John Van Means
Artist - Representational Abstract Expressionist
John Van Means who was born just two years before Wilheim Reich coined the term, “The Sexual Revolution,” moved, at age of 25, to New York City from Raleigh, North Carolina. He arrived in New York City in the early ‘60’s, and it was there that Van Means took on a real career (after having attempted acting and was advised by Lou Gossett, Jr., director, actor, friend and roommate “to give it up”). Van Means went on to become a successful fashion designer. (His designs were bought by Lord &Taylor and other major retailers.) He had learned the skill of designing from Scott Barrie, a ﬁlmmaker and fashion designer following a fortuitous meeting with him in Washington Square Park one day. In 1966, The Village Voice would do a cover story on “The New Black Chic,” and Van Means was interviewed and included in the story. He chuckles when he is reminded of a comment that he made that was quoted in the article that “…bias is a desirable cut of cloth…”
In 1977, Van Means’ peripatetic nature took him to London, but he returned to New York City two years later and decided to write screenplays. The late, great James Brown bought Van Means’ ﬁrst script entitled Come to the Table. He then went on to write a total of thirteen scripts. When the legendary Gordon Parks Jr. invited Van Means to accompany him to visit Zambia, it was there that he wrote a screenplay for a Zambian Cabinet Minister. The Zambia “visit” lasted ten year after which he returned to New York City because “New York is a virgin…New York is the mother,”...and New York would again be the city of his success-- this time as a salesman on Astor Place in the East Village.
Although he was successful with the East Village business, he developed his love of art and began creating representational abstract pieces by expanding on an inventive technique and processes which results in a “play of and with color and light and paper cuts produced with the precision of a surgeon’s hand. The outcome of each piece to which he employs these techniques remains unrivaled in the art world and each offers a feast for the eyes, “from appetizer to entrée to dessert” and a desire to see more. “The edge,” for Van Means is always moving or as he says, his work takes him to an edge that keeps him moving and for which the outcome is unpredictable-- until the “art ﬁnishes itself. “ His works pursue B.L.A.C.K.S. (bold legends-legacies ancestors champions kindred spirits), public ﬁgures, culture and history and portray them in a never-before- seen abstraction of light, color and geometry to move them from celebrity to humanity. Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis, Jimmy Hendrix, Maria Callas, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Louise Brooks, John Coltrane, Greta Garbo, Ethel Waters, James Baldwin, Bob Dylan, Zora Neal Hurston, W.E. B. Dubois, Hattie McDaniel, Elizabeth Taylor, Dorothy Dandridge, Paul Robeson, Amiri Baraka, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson, Charlie Parker, are just some of the icons of his art and in which are contained original autographs and/or notes of the subject of the piece. The Civil War, the Transatlantic Crossing and The Harlem Renaissance are also represented in his art. Van Means’ art provokes viewers to engage in meticulous exploration of what is before them and to go beyond appearances to “the truth may be found only in the details,” (Stendhal). Van Means’ pieces, of various dimensions and magniﬁcently framed, can be provocative, outrageous, reverential, refreshing, amusing yet almost invariably offer an appreciation and understanding of what was…what is…what’s true …what matters.