Black Artists Print Shop: Meet EuGene V Byrd III
About the Black Artists Print Shop: The Black Artists Print Shop is part of our ongoing work to help advance racial equity within our communities. We aim to create spaces for Black artists—places where you can find their work, hear their stories, and support their businesses. Our fourth collection’s theme is celebrating Black art. To do so, we’re elevating ten distinct voices by highlighting the artists’ answers to the question: “What does celebrating Black art mean to you?” Their answers represent a breadth of opinions on what Black art is, how we can support it, and the importance of representation.
About EuGene: EuGene V Byrd III is an artist that draws inspiration from life experiences and people around him. The style and themes portrayed in his art can best be described as realism and romantic. He illustrates quintessential aspects of the Black experience, in an effort to preserve Black culture, telling stories that are often overlooked or demonized. He also wants to focus more on the intersectionality of Black and Native culture, which has been severely misrepresented or more often not acknowledged at all. Using his natural eye and advanced grasp of color, EuGene provokes feelings of vulnerability, softness, and love through his art. He strives to create something new, yet familiar, that promotes curiosity in viewers of all demographics. EuGene believes that art inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. He continues on his path of self discovery through art.
How do you identify yourself as an artist?
I’ve been an artist forever, my whole life. I’ve just never really stopped. Art is the thing that I think is everybody’s first exposure. Before you learn how to read, before you learn how to write, you’re coloring. Even if you’re just making designs in your SpaghettiOs. I’ve just never stopped. I consider myself a creator. It goes beyond things that I produce visually.
I believe artists have to be resourceful. It’s about creating opportunities for yourself. You know you have to get really creative just to be an artist in your life. I am an artist, but I label myself as a creator.
I don’t say I’m a painter, even though that is the one that describes the most if you have to pick one medium. But I love photography, I love working in three dimensions, I want to get more into sculpture. I love writing. I love poetry.
So that’s why I say that I am a creator.
You got a degree from art school. What is your philosophy on an arts education?
Even though I was an artist my whole life, it took me a little while to say it out loud. Even though that’s how everyone introduced me. It’s because of the era, and growing up in a low income era where gang violence was high. I wasn’t mature enough to say I was an artist. It was different then than it was today.
The first year I went to school, I went to Southern University, just following my friends. I wanted to go to a HBCU. I quickly realized that’s not the place for me.
Then I matured around age 19 and said, “Who am I kidding, I’m an artist.” That’s when I transferred to Atlanta, and really started to take my life and my passion seriously. I studied at Atlanta College of Art, which later got acquired by SCAD.
There, I studied graphic design. I still wasn’t confident coming from a blue collar family that I could make a living as an artist. I wanted to be creative and I knew you could get a job as a designer. I’d like to consider myself a self-taught artist, because I didn’t take any painting courses at ACA or SCAD. You had to take foundational drawing classes. But I figured the way you get better at painting is by painting. And these schools are super expensive. So I considered it like this—I am giving you a ton of money to schedule out time in my day to paint.
If, I am gonna pay you, I want you to teach me something I know nothing about. I took dark room photography, web design. I took everything except for painting!
I focused on graphic design and things I thought were more future forward. And I figured that the way I’m gonna get better at painting is by painting.
It has made me a more well equipped artist. At the end of the day, no one can make you an artist. Going to art school cannot make you an artist—you’re already that. You’re going to school to study art.
Tell us about the process of leaving the professional world behind to dedicate full time to art.
One of the biggest hurdles for me—and a lot of artists suffer from this—is self doubt. The design career path was determined by a lot of self doubt, not my art ability. So that was a big underlying thing when I was considering going the professional route.
I went into the graphic design field just because I needed a job. I didn’t really appreciate design—but towards the end of undergrad, I thought, “if I am studying this, I really need to develop a passion for design like I have for other art.”
So I started taking design seriously, and identifying what I liked. For a big chunk of my life, I put fine art on the back burner. And I did that for fifteen plus years, and I learned a lot of great things. I did a lot of great projects. I did develop a love for it, but it wasn’t fulfilling enough. It wasn’t my calling.
