Our Monthly Member Feature sees us interview Rockella Space Member King David about his work, and his studio at Rockella Space. David has been a Rockella Space Member since 2018 and has a studio at Brown Bears Studios.



Installation View at 447 Space by Michellé Hoban

King David is an abstract artist based in Brooklyn, NY. Born in Flatbush to immigrant parents from the Caribbean, his unique upbringing was heavily influenced by his completion of a program called Prep for Prep. This nonprofit afforded him scholarship opportunities to attend The Dalton School and Gettysburg College, where he graduated as a Studio Art major with honors.

This scholarly achievement would also lead David to the doors of the Leo Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, where he studied for a semester abroad during his undergraduate years. On a path paved contrastingly with grueling vicissitudes and hard-earned opportunities to succeed, David proudly credits his exceptional educators, especially those in the Arts, for nurturing his academic prowess as acutely as his artistic passions.

After the experience of losing his father to suicide in 2016, David found his voice and expressive style in abstract painting, and has been committed to working in this fashion ever since, supplementing his focus on abstraction with similarly conceived drawings, watercolors, sculptures, photographs, and textiles. He has been working out of his studio in Brooklyn since 2018.

We interviewed David to better understand his work using abstraction to interpret memory and his Jamaican heritage.

To learn more about the creatives who call Rockella Space home, head over to the People page for a full list of in-depth interviews.

Who are you and what do you do?


My name is King David. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York to parents of Caribbean descent. I’m an abstract artist with a focus on oil painting, creating paintings on surfaces ranging from wood to copper to plexiglass.

In recent years, my oeuvre has grown to include sculpture, photography, and textile work, as well as re-including drawing and watercolor, which have been foundational to my practice for years. My work contemplates the histories and conditions of the people and environments that make up the countries of my parents’ birth, Jamaica on my mother’s side, and Trinidad and Tobago on my father’s side.

As a child of Caribbean immigrants who was raised in the gritty, unforgiving, yet aspirational environment of New York City, I wield my unique perspective to synthesize works that visually interpret and distill aspects of my culture, to be shared within the greater context of fine art in a manner that illuminates the humanity and triumph of my ancestors.

In creating such works, I aim to “big up” my culture from an interior perspective, thereby expanding and dignifying our present sense of self as a counter to the pre-existing colonial narrative that tried, and failed, to strip us of such humanity for centuries.

How long have you been at Rockella Space and what is your favorite thing about having a studio at Brown Bears Studios?


After graduating from college in 2017, I began renting out a studio space from Rockella at Brown Bears in January of 2018. At the end of 2020, a friend and fellow artist who goes by the name Bandulu left Brown Bears Studios and vacated what is now my larger studio space, one that I’ve been working out of since the beginning of 2021.

My favorite thing about having my initial space was the independence that it offered me coming out of my undergrad. Prior to that time, I had only ever shared studio space with fellow students, but since 2018, I’ve had the freedom to experiment, create, and grow in my own personal place of artistic ritual. Moving into my larger studio in 2021 was the catalyst for the exponential growth of my artistry.

In my current space, I’ve been able to push my work in terms of scale and effectiveness to places I could have never imagined. Having a dedicated studio such as this, especially for an artist working in abstraction (which necessitates deep contemplation), has proven to be essential for the actualization of my artistic potential.


View of David’s studio at Brown Bears Studios

Have you connected and/or created a community with any other artists in the building?


Coming from the student environment where our critique and co-collaboration was encouraged, I’ve found the artist friends that I’ve been able to make at Brown Bears Studios to be refreshingly creative individuals. I’ve been able to meet people that work in everything from painting, to hair, to photography, to custom mirrors, all of whom I’ve been able to learn from, interact with, and share in this space where we all are individually pursuing our passions and/or the bag.

The Open Studios events we’ve recently started to promote and engage in have been great forums through which to meet other creatives that I hadn’t already known, and also to showcase my work to new crowds that might not have otherwise known about all of the fun stuff going on in our studio building. Given the insular nature of the past couple years, it has been refreshingly exciting to re-engage with this community, where we’ve always recognized a fertile ground for potential connection, resource sharing, and building, and that is now being tilled for growth.

