In the works of Oakland painter Dulama LeGrande, there is a sense of something so fundamental, it’s satisfyingly complex. So abstract as to be real. One notes the presence of an inner source, a secret language that is tapped organically. Each work is a prayer.
LeGrande was born and raised in the East Bay and currently resides in East Oakland. As a self-taught artist, he refers to his education as one that germinated from, “the living workshop of life.” Having pursued the life of a professional artist for 18 years, and a teacher for 13, LeGrande says he embraces each day as a purpose to create art. When 48hills asked LeGrande why he became an artist, he simply replied:
“I am art. I know of no other way to live.”
What inspires his work are experiences in the streets, in nature, and in the general movement of life around him. Spirituality is the thread that weaves through it all, manifesting in his artistry. His philosophy for art and life, for which there is no separation, is “art = spirit + matter.”
LeGrande says he does not approach art from a Western perspective. While other artists strive for the ideal physical space in which to create, LeGrande says his body is his studio, a space that he always occupies.
“When I make art, I go inside myself, not a particular building or built space,” he said. “To me, a studio is just a place where some supplies might be, but the real studio is inside me.”
To that extent, LeGrande works anywhere he happens to be: a beach, a park, a cafe, at home, and on the street. Using materials that are readily available, he holds a desire to be creative that drives him to utilize whatever is at his disposal.
Working this freely, the artist determines that a piece is finished when there is nothing more to add or subtract.
“I see work as a prayer and everything I do is such, whether eating, painting, exercising, and so on,” LeGrande said.
Regarding the arc of his work, he speaks of it as a purely spiritual inclination. In the past, he painted and drew objects the way he saw them, all the while acknowledging “the Creator” for his talents. While he no longer works in realistic depiction, leaning now into abstraction, the spirit remains as the connective tissue.
“For me, abstraction is realism. If you look at a DNA molecule, it’s a pretty abstract structure, yet DNA is a building block of reality. I don’t see my work going in any direction except spirituality, because God is more real than anything,” LeGrande said.
“Everything is connected,” he continued. “What affects one soul has a link to mine. My work isn’t created in a vacuum, it’s inextricably linked to many things.”
LeGrande delves into the vague subconscious, dreamy memory, and unseen places of being. He forages in the “space between then and now,” also an apt title of one of his recent works. A poetic inclination is revealed in his lyrical speech when he describes his paintings, with regard to the exhibition process.
“There’s a pocket of time between beholding art and the intellect,” he said that he once wrote about his work. “Each mark, each stroke of paint, resides in a space bounded by thought and pure witnessing—free from judgment.”
In his abstract paintings, one is allowed to roam freely through his markings, shapes, and brushstrokes rendered through paint and oil stick on linen. LeGrande encourages viewers to free associate, and bring their own meaning to his work.
LeGrande has shown his work in recent exhibitions at Werkshack, Gray Loft Gallery, and as part of the group show, “Art of the African Diaspora 2022” at Richmond Art Center. Tomye Neal-Madison, AOTAD Committee Member and former Alameda County Arts Commissioner, has been aware of LeGrande’s work for a couple of decades.
“Dulama’s paintings put forward immense emotion, as if a resurgence of African language that is shared with receptive viewers,” Neal-Madison said. “Organic, earthy, and vibrant color forms interplay as an ancestral oral history’s prominence is being revived.”
Jan Watten, founder of Gray Loft Gallery in Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood, sings his praises as well.
“Dulama is one of my favorite artists! He’s genuine, sincere, and a gifted artist,” Watten said.
The work of LaGrande is energetic, connected, engaged with his own power and an unseen, yet intrinsically-felt superpower beyond himself. He said his commitment to physical fitness and maintaining good health is also key to his insights and success—the artist’s idea of true wealth. That, and a wish of peace for all.
For more information, visit Dulama LaGrande’s page on Instagram.