"When I'm painting a portrait, I finish the eyes and mouth first... so my subject can speak to me. Searching for the DNA of everything I approach."

Chaz Guest (born May 2, 1961, Niagara Falls, NY) is an American painter and sculptor of profound inventiveness for capturing the raw essence reflection of the universal human spirit. Blessed with gifts of realizing his richly textured visions and tapping into their vibrant essence, Guest leaves those who encounter his works moved in powerfully personal ways. From his acclaimed "Cotton Series" paintings of enslaved African Americans rendered on 100% pure Georgia cotton flags to his latest graphic novel creation Buffalo Warrior that is about to be a state of the art major motion picture, Guest proudly inserts his culture into every piece he makes. Typically donned in a Japanese kimono and slippers in his Mid-Wilshire Los Angeles studio where he is surrounded by bold, beautiful Africa-originated inspirations, Guest captures light energy and life legacy in his works. The catalyst of his art lies in how Guest injects purity and excellence throughout. "I trust my voice," Guest states. "I have a story to express for humanity."

The works of Chaz Guest are found in lofty spaces of distinction. 44th American President Barack Obama has two: one of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall (at first on loan from the DuSable Museum in Chicago to hang in the Oval Office but later acquired for his and the First Lady's personal collection) and a portrait of himself. Oprah Winfrey owns a painting of Maya Angelou as a little girl (Poised with a Pencil) as well as the major work Industrial Revolution Classroom from "The Cotton Series." Icons from the late Gordon Parks to Misty Copeland have sat before him to be rendered into immortality. The late television executive Blake Byrne, founder of The Skylark Foundation, commissioned Guest to render a portrait for his Paris home but passed away before completion. Art Patron Beth Rudin DeWoody owns two of Guest's Buffalo Soldiers while other works are in the collections of Javier Baz, board member of the Denver Museum of Art, Ted Sarandos (COO of Netflix) and former U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas Nicole Avant. Angelina Jolie purchased a Buffalo Soldier at Patrick Painter Gallery in Santa Monica. Movie mogul Tyler Perry treated himself to five of Guest's paintings for his Atlanta home while Jazz legend Herbie Hancock has a piece hanging in his Hollywood abode. Guest has also repurposed a 2018 sculpture into a perennially awarded statuette called "The Icon Man," 2019 recipients being filmmaker Spike Lee, actor Samuel L. Jackson and costume designer Ruth Carter.

"Something mysterious is happening," Guest reveals. "Whereas it used to be a laboring thing when I paint, now it feels like information is simply flowing through me. The biggest epiphany came on a trip to Tokyo and seeing mercurial jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett who asked me to paint onstage while he wailed full-out with his quartet (then consisting of the late Kenny Kirkland on piano, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums and Nat Reeves on bass). That really opened me up! I had to rely more on feeling than precise execution. It's like Miles Davis used to say: 'Don't think about shit you already learned!'"

The seventh of nine brothers and sisters, young Chaz was a child divinely connected to the universe via nature (hands in the earth digging for fishing bait) and silence (by command of his father, Reverend Theodore Guest, a WWII Purple Heart recipient who connected him to spirituality). His mother, Algirtha, remains his rock, connecting him to the exceptional gene pool of his grandparents and great grandparents. When Chaz was 10, his mother moved the children to West Philadelphia where Chaz had an epiphany during the 1976 Olympics. "I watched gymnast Shun Fujimoto execute the routine of a lifetime on the rings then dismount onto a broken knee. The moment he thudded on the mat and I saw him grimace yet keep his composure, that man's 'Zen' traveled clear around the globe to this little boy in Philly. He led me to my creative process. I wanted to know what he knew - to know accomplishment at his level of dedication and sacrifice."

Gleaning inspiration from Paul Robeson and Romare Bearden to Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, Chaz considered several occupational options. Chaz also dodged several inner-city distractions, ever-pursuing higher ground that kept him from the clutches of ghetto life. Then a childhood memory of drawing a series of coils over a class assignment snapped him to attention. The visual arts were his destined medium but he didn't focus on them until age 28. "When I did art, people noticed me," he continues. "Painting was my last hope."

