Lionel Milton: Artist, Renaissance Man

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I am waiting outside of DTB, restaurant and bar on Oak St. I am certain the man crossing the street with confidence and charisma is Lionel Milton, the fantastic artist I am here to meet with. I am correct! I greet him and we take a booth inside. Talking to Lionel, I learn he has reason to be confident. Along with his amazing, eye-catching artwork, he describes his experiences studying, traveling, and living around the world. Once we are settled in, he tells me more about his incredibly unique life and vision as well as his very solid position on life.


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Margaret: Are you originally from NewOrleanss?

Lionel: I was born and raised in the lower 9th ward.

M: Cool, I’ve known a few people from there, very solid people.  What was growing up like for you there?

L: In New Orleans or in general?

M: In general.

L: (Laughs) Creative and different…  And culturally rich being from New Orleans.

M: I think growing up in New Orleans in any way is unique.

L: Yeah. Creative while growing up in Reaganomics is the best way to describe it because it’s all the pitfalls that came with after school programs being cut with the influx of drugs an violence in the street. 

M: Sounds like in retrospect you can look back and see some good things that came out of it and some not so good.

L: Yeah, definitely, it was both, definitely a lot of both.

M: So when did you first take a serious interest in Art?

L: Umm, I can remember starting at 2 and I got super serious when I was 5 years old, yeah.

M: That’s very young. That’s awesome! 

L: Yeah it was definitely serious, I was in Hawaii at the time, and they read a story to me and I drew the characters out of the story so they knew I had a bit special talent.

M: That’s amazing.  Where you visiting Hawaii or you were living there?

L: I was living there, yeah, I’ve lived all over the world.

M: Wow.

L: Yeah, unique is the best way to put it.

M: Is there anyone in your life who you’d consider a mentor or inspiration on you or your artwork?

L: No, I just “Do”, not cause I have to or like to, I just do.

M: So you weren’t ever emulating anyone to begin with?

L: That’s a good question, well no, because the way I grew up and being how I am, that was never valued, so that was never put the forefront. That’s also the reason I never went to college even though it was offered a lot. I had this urban roots influence, I grew up around people in hip hop and around people who skated, and those were the only two groups of people I knew their age who didn’t live at home. So I saw these people who had a particular talent, and because of that talent, they lived alone, so as a kid I didn’t see why doing art couldn’t be the same thing.  I figured I could go straight to the pro’s so to speak. I jumped off the porch early and said f*** it. 

M: I agree with not putting yourself in a box or anything like that, that’s very cool.  So the way your life is now, how would you describe your typical day?

L: I wake up, say a prayer, maybe drink some pineapple juice or coconut water and I just hit it until I get tired, that’s it.  Well sometimes, I play Madden cause it’s like a Rubix Cube for me, it’s the challenge of it that gets me going and gets my brain working.

M: (Laughs) Yeah people used to call me a button masher when I played video games but I still beat them all the time.

L: Yeah, video games aren’t really my bag they just work really well at getting my mind off of art.  Sometimes I need to get in a different state of mind so I can think about what I need to do next with my art, I can’t do that if I am focused on it 100%, I need part of my mind distracted and that allows me to do what I need to.  It’s like how some people have epiphanies in the bathroom, Madden does that for me.

M: Cool, I see what you mean.  What sort of subjects are favorite to paint?

L: Umm, black people, black experiences, because I think it’s either overlooked, or characterized. It was kinda like the first question you asked me, which was a legit question but it was a broad question being that I know how I look and I know how it is here in this country so it’s a hard question, not based on what you asked but because of how it is so because of that juxtaposition, and because of that which shouldn’t be that complex, I like the black experience you know and not just the bad, good, or in between but just the experience itself. And also I like black experiences because we haven’t yet been 100% accepted as human beings, so we can’t just be tired, we can’t just be happy, because you can’t just exist being black, because you get the cops called on you.  It’s always been like that but now it’s getting recorded more.  So unfortunately and fortunately it’s my favorite subject.

M: Somebody has to tell those stories so I’m glad it found you because you do it in a really interesting way.

L: Yeah our experiences are human. We get hungry, sad, excited. I am just a human being and I have all those things but our experience hasn’t been 100% accepted yet.

M: Well I have Tourettes so I absolutely relate.

L: Alright cool, you get it then, I just thought you’s a cute chick that keeps winking at me. (Both laugh)

M: Well my final question is null and void then.

L: I want to hear it though.

M: Well it’s about influences.

L: Oh, I know what artist I like though.

M: Ok, name some of your favorite artists. 

L: Ok, I like Mode 2. He’s a Parisian graffiti artist, but he’s from Africa and his style to me is just so f****** dope, real dope. And I like Corey Holcomb, he’s a comedian. I also like Albert Einstein, he said creativity is more important that knowledge and I think he’s absolutely right with that one.  Oh, and Mike Tyson, cause we’re borne on the same day and we share the same eyebrows. (Both laugh)

M: Thank you so much for taking the time. You’re a good interviewee, Lionel.


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After the interview, Lionel, my boyfriend, and I walk outside of the restaurant and chat a bit more. It is clear that Lionel and I share many similar interests and insights. Being the cool, friendly guy he is, he requests to take a photo with my boyfriend as well. They do so and we part ways with Lionel, happy to have met such an intriguing, independent minded individual.


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