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His art comes by way of Italy, Bangladesh, and Florida.

It’s been cold in New York for some time now. The snow has permafrosted, sticking to the sidewalks much longer than should be expected of a city on the cusp of deep Spring. As a chill rose this morning, Brooklyn artist Asif Hoque filled his room with fresh incense. The smoke curled around him as he contemplated the paint he left on his pallet the day before.

“I love oil paint,” he told me, “it always stays wet, ready to be used again.”

One one side of his room, Asif Hoque has taped up the figure paintings he’s currently working on. Underneath, you can see how the paint has run off to trail down the wall. Everything looks ready to begin again. (Mia Fermindoza)

Hoque has stationed himself on his palette bed, so he can talk while looking directly at his work.

“I see color as the more important side, rather than the figure. It’s more about the color and the shapes and stuff than what it used to be for me, [when color] added to the figure,” he says.

During the day Hoque balances a heavy load: hours spent making coffee in a series of local cafés while simultaneously taking art classes at Hunter for a degree he’s been part-timing for years.

Every free second, he says, is for painting and his small room, which doubles as his studio, bears testament; every wall is covered, everything smells like paint.

Hoque’s work in progress is still wet, ready for him to start again.(Mia Fermindoza)

“I’m evolving as an artist. The way I learned was ‘oh, I have to be super traditional at first. And learn figures and then understand color,’” Hoque said. “But that’s constricting. Certain colors are assigned, like pink for skin. There’s not a whole lot of imagination in painting figures — it’s what you see.”

“But now that I’m doing freeform and not being controlled by that traditional style, color has become very important for me. That’s basically the meat of my work. I don’t worry about the figure as much anymore. It’s freeing but absolutely scary.”

Looking around his room again, Hoque’s art has taken on multiple forms. Against one side is his immaculate, well-outlined illustrations of hands, saturated with layers and layers of pinks and blues. On the other is a more chaotic display of color. He calls these two styles “Art School Asif” and “Natural Asif,” respectively.

Gesturing to the hand paintings, done for a school assignment, Hoque says “That’s more like work for me.”

“Work was filling it up. It’s not flowing,” he continues.

Hoque prefers to work in the unrestrained colors he’s experimenting with. It’s more freeing, he says, less rigid.

“Color has always come naturally to me. I have a general idea of what colors match up with what but I felt like if I took a class [on color theory] it was going to ruin that magic,” Hoque said.

Class assignments see Hoque employing a different style than what he’s used to. (Mia Fermindoza)

Hoque is a third-culture kid. He spent most of his childhood moving with his family across continents. Hoque was born in Italy and made trips back to the Motherland in Bangladesh frequently until one day his family stayed for a year. It was there that he got his “first taste of art.”

“My mom’s youngest sister would take me to this daycare art studio. She had a thing with the teacher there and I guess she needed me as the excuse to go,” he said. “I used to paint so much and every time I’d finish a piece I’d cover it up with black paint. I didn’t know why.”

These early days, in combination with the art he was surrounded by living in Italy, Hoque says had a strong impact on his work.

“I like to think what’s happening here,” he says, gesturing at his wall of uncompleted colorful figures, “comes from my beginnings [in Bangladesh]. The textures in the background of my pieces look like henna. I must’ve seen it somewhere there in the calligraphy or in the henna. It just clicked.

“I had three cultures in me by the time I was ten. It’s seeping out of me now. I’m realizing now that where my parents come from in Bangladesh is the belly of my art. I’m at a point now where I’m loving it. I’m loving the culture.”

“This plant looks like the palm trees back home in Florida,” Hoque says. (Mia Fermindoza)

Hoque spent his adolescence in West Palm, Florida. It wasn’t exactly an art center, he says.

“Any art you saw there was like a typical beach scene with palm trees that people from Boca would buy. It’s just not there,” he said.

His time in the sunshine state saw him skating with his friends and engaging in a kind of guerilla art — they’d buy materials for cheap from the local Home Depot, like plywood panels and Oops paint, and knock out pieces fast. They’d put their work up in coffee shops for mini shows or challenge other artists to “art battles,” like what they saw happening in New York and California.

Hoque would even do live painting videos. His work at the time was amateur but raw. Crude and carefree.

He’s always had a love-hate relationship with art school, Hoque said. He laughs when he talks about how he failed AP Art twice in high school. When he enrolled in community college he saw himself signing up for art classes again, but didn’t know what to make of it. The dean at the time encouraged him to follow his instincts to Pratt, where he got his Associates Degree. It was partly being enamored of New York City and part being free from his brown parents, Hoque says.

But now, in the middle of his BFA, Hoque is having his doubts again about whether his work can fit such a tight form.

“With art school, I saw all the greats had done it so I was like ‘ok, cool.’ But I’m just scared they’re going to take this away,” he said. “Or I’m going to realize this is no good. But I feel like I’m good here. It’s very seductive. It’s because I’m getting love from this rather than [school].”

Asif Hoque, photographed by Mia Fermindoza

Looking forward, Hoque says it’s still a work in progress. This is the middle, he assures me, there’s still a lot to do before he gets to the end.

“The dream is to be recognized. Like rockstar-level recognized,” Hoque said, lauhing. “I look at it like I want to be in the scene. I want to be recognized by the people I see on Thursday nights in Chelsea. But then I also understand that there’s a lot of fakeness and politics to what that is. I want to be where I can step away from it too. I want everything.”

“And be a good brown boy and make my parents proud,” he continues. “And have my parents recognize that art is a thing.”

As our Artist-in-Residence, Asif Hoque’s work will appear on our site throughout the year. We’re so happy to get the chance to collaborate with him and complement his bold art with excellent text. You can find more of Hoque’s work in Kajal, Vol. 1 and online.