission to find out. I first encountered Rosemond at the Indie Craft Experience Handmade Holiday event last November. Right off the bat, Rosemond was kind and personable. His smile lit up the whole room as we discussed his paintings and his passion was evident. I recently had the opportunity to visit Rosemond in his home studio to learn more about his artwork and his artistic journey.
When Rosemond was young he was surrounded by art. Thanks to his supportive parents he was enrolled in art classes consistently and was always encouraged to draw and pursue art. “My dad was always sketching and something I remember vividly is that he used to draw Batman instead of reading bedtime stories,” recalled Rosemond. “He would take a huge piece of paper and draw a little bit each night. That was a really important memory for me.” As with many young artists, the major source of his inspiration was television shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He was also quite taken by manga and anime, a passion which has continued throughout his life. In his studio are shelves packed to the brim with figurines and comic books.
“I didn’t realize it but I was really heavily inspired by Japanese art from an early age because there was Japanese woodblock artwork in my house since I was a kid,” said Rosemond. This, combined with his consumption of Japanese media, has played a major role in the development of his artistic style.
Rosemond grew up in North Druid Hills, first attending Druid Hills High School before transferring to St. Pius X High School. It was there that he took a class with one particularly influential teacher, Mrs. Corinna Brandon. She instilled an understanding and appreciation of art foundations and insisted that Rosemond would need to know how to draw a bowl of fruit if he wanted to be a successful artist. “I wanted to draw comic books and cartoons, but she taught me that I needed the foundations to help me draw anything I wanted in the future. I am forever grateful to her.”
Following high school, Rosemond applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design. His acceptance there was a good thing, since it was “the only school I applied to,” he said with a laugh. He visited and instantly fell in love with the school. While Rosemond has always known that his end goal is to be a working artist, he also understood from an early age that he would need to figure out a way to earn a living as an artist and decided to take graphic design classes as well. This decision has allowed Rosemond to support himself and his family as he continues working on his art in his off-hours.
“Programs like Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator… learning those was like learning a whole new language in school. You had to think differently. With art you have a blank piece of paper and you’re just going, with graphic design you’re taking all of these elements like fonts and images and having them communicate. You have to understand how others communicate with those elements as well and you have to figure out how to communicate with your viewer.”
Rosemond has built a successful career for himself with design, working with clients that include Wells Fargo, Elavon, Ford, and many more. In recent years he has been leaning more into the fine art world, shifting his focus to developing and deepening his artistic practice.
Another important influence in Rosemond’s artistic career is the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) at Greenbriar Mall. This massive celebration of Black artists was founded in 1987 following a study conducted by the Fulton County Arts Council which explored the possibility of a festival to celebrate artists of African descent. The festival’s first biannual summer festival was held in 1988 and since then many artists have taken part in the festival, artist’s market, film screenings, and live music performances. Some notable participants include Maya Angelou, Spike Lee, Carrie Mae Weems, and Radcliffe Bailey, among many others.
One local artist who frequented the NBAF and made an indelible impression on Rosemond was Maurice Evans. “I grew up looking at great African American artists,” said Rosemond. “I’ve been inspired by them since the beginning. Maurice Evans is the man, he’s still active and doing great art.” Rosemond said that while he is always happy to see Blackness and Black faces represented in all art forms, he prefers to include that aspect in his work only when it feels right to do so. “I don’t force it – I want it to feel natural, I’m not always going to draw African Americans, but I always want to see representations of us in artwork. I would love to get to this place where you see this art and you don’t have to designate it as ‘Black art.’”
Today, Rosemond’s studio is full of works that predominantly feature water. Meticulous brush strokes lend his paintings a sense of energy and movement, while the color choice and linework is reminiscent of classic Japanese seascapes. In one, there is a figure that is nearly overtaken by the waves. Others are painted to resemble vinyl records. Though his main medium is acrylic, from a distance some look almost like wood burning.
He also has explored a number of other subjects, from portraits of musicians and DJs to meditative linework, studies of hands, and he even published a book full of sketches he captured while riding on MARTA trains. For a time he devoted himself to learning how to screen print, and some images like an iconic boombox that is laid atop the word “BOOM” have elements that are reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air era of graphic street art.
Leaning on his graphic design skills and knowledge, Rosemond has a natural affinity for adding words to his pieces. He let me in on a little open secret that I would not have guessed – many of the Japanese words and phrases that he includes in his compositions are actually pulled from scripture.
“It’s kind of a revelation for me,” explained Rosemond as he sketched. “There is always this talk of finding your style. I grew up doing what I like to do, and it finally occurred to me to combine all the things that I love. I love manga comics with big expressive type, they are basically just sound effects. I love that, especially when you don’t read it and it becomes part of the artwork itself. I love scripture from the Bible so I’ll use that as a concept and then execute it in the style of Japanese woodblock prints. I love music; it does something special to me. It feels spiritual as well. I mix all the things that I’m interested in into a unique combination that feels familiar and yet also unique to what I do.”
In his process, Rosemond often starts with a sketch that he then digitizes into a format that he can tweak and adjust until he’s happy with it. He then projects that image onto his canvas or page and finishes it with paint. This process has allowed him to retain the right amount of control over his artwork without causing him to feel stuck. “Sometimes I make the line really crispy and final so that I’ve made most of my decisions here,” he said, gesturing to the computer. “But I also leave space open for me to explore. I don’t want it to be a carbon copy.”
These days Rosemond works out of his home studio north of the city. He recently enlisted his wife Sarita to help him market and advance his artwork, all while raising their two young children. They hope to solidify the direction of Rosemond’s artistic career and find new avenues to bring fresh eyes to his works. If you’d like to learn more about Rosemond, see his portfolio, and buy copies of his prints or his book, check out his website.