Can you tell us about your journey as an artist, from your roots in Jamaica to your current work in New York?


The story of my Jamaican roots connects to the homeland through my mother, the oldest of seven kids, who was born and raised in the small town of Frankfield, Clarendon. My grandmother and grandfather leased a plot of land from the government where they built a house that, at the time, was only a single room and a kitchen against a hill.

My mother moved to the United States when she was 16. After she met my dad, they raised me in my earliest years in Flatbush, a traditionally Caribbean area of Brooklyn. In my earliest years, from 1 to 8, I went back to Jamaica just about every summer, instilling in me a definitive cultural relationship that I’m costantly energized by, and that I’ve continued to pull from and examine over the course of my artistic career.

I didn’t go back to Jamaica from the age of 8 until the age of 27, an almost 20-year gap that coincided with the period within which I was working on my “Jamaica” series; the trip back was as timely and cathartic for my work as it was for my sense of self. As I continue making artworks now and into the future, I’ll also continue exploring the intricacies of Jamaican history, how that history influences my experience of my native New York City, and how it lays the groundwork for my understanding of the best way I can use my artistic talents to influence the world on a global scale, echoing the positive directives of Rastafari and my ancestors.


 Photo by Scramual L. Packson, and edited by Martin Czajkowski at Brooklyn Editions

Your abstract paintings are known for their intricate layers of paint. What inspired you to explore this technique, and how does it influence your artistic process?


My signature impasto, thick, gooey, wet, oily, rough, layered style of painting has a years-long history of development. That journey began in high school, when I fell in love with watercolor. Over the years, I became comfortable with the unpredictability of the medium, an aspect owed to its historical reputation for being difficult to control.

In watercolor, you are at the mercy of the uncontrollable nature of water, a characteristic that I became comfortable with and started to embrace over time. Once I got to college and transitioned to oil painting, I had to contend with the vastly different material qualities of such a sticky, creamy, viscous material, one that shares aspects of color and saturation with watercolor, but is totally different from a molecular perspective.

Where watercolor features very delicate pigments that have been dried out and need to be reinvigorated with water in order to flow, oil paint is constructed of much more hardy, organically derived pigments that are suspended in an oily medium, generally derived from some species of plant. The differences in the physical makeup of oil paint encouraged me to investigate how the material could be accented or agitated with different kinds of chemicals, from aggressive thinners like turpentine, to thickening agents like mediums and additional plant oils.

Over the years, I realized that I was trying to make the oil paint behave more like watercolor, the medium that I have become so accustomed to in my youth, and that taught me how to love art. Recognizing this has allowed my particular style to flourish in recent years, as I’ve accepted the origins of how I paint; consequently, I’m able to embrace a more materially involved style that stimulates my paintings to be that much more strongly charged as art objects.


 Photo by Scramual L. Packson, and edited by Martin Czajkowski at Brooklyn Editions

How does your Jamaican heritage influence your artwork, particularly in the context of creating abstract pieces?


Jamaica is a place of strong flavors, colors, accents, and characters. Our music has been the primary driving force for our cultures worldwide influence, and that music has always been linked to the rich history of visuals existing alongside it. In my interpretation this history has figurative and abstract elements, both of which feed into my work. For example, a figurative element can be represented in the hummingbird, the national bird of Jamaica, or the lush, saturated rainforest environment that it calls home. In a complimentary manner, the underlying abstract element of the hummingbird and its relationship with the land, as interpreted through the lens of the people themselves, can be the colors that symbolize rastafari, red, green, and gold.

Though these colors themselves are concrete, they don’t correspond with any particular figure. Rather, they are representative of ideas, which inherently exist in the realm of abstraction. The red represents the blood of the ancestors tracing back to Africa, in recognition of the harrowing journey of the transatlantic slave trade, and of how the descendants of that history came to make Jamaica their proud home. The green represents the relationship of black people to the lands that have sustained them through such a brutal history, from Jamaica, to Africa and everywhere else between and betwixt.

Last but not least, the gold symbolizes the esoteric worth of black people and our culture, something that could never be quantified, and that traces all the way back to our lineage of gold bearing, influential, and prosperous Kingdoms in Western Africa, the same region from which the majority of African-descended Jamaicans can trace their genetic lineage.