I kept painting in the PM and doing shows. My sister passed away right before my eyes, and then several years later I saw my mother pass away right before my eyes. That was the tipping point. My mom was my cheerleader, always. She always said, “Do your art, son.” Seeing that loss, it triggered me to think life is too short, a design career doesn’t really have my interests at heart, I have to live for me. If not now, when?
If you’re not really happy, it’s not really worth it. When I’m dead, I don’t want anybody speaking over my body talking about how much I worked.
It’s about how you make people feel, it’s all about the emotional connection in art. Which is so important to me, and hard to do if you’re not happy.
The expressions of your subjects are so powerful. Why are you drawn to looks like that?
I definitely want to establish that emotional connection. For much of my art life, I was studying. But I didn’t really have a voice. I was doing things that were important to me, but I wasn’t sharing my personal story. I’m 40 years old, have been an artist my whole life, but I feel like I really found my artistic voice five years ago. That’s when I started to be vulnerable, and everything changed for me.
A lot of the paintings that you see now are either things I am going through, things I’ve learned, things that people close to me are going through, some of them are still things I’ve read, or before my time, but a lot of them are real close to home.
As a Black man, a lot of social issues are coming through. Anything I do is from a Black perspective because I am Black. But I don’t focus on struggle art—other than the struggle of life that I think all men go through. There’s a lot of masculinity things within my art. And I use color palettes that show the viewer I am getting in touch with my feminine side. It’s not obvious, these things are subtle.
As far as the gaze, I think it’s really important to have that confrontation. Usually, my subjects are looking right at the viewer. And that is intentional, because my grandfather couldn’t look a white man in his eye. Not only a white man, a white boy.
So when I have these Black figures looking directly at the viewer, it is intentional. That’s why most of my subjects, especially the men, are looking right at you. And when a man is feeling emasculated, he usually goes home and takes that out on his wife, or on his kids. People he can do that to.
There are a lot of things in our community that happen through systematic racism. Through my art, I always don’t address it head on—it’s very subtle.
I want my art to be a bridge to tell these stories as beautifully as I possibly can.
What does Atlanta mean to you, your identity, and your art?
Man, I love Atlanta. I wasn’t born here, but I’m definitely going to be buried here. This is where I planted my roots, this is where I met my wife. My daughter is a Georgia peach. Atlanta was promising when I moved here. I’m from Wichita, Kansas. I’m from the Midwest. Now, I love my region and I was born there. But I never trusted that I could live as a Black artist there.
Atlanta was a refuge for me. It made me believe it was possible, and the city embraced me. I feel like I am definitely part of the city. I definitely rep it. I feel like it’s growing. It’s on the up trajectory. We’re not up there on the fine arts where we think we are. Every year it increases. It’s one of those places that embraces you.
There’s a lot of people who are not from Atlanta but they innately become Atlanta. Even rappers. Like Ludacris. He’s not from Atlanta, but he’s Atlanta! There’s a lot of people like that. Like Usher.
It’s a city like that. It’s a city of support. Of shared knowledge. I hear people coming from other places, like “When I was in New York or LA, people aren’t as open with information as they are here.”
It’s definitely a brotherhood because it’s DIY. The art scene was created by artists. It wasn’t supported by the city. Or organizations. It was artists saying, “I’m gonna open my own shop.”
And then the city saw the value of it. Atlanta will embrace you. I can’t be thankful enough. When I opened my art gallery, that’s when I really thought “I’m ATL.”
How do you hope people feel when they see your work in a frame?
I hope the art speaks to them and they have an emotional connection. I liken the frame to shoes. The shoes is gonna complete the outfit. When you get the frame—it complements the art, it completes it. That’s the way I think about it. Of course, you can display art without the frame. But you don’t wanna wear an outfit that’s missing shoes! Whatever it is, gators, expensive Gucci shoes—whatever it is. It’s incomplete without the shoes. To me, that’s what the frame does.
Photography by Julian Thomas.
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