For the last decade, Chattanooga-based visual artist Genesis the Greykid has made it a mission to take a yearly cross-country trip that is equal parts spiritual cleansing, artistic inspiration and work. He's gone by train or by car. With each trip, he never has an itinerary or a timetable, though he does have an agenda.
"It's about the journey," he said. "It's very intentional that I take my time and meet people. I love people, and you see the best stuff when you take your time. You come across these discoveries or happenings when you go off the beaten path."
On one such trip, he kept a journal and made it a point to speak to as many people as he could about what they thought the secret to life was.
"I bet I talked to 1,500 people," he said. "I talked to everybody and anybody, and about half of the people were homeless people. They just wanted to talk. They just wanted to be acknowledged."
Genesis said he tried to have lengthy, meaningful conversations with people and "fell asleep on more than one or two benches with people."
The trips inspire his artwork -- the poems he writes, the words he includes in his paintings and the paintings themselves. Recently, he's been creating a line of coffee mugs under the name Mooshi Mugs. The cups feature pieces of art he has either created fresh or parts of sketches he's done in the past. None feature previously painted full pieces done on canvas. He said the mugs came about because he wanted to create something that helped people get their day started on a happy, positive note. For him, that usually means some sort of art and a cup of tea.
"I drink about 12 cups of tea in the morning, and I love coffee," Genesis said. "I love art and good conversation and beauty. Art is medicine."
Sometimes the words he hears from people on his journeys make it to the canvas, and sometimes they inspire his own words. It may be a single word, such as "Brother," or a phrase such as "My Dear, Become What You've Always Been, Brilliantly You."
Genesis said the landscapes and places he sees and visits also inspire his work, though he is not a landscape or a realist painter. So you might not recognize a particular landmark, "unless you go to Bar Harbor (Maine) and spend a couple of weeks there and feel the vibe. Then you might say, 'I bet he did it in Bar Harbor,'" he said.
His most recent trip was by far his longest, both in terms of days away from home and the amount of miles logged. He and his wife, Kreneshia Whiteside-McGee, spent 460 days zigzagging across the country, stopping whenever and wherever they wanted, staying either with friends or in a hotel for a day or two or sometimes a couple of weeks.
Along the way, he would either buy canvases and paint supplies or have them shipped to him. He sold what he could thanks to his website and shipped those that didn't sell right away to his studio here.
Genesis calls his art "PoAnguardia," a mixture of poetry, fine art and the avant garde. His works typically sell for between $1,000 and $108,000. A piece he created in 2021 using real diamonds painted into the canvas sold for $87,000 at auction in London.
His wife, who works under the name Kren the Curator, has been featured in Essence Magazine for her work in the art exhibit world and with private clients. She was also able to work while on the road. She took Zoom meetings, did research and met with clients during the trip.
"Thank God for the internet," she said by phone.
The road trip with her husband has played a big role in her work as well, she said. When people in Los Angeles, for example, would hear about her most recent exhibit, "Y'all Don't Hear Me: The Black Appalachia," they would often express surprise to learn that Black people lived in the Appalachians.
"I needed to hear that," she said. "The trip was inspiration for me as a person and as an artist."
The exhibit was inspired by her grandfather, a pastor, and featured artists, poets and musicians from the 13 states of the Appalachian region. Whiteside-McGee has said in the past the title is a "statement by someone who feels disregarded."
The couple have a home in Chattanooga, which Genesis said will always be his home base, but they recently bought a mountaintop place about 90 miles away in northern Alabama.
"I love Chattanooga, and in 2011 or '12 when I started traveling, people would ask where I was from and Chattanooga didn't get much attention," he said. "Now, everybody knows about it."
Traveling gives him a much broader perspective on people and life, he said, but while there are differences in things like customs and lifestyles, people are essentially the same all over, and when people talk to each other, they usually find common ground.
"People who travel have a different take on life," he said, "but the point of all this is love. It's hard to get off the rails if there is love.
"We have so much common ground. I really wish we talked more."
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.