Can you walk us through your creative process when starting a new painting? How do you decide on the layers and colors you'll incorporate?


Each painting starts with a practical impetus that connects with the conceptual. In other words, anything that I see in the world can be an apt stimulus that provokes the urge to paint in my mind. A painting can also be thought of as a response, but the viewer doesn’t always know what the artist is responding to since the meanings a painting ends up at usually stand on their own.

However, this does not mean that whatever stimulates a painting and its eventual meaning aren’t inherently linked. In truth, one of the joys of taking in artwork is reverse engineering this relationship. One can look at the textures, layers, colors, and varying chemical states of my paintings with the intention of breaking them down physically, and at the same time discover the layers of meaning embedded within these physical characteristics.

As I layer and stack on colors and textures, the paintings inherently become thicker and more viscous, until a later point at which I slow down and deeply observe all of what’s happening to figure out if the process should remain one of addition, or if it needs to consider a kind of destructive removal. This constant consideration of physical states pervades my entire painting practice and is the foundation of how I make all the conscious and unconscious decisions that ultimately contribute to the works themselves.


 Photo by Scramual L. Packson, and edited by Martin Czajkowski at Brooklyn Editions

Many of your paintings evoke a sense of depth and complexity. What emotions or themes do you aim to convey through your layered abstract works?


Many years ago, I watched an artist talk that’s still available on YouTube featuring The recently deceased Master sculptor Richard Serra. In this q&a, Serra was asked to share some of his own thoughts about the gravitational influence of his works on others. Like the Zen master that he was, he responded that he has nothing to do with the relationships that others form with the artwork he creates.

He has a stimulus, an innate need to create, something that drives him beyond the physical realm, yet motivates the creation of incredibly physically-imposing objects. In his interpretation, the relationship he has with his work and the relationships that others form with the work, though linked in the chronology of cause and effect, are still independent of one another. He ended his answer with a funny remark, that “whatever you feel between you and the work is between you and the work” and that you can’t blame him for those feelings! The answer may come across as a cop out, when in reality it was a very measured way of  recognizing that the artist only has so much influence on how people will take in their work, and that this influence ends, or perhaps becomes more indirect, the moment the work has to occupy a space on its own.

My own selfish goals and intentions for my artwork constantly revolve around the beautification and humanization of my culture and people, yet I acknowledge that in abstract works such as mine, those goals are not necessarily obvious to the viewer. I accept this wholeheartedly, because I ultimately have the utmost faith in the esoteric power of fine art to do over a much longer space time what we cannot accomplish in the meager length of our own human lives.

How do you approach the balance between spontaneity and control when working on layered paintings? Do you find yourself revising and adding layers over time, or do you have a predetermined vision for each piece?


My process can definitely be described as a dance between the chaotic and the controlled, where disorder is as inherent to the end-harmony of the work as structure. I read an interview years ago with master artist Gerhard Richter, wherein he personified “chance” as another actor in his practice that is capable of taking works in directions he could not foresee if he chooses to create with too much rigidity.

At the same time, his embrace of the unexpected was a noted response to his mid-20th century German upbringing, tinged with Nazi authoritarianism and a discouragement of experimentation. I learned from both this interview, and from my college Professor Amer Kobaslija, that each artist has to find their own effective balance of spontaneity and, as Amer would call it, “self-imposed limitations”. I think a lot about painting when I’m not painting, about what colors may go together or which colors may clash, what physical states may agree or disagree with one another, and the different scales and materials that each work can utilize to exist in different states.

When I’m actually painting, my mind quiets down to an almost unconscious, meditative whisper. In this state, I am most concerned with responding to what the painting I’m working on is giving me. I liken this stage in the process to martial arts training, a practice that is all about honing the body and the mind through technique and challenging the self to improve, with the ultimate goal of creating a weapon in the body that can draw from this technique automatically, without thinking, and in a free-flowing manner akin to water.

I almost never have an idea of how a piece will look at the end of my process. I have a place to start, I know I’ve got to end somewhere, and I embrace figuring out all of what happens in the middle.


View of David’s studio at Brown Bears Studios

Your work has been exhibited in various galleries and exhibitions. What has been the reception to your layered abstract paintings, particularly in the New York art scene?


