Arts and CultureNews


The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

Troy Chew is an artist whose work explores the African Diaspora within the context of urban culture.  His ongoing painting series “Slanguage” references the colloquial speech rooted in our urban areas and Hip-Hop music.  He has a new solo show at Cushion Works (yes, an actual cushion-making business) in the Mission on opening May 3rd, so we wanted to learn more about Chew’s practice before that.

Hi Troy, tell me about the Slanguage series?  I remember first seeing your work at a show at CCA, then seeing Soft n’ the Blow in the Graduation show at Good Mother Gallery
Well, my life has been surrounded by hip hop since birth;  It’s my culture, it’s Black, it’s American, it’s my language. Slanguage, is an analysis and or a lexicon of the language used in urban, hip hop, black, American culture.


Your work deals with language, both in terms of translation and mistranslation.  Slang is an awesome, often difficult to translate, part of everyday conversation.  Do you have any favorite slang phrases?  Or any phrases that you really can’t stand?
Haha, favorite… well, all the weed-related ones are fun to paint. Words like “onion,” “roach,” “gas,” or “gorilla glue” are a good composite of objects for an interesting still life painting, but if you know )or learn) what the objects represent, It’s way cooler.

And hmm, I can stand them all!  They’re just words. But, I just can’t stand when good words don’t translate to an image.  Like I can paint an 8-ball as a representation of an 8-ball of cocaine, but I can’t paint a word like “fosho” hahaha. Like what would that look like?

“The grass is sometimes purple on the other side.” 2018. Oil on wood.

Speaking of graduation, you recently graduated from CCA’s MFA Program, what are you working on now?  Is there a particular reason why you decided to stay in the Bay (instead of moving back down to Los Angeles)?
Yeah I stayed in the Bay Area because I was given the opportunity to be one of the Graduate Fellows at the Headlands Center for the Arts.  It is a year-long fellowship in Marin.  I’m super thankful because just like Stuart, my ass is broke and I definitely needed a studio.  It’s been a pretty dope experience!


What about Hip-Hop music?  Any favorites? Are you a big fan of Bay Area Hip-Hop?
Yup. I’ll give u my top 10. Remember I’m young. Haha No specific order: Kendrick, Jay-Z, gotta have ‘Ye, Weezy, Schoolboy Q, Rick Ross, Young Thug, Robb Banks, Tyler and, I saved E40 for last because he from the Bay and inspired the title of the series.  He is craaaaazy with that wordplay and I’m sure all the previous rappers I named would agree. The Bay in general has “hella” wordplay in its culture.


I first saw your sculpture “Lil’ 40’s”, and it seems like you’ve also been working with candles and video (as seen on your Instagram).  I love the way you’re able to capture objects that are easily recognizable in real life.  But, what draws you to painting?
Well, painting is just the medium I am most used to at this moment.  It’s the backbone of my practice, so the same ideas of language and hip hop that I use to make paintings are in my sculpture and video work.  But some ideas just can’t be paintings. For example, the “it candles” are based on the phrase “it’s lit”, so I figure make I could “it” into a candle, light the candle, and bingo… ITS LIT.


Tell me about the 5/5 Collective– How did you initially get involved?  Is the work you produce with the collective different from what you normally do?
5/5ths is based on the 3/5ths compromise, when black people were considered property and counted only as 3/5ths of a person.  

5/5ths was created by Tania Balan-Gaubert, Nkiruka Oparah, and myself.  We created 5/5ths while in grad school, initially to share resources. We noticed a through line in our works, and decided to curate exhibitions surrounding our current thoughts.


Thanks Troy! And good luck with your solo show.  Check out more of his work on Instagram or his website

FRIDAY, 05/03, 6 – 8PM


Previous post

Silents, Spliffs, Satan, And A Shadow, Film Fests in the Bay!

Next post

The Mermaid Scientist of CA, Teaching Children about the Ocean

Kirsten Chen

Kirsten Chen

@kirstensly bay area art enthusiast and writer

i'm trying to be as famous as the spice girls