For Oscar “TrillJay” Wheat, the trick to motivation is accepting progress as you go. A self-taught artist, he takes pride in the freedom that comes with finding his own artistic path and the amount of consideration it allows him in taking on new projects. Inspiration is ubiquitous for Wheat, who pulls subjects from both the commonplace and the ethereal.
Wheat traces his roots to Alabama, where he grew up drawing shoes on electrical lines and admiring his uncle’s paintings. He began his own foray into painting six years ago, after a lifetime of drawing and mounting interest in other mediums. “A friend of mine back in Alabama told me about a free art class at Michael’s,” Wheat remembered. “At the end of the class, they wanted me to teach the class.” The seed of curiosity planted, Wheat took to the brush swiftly and soon found many avenues of inspiration for his style and sensibility.
One pivotal artist Wheat acknowledges in his journey to finding his own voice and style is the iconic Ernie Barnes, whose work Wheat first experienced while growing up watching “Good Times.” Barnes is the artist behind much of the work portrayed to be by the character J.J., as well as the cover of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 album I Want You. The spirit of Barnes’ work is present in Wheat’s paintings, from the use of shadows on elongated figures to textured, warm color palettes.
The work Wheat produces eludes the confines of specific genres, consecutive themes or artistic movements. Finding inspiration from an array of sources, Wheat’s work runs the gamut of comic book icons, celebrations of feminine form, Black cultural figures and myriad other tributes. “I love to paint women,” Wheat said. “I try to uplift them in all my work. I believe they are God’s greatest gift.” Spirituality lies beneath everything Wheat paints. Part of his process hinges upon a prayer he says for himself, the work and the person who has commissioned it. “I say a prayer that my work will make someone happy,” he said. Simply put, and with an intentionality that flows through every aspect of his life, both on and beyond the canvas.
While labels aren’t the name of the game for Wheat, the brand is. He describes his work and brand in three words: underground, urban and universal. In his process and paintings there is a notable desire to remain flexible, whether that means switching up subject matter or venturing into different artistic terrain. “I love graffiti artists and their approach to technique,” Wheat said, noting this as a next potential medium.
This freedom to experiment is crucial for Wheat as a working artist. “Artwork is the easiest form of investment,” he said. “There is nothing like having original artwork in your home and knowing who made it. You never know who may be hanging on your wall.”