Jermain Danté - Artist
By Kathleen Reynolds
Jermaine Danté’s artwork evokes action, vitality, a visceral experience. His portraits range from provocative to whimsical and sells for thousands of dollars both nationally and internationally. He’s filled with such a need to create that oftentimes, inspired, he’ll leap out of bed at 1 or 2 a.m. and begin painting in his studio. Yet he describes himself as a laid-back kind of guy.
“I’m mellow,” he says. “But once my dad visited me when I was painting rap artist Tupac Shakur and asked me why I was being aggressive. Apparently, I wasn’t myself.”
That stemmed from his approach to each subject. He’ll spend many hours researching, watching videos and thumbing through photos of his subject. If the person is a professional singer, he’ll listen to albums to get a sense of the person.
He’d spent two and a half weeks researching and listening to Tupac and the singer’s forceful nature had rubbed off. “I had to get back to being myself,” Jermaine says and laughs.
It’s improbable but true that Danté has never had formal art education. He’s watched YouTube art videos and read art history books but hasn’t taken a lesson. How can his portraits be so spot-on, the execution instantly recognizable? “I was blessed with a gift,” is his simple answer.
Jermaine is a local. Born in Vallejo, he grew up mostly in American Canyon and attended Silverado Middle and Vintage High Schools in Napa. “Three-quarters of my life I’ve spent in Napa,” he explains. “It very much influences me in its attitude and culture.”
When Jermaine was about three years old, his mother read him children’s books. Once, she left the room, inadvertently leaving a pen within the toddler’s grasp. She dashed back when she realized he’d been busy with the pen and was amazed with what he’d done. “I’d sketched Winnie the Pooh. It looked just like him. I didn’t know what I was doing, just emulating what I saw.”
“My parents nurtured this talent,” says Jermaine. “For birthdays and Christmas, they gave me arts and crafts materials. I’d watch Disney, look at comics and coloring books and draw the characters myself. Drawing was my outlet.”
In what he describes as a downward part of his life, in 2013 Danté suffered from depression. Art helped him approach the next stage of his life. “I was blessed to hit rock bottom,” he says.
“I committed myself to art. That’s when I journeyed to art on YouTube, I studied literature on art masters of the 19th and 20th centuries.”
He began showing his pieces at art shows. “I monetized art and pursued it one thousand percent.”
His artwork is shown in tasting rooms throughout the area and on social media. Currently, a few of his pieces are displayed at the Napa Chamber of Commerce on First Street. He notes that he shows in places that, “Demonstrate respect and appreciation for fine art.”
For Black History Month in February, he was invited to paint live in the middle of Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco. “It was a busy Saturday, and I must have seen 400 people in the six hours I was there. Being an extrovert helps in situations like that. In school athletics I was used to being in front of crowds. I loved it.”
Most of his promotion is through word-of-mouth. “I have circles of friends that include art collectors.”
Charity work is critical to Jermaine. “I donate work often, to the Make a Wish Foundation, Doctors without Borders, Mentis and others. It’s important because I’ve been given a gift. An artist has to monetize it, but not in those situations it’s important to give my heart and time to help others.”
He can’t pinpoint his most popular portraits. “Art is subjective to collectors. I focus on portraits of heroes and those by whom I’m inspired such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X. I learn a lot about the people before I paint them. I’ve learned more while painting than any other way.”
Although he’s experimented with watercolor and water-based aerosols, his primary paint medium is acrylic for its vibrancy. “I enjoy working with colors and often use colors based on my mood that day. If I’m in a lower energy space, I might go with darker shades. Yellows and oranges are a great mood. Red is aggressive; dark blue is also.”
While painting, he loves to listen to jazz. “Jazz music, to me, is purple and violet. That’s how I see it.”
Acrylic paints are also fast drying. Since much of his work is done on commission, that’s a benefit if a collector wants a painting as a birthday or anniversary gift. He stresses, though, that the amount of time and study he puts into his portraits preclude him from quick turn arounds.
“I scroll through hundreds of pictures until one image jumps out. I submerge myself in the subject.”
Coming up, he’s been invited to do a pop-up show at West Elm in Emeryville, although no date has yet been set.
“I’m a go-getter. Of course, I allow the universe to bless me with opportunities, but I also go after them. I love what I do. To get up and create is a gift. Art is my passion and life.”
To learn more about Jermaine Danté see his website: jermainedanteart.com