Flowstate /North Brooklyn Artists


Derrick Adams

Ralf Jean-Pierre explores Bed-Stuy to find artist Derrick Adams in his studio for a behind-the-scenes look at his series “Floaters.” They discuss working in a residential neighborhood, hip-hop and how relaxation can be a radical political act for Black people.

AIRED: April 14, 2021 | 0:13:01


Jean-Pierre: Bed-Stuy.

Today I'm venturing out of North Brooklyn

and deeper into the heart of the borough.

This part of Bed-Stuy is gorgeous,

boasting Victorian architecture and historic brownstones.


But there have got to be artists here too, right?






Hi, Derrick. How's it going?

Wow. Look at all these colors.


It's part of an ongoing series that started in 2015

and is still in progress.

These all make me feel like -- When I'm looking at them,

I feel like I'm in whatever this water park is or whatever.

I feel like I'm there with them.

Yeah. That's kind of the idea.

The figure is always very much positioned

in the viewpoint of the viewer,

you know, to have a visual exchange.

In the beginning when I was making the series,

it was really because I didn't see images

of these types of subjects --

Black figures in leisurely positionings

or environments that looked like this.

So I started working on these because I wanted to see it.

I started to get, like, images from friends who are artists

or friends who were on vacation.

Jean-Pierre: I'll tell you what's really funny to me.

Even before I'd seen the work,

just the idea of paintings of Black people relaxing...

Yeah. Because just that idea is really --

The satire of it is so --

I didn't really have tosee them and get it.

And then look at them, I'm like, "Oh, this is so good."

We get it that we are living in a place

that, like, doesn't want us to relax.

It doesn't want us to be able to enjoy our life.


[ Indistinct conversations, water splashing ]

And also, with my work,

I always think about what type of acts that could be radical

without necessarily, like, being purposefully radical.

Adams: Because we are dimensional,

like everyone else, we have areas of experience

that are not just about combat.

We have experiences where we need to refuel,

regenerate, spend time with family, reflect.

And a lot of images are, again,

images of actual people I know doing these things that, for me,

are equally important as people protest.

It's something that even for us, as people, we're not --

we feel sometimes a little resistant of showing.

Because I think sometimes we think people are gonna forget

about the things that we also are pushing up against.

And -- Yeah. I feel that all the time.

And that is, like, not being on message.

But I also feel like, especially in the last few months...


...guilty forany enjoyment that I have,

because I feel like I'm supposed to be --

Oh, I'm supposed to be marching right now

or I'm supposed to be writing a screed right now or something.

Like, I feel...

It's like, if I laugh, I feel guilty.

You know what I mean? 'Cause so many are in pain.


And the thing is, you know, those things are important,

and I've done those things as well.

But I also understand that it's important for, you know,

younger people to see themselves depicted in this manner.

To me, it's something that is not always

the most popularized image in media... Mm.

...and something that I think the next generation needs to see

as much as the images of dealing with struggle

and dealing with oppressive structures that exist.

[ Helicopter passing, group clapping, chanting ]

Group: These racist cops have got to go!

Hey, hey! Ho, ho!

These racist cops have got to go!

♪ Black children matter ♪ Black children matter

♪ Black children matter ♪ Black children matter

You know, I would love to see images like this

next to images of protest.


My hope is that, you know, in the future,

curators will understand how complex representation is

and how they have to actually understand what we want to see,

not just what they want people to see.


Jean-Pierre: What shaped your own conception of that,

of, like, of knowing what people want to see?

Talking to people.

You know, talking to non-art people

about things they like and things that they respond to.

For me, I'm always interested in the non-art person

when I'm making art because I always think about that --

That audience is the audience, to me, that's more complicated

and a little bit more hard to get, to connect to,

and to keep.

And so I'm always interested in that,

'cause that's like my family for the most part.

A lot of my family aren't artists.

I relate to that so much.

Like, I make art as well.

And a big thing for me has always been like, "Man,

I refuse to make art that my mom couldn't enjoy."

Not in terms of, like, no cursing or something like that,

but I don't want to be making art

that you need a master's degree to enjoy.

Exactly. Exactly.

The access to the work is really important,

and the audience who engages with it

is also something I think about when I'm making work.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Is there a practicality or significance

to being here in Bed-Stuy as opposed to having your studio

somewhere else in the city or in North Brooklyn?

One of my goals and one of my dreams

have always been to have a studio.

Not necessarily a big studio or a small studio,

but a studio in the neighborhood

that's not like an industrial neighborhood.

