Coleslawter spent his childhood polarized between support and rejection. His nurturing home environment twisted into its opposite when he stepped foot in school—his learning disability made him feel like a misfit. To cope, he began doodling and drawing on homework assignments. His unease transmuted itself from frustration to apathy during high school. He dropped out several months before graduation.
“I was tired of letting a piece of paper define me. I feel like I’ve been dealing with alternative realities my entire life. For example—in school, my classmates always got better grades than me… but in real life, practical, everyday situations… I’d tend to outshine them. But on paper you’d think I was dumb as hell!”
Looking back, he realizes his formative memories fostered a gilded perspective: his ability to lose himself in a piece without hesitancy over its reception relieves him of being wrecked by self-doubt. However, it wasn’t until he entered his 30’s that he realized he was even an artist.
What was your childhood like?
At home, my childhood was pretty picture perfect. I received a lot of love and support from my family. Outside of the house, my childhood was pretty rough—especially at school. Looking back now, I notice my childhood was spent in two different worlds. I lived in my own world due to my “learning disabilities” but still desperately tried to fit in with the rest of the “normal” kids. I also transferred from a preppy, uniformed private school that specialized in dyslexia to an inner city public school in N.Y.C. where white students like myself were the minority. I always wound up as the odd duck. I attribute this combination to making me comfortable being an outsider today. Now I’m happy living in my own world. If I hadn’t experienced this from a young age, I wouldn’t have the perspective to embrace it now. Perspective is everything!
How did you express yourself artistically as a child?
Primarily, I started exploring art as a coping mechanism to get through classes in school. I was always doodling on in-class assignments and on my homework. I was a total weirdo as a kid. I still am.
How did you discover you were dyslexic? What impact did this have on your life? I discovered I was dyslexic in kindergarten. Luckily I was diagnosed early, because it runs in my family. It’s had a huge impact on my life and still shapes me to this day. I really believe I’m somewhere on the autistic spectrum as well. When you go to a school that specializes in dyslexia and you still don’t fit in—somethings up!
Dyslexia runs in my family… but almost dying at birth doesn’t. When my mother was giving birth to me, the umbilical cord got wrapped around my neck and restricted oxygen to my brain. This is one of the leading causes of onset autism. My self-diagnosis fits with how I experience art and view the world.
COLESLAWTER'S EARLY WORK
What made you decide to drop out of high school?
It was my pride more than anything. I only needed a few more credits to graduate, but as a dyslexic I was tired of letting a piece of paper define me. I feel like I’ve been dealing with alternative realities my entire life. For example—in school, my classmates always got better grades than me… but in real life, practical, everyday situations… I’d outshine them. But on paper you would think I was dumb as hell!
How did you start teaching yourself art?
I was lucky. My father was and still is an artist. There were always a lot of art supplies around if I wanted to be creative, but my father made it a point to never push art on me.
Since my father is a talented artist, I tried for years to pursue a career in music instead of visual arts. I think I wasted a lot of time due to ego / trying to be my own man instead of embracing who I was without effort: an artist. I was in my mid-30’s when I finally reached this conclusion. I began throwing myself at different mediums, remembering and learning new techniques while revisiting old ideas with a fresh perspective.
How would you describe your motivation to create art? What is your process like? Does it begin with a vision? A feeling?
In terms of my motivation… it’s kind of fucked. I feel like I have too much to prove. I often feel like a spectator in my own process, like there’s a disconnect between me (my understanding of self) and my brain.
It always starts with a vision. I'll try to ignore it, but eventually, I give in. Once I start bringing the vision to fruition, I wait for the feeling that tells me the piece is done. That feeling always comes.
What do you find to be your biggest blocks of resistance?
Me, myself and I.
How do you push past your blocks?
I try to remind myself that even a little progress is still progress. Generally speaking, no matter the objective, if you take on the whole thing at once, it can be very overwhelming. I don’t really get creative blocks. It’s the opposite. It’s annoying! I’m an admittedly lazy artist, so when dealing with a daunting big idea that requires a lot of work, I like to take little nibbles off of it every day.
What themes are you exploring within your creations right now?
My theme is my imagination. I don’t put too much thought into where it takes me.
Which mediums are most challenging for you? Which are easiest?
Music is most challenging medium for me. That’s why I pursued it for so many years—many times what comes easy isn’t as intriguing for some reason. I’m able to pick up any visual medium pretty quickly. It comes naturally to me where so many other things don’t. Digital art is by far the easiest medium and that’s why I love it! Remember, I’m a lazy artist...
What have been the most defining moments for you as an artist?
As a high school drop out, I’ve had a lot of odd jobs over the years. For a few years, I was a personal trainer. I got kinda buff. I liked working out because it was one of the few things in my life that I could control. I found myself transforming from a pudgy, nerdy kid into someone who looked more like the kids who used to pick on me.
In my mid 30’s I found myself working at FIT building sets for student displays alongside other creatives and art graduates. But they overlooked me and didn’t acknowledge me as a fellow creative. They saw me as the buff carpenter bro that biked to work every day. This really started to pissed me off after awhile. Mainly because the skills I’m bad at (reading/spelling and much more) have always been magnified by the structure of our modern day society. Even if it wasn’t their intention, in that moment, it felt like they were trying to deny me of the one area where I truly excel. It was like I didn’t belong to their little club. Granted, at the time I had nothing to show for myself as an artist, but that wasn’t the point! It was the way they casually put me into a box I didn’t belong in. It reminded me of what the educational system did to me when I was younger.
This was occurring at the same time I was getting out of a relationship with an artist named Anna Park, the most talented artist I've ever personally known. Previously, one of the things (admittedly cocky) that stopped me from making my own art in the first place was that I’d tell myself, “you could make that if you wanted to, you’re talented enough.” But Anna showed me a talent I could never be and a place I could never reach. And this was exactly what I needed: an unattainable goal to chase for the rest of my life.
Both of these events occurring right around the same time definitely triggered something. Art became engaging again and I rediscovered myself: AKA Coleslawter.
If you could design a world of your own, how would it be?
A world where everyone is free to make their own designs as long as they don’t encroach on someone else’s vision.
To view more of Coleslawter's work, visit Foundation for his full NFT collection.