After moving to New York, The Museum of Modern Art opened his eyes to the works of the Greek painter Dechirico (especially "The Song of Love"). Directly across was the French artist Balthus' "Andre' Derain." "I absolutely loved his work - copying many of his painting techniques" Chaz admits. "The icing on the cake is that I became friendly with Balthus' daughter, Harumi, after she attended one of my exhibitions. I had the pleasure of drawing her then later meeting the entire family, invited to spend two weeks with them at the grand chalet in Rossiniere, Switzerland by Balthus' widow, Setsuko Klossowska de Rola - an honor that truly expanded my knowledge as a painter."

A chance visit to the Village Vanguard jazz club found him making sketches on cocktail napkins of the late pianist/vocalist Shirley Horn as he sat mesmerized by her molasses delivery and honeyed voice. New York, New York became his muse, nurturing boldness and improvisation within his spirit. On a whim, he moved onto a Soho roof. Three weeks later, he was living in an apartment there. After earning a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Design from Southern Connecticut State University (where he also studied kinesiology), Chaz next graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York then moved to Paris, France where he worked for haute couture magazine, Joyce.

Now living in Los Angeles, Guest is indebted to Mattie and Michael Lawson for introducing him into the west coast social elite. "Mattie is to me what Gertrude Stein was to Pablo Picasso," he enthuses. As galvanizing as his output of works has been, Chaz is well aware of its worth yet ever mindful of the path that brought him here. "'80s artists Francesco Clemente' and Julian Schnabel are the ones I consider to have set the pace for what I’m doing," Chaz says. "I've been paid $30,000 for a painting but what's more important is getting to the authenticity of a thing. I remember being in Spain painting bullfights but didn't feel I was truly capturing them. So, I went to the middle of the ring, collected some of the sand with the bull's blood in it and glued it onto the canvas."

Such specificity became a signature of Guest's work - a three-dimensional effect achieved by painting onto unorthodox surfaces. During another visit to Japan, he was so impressed by a comfortable pair of Zori sandals that he ordered a few dozen more and mounted them onto a canvas... to paint on them! He's done the same thing with leaves and, most indelibly, cotton. But not just any cotton. "I called the library in Waynesboro, Georgia where my great-great grandfather Jackson Philpot lived. The librarian uncovered all sorts of history for me. My grandmother didn't even know that her parents owned that plantation and built the church that she attended growing up. I told the lady at the library, 'I need you to go to that plantation, pick some cotton, put it in a box and mail it to me!' Chaz used that cotton to begin one of his most inspired works: "The Cotton Series."

"I want people to understand that we all have a story," Chaz stresses. "That we all deserve inclusion and respect. That's why I painted 'The Cotton Series.' I needed the world to understand that those men, women and children were not slaves. They were enslaved people. I painted the dignity that lived inside them. Then there's my 'Superhero Series.' We all need superheroes. I'd love for a generation of 'other than white' to be strong in their imaginations. So, I created Buffalo Warrior: the first superhero from the cotton fields of America who fought as a Buffalo Soldier."

Art as Activism is a major through-line of Chaz Guest's purpose as an artist and as a human being. Guest's painting Swazi Geisha resides in the American Folk-Art Museum in New York City while a painting from his Buffalo Series is on exhibition in the Torrance Art Museum. And he is honored to have participated in the group exhibition "Decoding Identity: I Do it for My People" at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MOAD) in San Francisco. He's been invited as a 2019 Artist in Residency in the Tohoku region of Japan. Those works, including Buffalo Warrior paintings, will additionally be exhibited in Los Angeles in February 2020.

Beyond his acclaimed solo exhibits in New York, Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles and West Hollywood, the soul of Chaz Guest is reflected in his philanthropy and his associations with like-minded individuals. It lives and breathes deepest in his work with children - artistically gifted or not. Guest created two paintings for the family of senselessly slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin to support the martyr's surviving brother. The 2011 Goodwill Ambassador to the Republic of Gambia, Guests' goal is to instill unshakable senses of pride in their culture and their selves.

"The thing I am most interested in is building up my Chaz Guest World Art Project which I developed after being invited by the President of The Gambia and meeting many children there," Guest reflects. "On another occasion I was teaching art to kids in Watts/Los Angeles. I had them do self-portraits using mirrors. They didn't know how beautiful they are... I want children all over the world to paint themselves then have pen pals - a kid from the ghetto connecting with a kid from Gambia swapping portraits. When you can depict yourself through art, you grow up with an amazing found respect for yourself and humanity."

"The greatest thing that people get from my paintings is seeing themselves within them - no matter who you are," Guest concludes. "By the time I leave this earth, I want to see people moving closer together."