You know, I always wanted to have a studio

in the neighborhood of, like, just a regular citizens

walking by, hanging out, you know? Yes.

I've never had that experience, really, until recently

because most of the studios I've been in

have been studios and big industrial buildings

kind of like on the outskirts of the neighborhoods

where there's basically a bunch of artists

in a building, working.

That was good in the beginning of my career as an artist

because I was in a community with my friends.

But after a while of doing that,

I was really interested in staying connected

to the community that I feel I'm very inspired by.

'Cause a lot of my materials that I use in my work

are from, you know, from the streets of Bed-Stuy

and go to the dollar store or the fabric shop

or the beauty supply.

Like, a lot of those places, I get inspiration from.

In some of these collages, I've used fabric.

And these fabrics are from the local shops.

Sometimes they think I'm a stylist, you know?

Oh. Yes, yes, yes.

Then I show them the image of what I was working on

that I bought from the supply store.

They're like, "Oh, wow."

Man, when I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn,

if I would've run across a studio like this,

I'd have been like...

'Cause I was always the only artist that I knew.

I'm like you. Like, my family didn't make art.

So if I would've known that -- I would've been...

Yeah. ...you know, looking at all your paints and stuff

...and being like... So, like, do you have that?

Is that part of your...

Well, the good and bad side of being in a studio

that's on the street -- Once people know you're here,

you get visitors all the time tapping on the window

or people that I know coming by.

And it's important, you know, for people to see artists.

I have friends who have kids who are drawing

and kids who like art.

And they ask me, "Can I bring my kid by the studio

to see what you're doing?"

And talk to the kids about the individual work

and they ask me questions about, "How do you make that?"

and, "What's that color?" why it's so vivid.

And I tell them, like, what kind of paints I'm using.

[ Air hissing ]


Jean-Pierre: It feels to me a lot like --

I don't know what it is,

and I would like you to talk about it,

but this whole series to me feels very hip-hop.

[ Chuckles ] Yeah.

There's something about the energy of it

and the colors and the rhythm of it.

There's something about it that like, pops

and is bright and is... you know...

Yeah. I have a lot -- I mean, I'm fortunate

to have a lot of young Black professionals

who collect my work and who support my work.

And I think that visual art and music and fashion

are becoming a little bit more in sync with each other.

Oh, I love it. I love it.

The other thing that feels very hip-hop about these to me

is, like, there's such a...

there's such an integrated sense of humor that is --

I think hip-hop doesn't get credit often

for how sophisticated its sense of irony and sense of humor is.

Yes. And that's something I really feel in these.

There's a wink here.

The unicorn has a gold chain. You know what I mean?

[ Laughing ] Yeah. Exactly.

And this homie right here, he's like...

He's chillin' with a drink. He's got the Drake beard.

He's like, "Yeah. Yeah. We're having a good time."

And I'm thinking about those things.

I'm thinking, you know,

how there's a certain level of pride and comfort...

Mm. ...that we have.

So these images are really more about

how I want people to look at the figure.


You're trying to really pull the nuance out

of what the Black experience is

and it seems like really enjoying doing it.


What words of advice would you give

to, like, just a young artist that you met right now

who is just trying to understand their place

or what they're doing?

A young Black artist.

Most creative people kind of start with this very --

Especially if you are part of an academic background,

you really start with the very Westernized idea

of what art is and how to present subject matter

relating to classical or Renaissance or those things.

Or you're responding to that in some way,

because you look at it either as a negative or a positive.

Or you're making work that is about things

that really affect you in a negative way

and you're trying to create a positive response from it.

But for me, it's always about looking around at the world

and looking at art and looking at your peers

and seeing what they're making

and figuring out what is missing...


...what is missing in art.

What is missing in the art that you want to see?

And as an artist, as a creative person,

how can you fill that void?

How can you fill that void in the way that you can only do it?

Visual art is really about looking around,

being observant of your surroundings,

and kind of realizing what you can add to that.



Jean-Pierre: Derrick's work has inspired me to do some relaxing.


It's not always easy for me.

It always feels like there's more to do,

especially this year.

You can't tell if quarantine is a rest period

or a jail sentence.

But this has been such an incredible journey,

meeting the wonderful artists of North Brooklyn.

I can allow myself to slip into a Slurpee mirage for a bit.

[ Exhales deeply ]

[ Children shouting, water splashing ]


[ Thunder rumbling ] Uh-oh. I guess summer's over.


[ Slurping ]


Stay creative, everybody. See you in the flow state.



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