The painting, artwork, and lifestyle of Flint's 'Artschool Dropout' Keyon Lovett

FLINT, Michigan — “My goal is to continue to be the sh*t,” expresses Lovett with a blunt bravado, followed by a roaring laugh when asked to define what success means to him. “At a tangible glance, being able to go to one of the highly talented affairs and be recognized after a collection by collectors. On an intangible note, to have someone learn or feel something from a piece.”

The constant laughter and hospitality from Keyon and his wife, Tanasia Lovett, inside his garage-turned-art studio, is warm and inviting. Tools, tables, chairs, and space heaters dispersed amongst paint-splattered and spray-painted concrete — no doubt because of Lovett’s passion for painting and artwork — set the ambiance as Lo-fi beats play in the background.

Giant canvases of Claressa Shields and Donald Glover sit nested on easels. At the same time, featured pieces of John Coltrane and Ready The RAT (Lovett's signature designed character) are stacked against the walls.

Painted pieces like Michael Jordan’s iconic pose on almost cardboard and tapestry-like material are nailed to the wall and laid on the floor. Together, they create a narrative for Lovett that speaks to his unique ability to take paint and bridge the gap between history and culture. It also illustrates that even without a formal art degree, the former football player and self-identified “Artschool Dropout” is serious about his craft and a powerful force.

“The most high gave me this gift and talent. It’s my responsibility to own it. He gave me the gift to play football. That did exactly what it did for me to get here and realize I can either bash my brain into another man or be thoughtful and [introspective] because I was going to be a teacher.”

“The most high gave me this gift and talent. It’s my responsibility to own it,” explains Lovett in front of his original creation, Ready The RAT, on Jan. 29, 2024. (Anthony Summers | in a classroom, a gallery exhibition showcase, or a mural display across Flint neighborhoods, Lovett is a teacher. His love for history evolved from deep diving into subjects and locales and pinpointing “historical events in these scriptures and vice versa,” told to him by his mother’s boyfriend who was in the Navy. Alongside his love for history and teaching sits his Hebrew Israelite identity.

Hinted subtly inside his artwork are little breadcrumbs highlighting his beliefs and the multitude of challenges and blessings. He says this is because “it’s hard to be in your purpose and not talk about yourself and not have yourself be within that. It just happens because it happens. To understand me is to understand this.”

As Lovett continues to explain and acknowledge the intersections of his life and who he is, the context behind paintings begins to emerge. Much of his artwork — present in his studio and across the city — examines the historical context of Black people’s journey from great civilizations in homeland Africa into the indoctrination and relationship to whiteness, the prison system, and the greater American society. 

It illuminates the internal battles of imposter syndrome and how people of color feel the intensity of having to “wake up [every day] and prepare for an opponent that you don’t know the face of.” Indeed, Lovett’s creations add to and yet dispel the homogenous narrative of what it means to be Black in America.

Pictured on Jan. 29, 2024, spray paint cans, tools, chairs, tables, and more create a creative atmosphere of freedom inside Lovett's studio. (Anthony Summers |“I try to deal with the realness of the Black struggle, the realness of being seen as an underachiever or a pest. I paint [and] tell stories or narratives of overcoming all those things. I can paint a pretty picture, but how vain is that?” Lovett remarks. “I’m probably gonna catch a lot of flack for this. I appreciate the murals, but none of it is directly connected to the city. My biggest issue is that we need more Flint-based, Flint-centered public work because there’s a renovation going on here, but there’s no tie to the history of what the city used to be. We got more fluff art than education pieces.”

The distinction of leaning into education pieces fueled his desire to apply for and ultimately become the University of Michigan-Flint Arts + Culture Research Cluster with Buckham Fine Arts Project 2024 Emerging Artist Fellowship recipient, something he applied for four times.

The residency “offers mentoring, consulting, technical and promotion support to assist the fellow on their creative path,” giving Lovett an incredible platform to take him and his art to the next level.
An ode to Lovett's time as a football player and the birth of his creative journey with Ready The RAT, pictured on Jan. 29, 2024. (Anthony Summers |
“First and foremost, I’m looking to get to my next level. My next level is getting into those bigger shows and residencies to propel my career further,” Lovett says about the residency. “At the same time, I’m from [Flint]. I’ve walked up and down these streets. I went to these schools. I have a responsibility to leave it a little better than I found it by doing what I can, whether collaborating, telling stories about people we don’t see every day, retelling the story, or bringing it back relevant because we heard it when we were younger.”

His acceptance into the residency is also a testament to the last several years of his life returning to Flint, losing friendships, and the birth of his two sons. The gravity of the moment isn’t lost, and he’s grateful to those who have helped him along the journey such as the art community of Flint, many notable Flint music artists, and Flintside’s emeritus editor, Patrick Hayes.

“We’ve been studying Abraham the last few Shabbats. Abraham had a moment [when] he had to leave his father’s house. [There’s] a Hebrew phrase that means go for yourself. I think my household and I are in that entirety right now.

Since I moved back [to Flint], there’s been a lot of losses. It’s been trying. I can quote Abraham again and know and trust that He is the most high. All types of sh*t can be happening around you, but as long as your eyes are where your eyes need to be, it shouldn’t bother you.”

For more Keyon Lovett or The Artschool Dropout, find and follow him on Instagram and his website.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.