• Cristee Cook

"What's It Like To Be You?" Jeremy Biggers' Emotional Portraiture Dives Deep in Dallas Exhibit

By Cristee Cook

Currently on exhibit at Dallas’ Umbrella Gallery is Jeremy Biggers: Where You’re Supposed to Be. Biggers is an award-winning fine artist, filmmaker and photographer based in Dallas. If you’ve seen a mural in South Dallas, Bishop Arts, or the Design District, you’ve likely seen one of his paintings already. His first gallery show was in 2019, and in just a few years, Biggers has established himself with his emotional and sharp portraits. The pieces included in Where You’re Supposed to Be represent Biggers’ evolution as an artist but also as a human.

I had the opportunity to speak with him about his work, his experience as a Black man in America, and how the two merge in his artwork. After visiting the collection at Umbrella Gallery, I can say that Biggers is exceptionally skilled. His paintings and drawings are photorealistic, which is always fascinating to witness, but more importantly, the vulnerability in the faces of those who sit for him is palpable. Biggers' portraits are an experience and a conversation.

Included in Where You're Supposed to Be are pieces from previous collections, including Presence, Unspoken Burdens, and Influence, among a few others. In Unspoken Burdens and Influence, Biggers explores the topics of identity, code-switching, and what it feels like to be more than one person. Presence aims to tackle and dismantle stereotypes about Black men being “absentee” fathers.

About the selection process for this exhibit, he shared: “Seeing [the paintings] in the context of a gallery space that I haven't shown them in before helps me see them with fresh eyes. And there’s few times where as an artist, you get to experience your work the same way other people experience your work. It informs your decision making and trust that you are doing the right things and you do know what you're doing.”

Blue Lives Murder (2019) | Acrylic on Cradled Wood Panel | Part of Biggers' 'Influence' collection.

The pieces from Unspoken Burdens and Influence are especially striking. In them, Biggers has rendered black and white portraits of Black men overlayed with vibrant dots or vivid outlines. The image is broken up and they invite the viewer to look closer, to look again, to go deeper. Then, we see Biggers’ hand in the process: a necklace is created with just a few brushstrokes, an undershirt is complete by the mindful use of negative space. And the vivid, graphic elements, when combined with the black and white portrait of a vulnerable expression, become a representation of the duality, the inner life versus the outer life of the subject – a topic Black men often feel they don’t have the freedom to express.

Sometimes the subject has more than one face or several arms. The works ask the question: What’s it like to be you? If the viewer is brave enough to engage the work, it offers a vulnerable and raw answer.

On this topic, Biggers said: “You know, I’m 40 years old, and I’ve never once had a conversation with any of my friends about insecurities that Black men have. I wanted to make a body of work that dealt with those insecurities. And also, I wanted to speak to – on top of having those internal battles, there’s the external pressure of when I leave the house am I going to be shot because I rolled through a stop sign? In Black culture, especially with Black men, we’re just told to suck it up and deal with it. So I wanted to create a body of work that spoke to that because there isn’t a space for Black men to be 100% vulnerable.”

He also had a desire to see himself represented in art: “I’ve made a concerted effort to make images of people that I didn’t see when I went to galleries or museums. You know, these “prestigious” places. To see Black men in images in the style of paintings that I like to make and to see? There are very few images of Black men in those paintings. Aside from a servant or slavery role. And that narrative is what it is because no one challenges it.”

Unspoken Burden 009 | Acrylic on Cradled Wood Panel

In the pieces that comprise the Presence collection, Biggers explores these themes through images of engaged fatherhood. Presence exalts the subjects. Here we see the beauty of the father-child relationship through Biggers’ pristine observation and execution. The pieces in this collection were also inspired by Biggers becoming a father himself, and the hyper focus it ignited inside him to provide a legacy for his daughter and for the Black community. He said, “Becoming a father made me a lot more focused on legacy and on being the most ideal version of myself, as much as I can help it.”

The legacy of parenthood in his art extends beyond his own experience. The graphic dots on his portraits are an homage to his mother, who passed away in 2007. Biggers said, “When my mom passed, everyday the week that she passed, a ladybug either landed on me or near me. And so ever since then, I’ve looked at ladybugs as my mom revisiting me. So, I wanted to pay homage to that in my work.”

A piece from Biggers' "Presence" collection.

Up next for Biggers is an exhibit of new works, scheduled for August at Daisha Board Gallery. Titled Defiant, he shared about it: “The series that I'm doing for August is all about taking up space. Thinking about how historically, Black people have had to shrink ourselves in order to keep ourselves safe. We can't be as loud or as animated as we maybe are in our personal lives. In professional settings, we have to change our hair. We have to do all these things to assimilate. So I wanted to do a series of pieces that take up as much space as possible.”


Where You’re Supposed to Be is on exhibit at Umbrella Gallery until June 30, 2022. Located inside Life in Deep Ellum, Umbrella Gallery is located at 2803 Taylor St., Dallas.

For additional details, visit https://umbrella.gallery/where-youre-supposed-to-be.

Explore the world of Jeremy Biggers at jeremybiggers.com.

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