New York is one of the best and worst places in the world to be creating work such as mine because of the history that abstraction shares with the city. Many members of the 20th century New York School painting tradition were renowned abstract masters (Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Mitchell, etc.) . This sets an almost unrealistic precedent for someone like myself, whose goals include building on the foundations that these Masters laid, with the intent of being considered among them.

That being said, I’ve been fortunate enough to be embraced by one living member of this tradition, renowned abstract painter Sean Scully, who’s Chelsea Studio space I most recently exhibited at in Sept. of 2023. Though my work has been well received by many people in different fields across New York (teachers, doctors, judges, producers, etc.), having it be recognized by a master such as Sean is one of the greatest indicators I can think of that confirms I’ve managed some semblance of success within my own self-imposed limitations as an abstract artist.

In what ways do you challenge yourself as an artist, and how do you continue to evolve and experiment with your techniques?


I’m always thinking about the relationship between two concepts: the kinds of paintings I like, and the most effective my paintings can be. To be a painter is not a selfish act; rather, the greatest painters are in service to society and to culture. Acknowledging this also comes with the acknowledgement that the most effective states for my work to exist in aren’t always the states that bring me the most pleasure, comfort, or satisfaction.

This is my greatest challenge, and one that I’m always having conversations with myself about. For example, because purple is my favorite color, I’m always very wary of my use of purple in my own artwork. Why? Because I don’t want to fall into the trap of making purple paintings because I like to see the color purple. I want to treat purple as objectively as any other color, as a means to an end, but also an end in and of itself, and not one that has anything to do with making me happy.

The ultimate goal of any work is for the work to be as effective as possible, not for it to bring me joy. In the context of my artistic practice, I challenge myself to look for joy not in the satisfaction of my personal tastes, but in the observable effectiveness of my work in challenging the tastes of others, and expanding their tastes, minds, and worldviews by offering what they may have never seen or considered before.


Installation View at 447 Space by Michellé Hoban

Which artists have influenced you and your work?


Wassily Kandinsky

Edward Hopper

Gerhard Richter

Anselm Kiefer

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Joan Mitchell

Alma Thomas

Paul Cezanne

Andre Derain

Claude Monet

Camille Pissarro

Vincent van Gogh

Edouard Vuillard

Frank Bowling

Theaster Gates

Sanford Biggers

Richard Serra

Martin Puryear

Hans Hofmann

William T. Williams

Stanley Whitney

Jack Whitten

Charles White

Kerry James Marshall

John Chamberlain

Robert Ryman

Donald Judd

Francisco Goya

Gustave Courbet

Amer Kobaslija

Mark Warwick

Virgil Abloh

Sean Scully

If you were to invite anyone alive or dead to a dinner party, who would be on your guest list?


Jesus, Bruce Lee, Bob Marley, Imhotep, Alexander the Great, Achilles, Muhammad Ali, King David of Israel, Emperor Haile Selassie I, Genghis Khan, Miyamoto Musashi, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Nat Turner, Tacky (Tacky’s War), Mike Tyson, Nas, Marcus Aurelius, and my parents.

Could you share any upcoming projects or exhibitions where audiences can experience your layered abstract paintings?


I’m currently in the midst of making work about my father’s country of birth, Trinidad and Tobago, after coming out of my last body of work, which was all about Jamaica, my mother’s home country. While this work will take some time to fully flesh out, there will be other opportunities to see work from this last series, years past, and newer ones at shows that are TBA for this/next year.

Where can people see your work and how can people contact you for a studio visit?


Rockella Space is hosting an Open Studio event at both One Eyed Studios and Brown bears Studios in May, giving people the opportunity to come visit my studio. People can also connect with me online at my website where I keep a form open on my contacts page for anyone who’s interested in scheduling a visit to my studio, meeting me, and seeing some work in person, which is always preferred because pictures can only do so much. Other exhibitions are currently in the works and will be announced through my website and social media.

Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring artists, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, who are looking to pursue a career in the art world?


The best advice I can give is a piece of advice that was given to me by Mark Warwick, my sculpture professor at college and former head of Gettysburg College’s Arts department. A year after graduating, once I’d solidified my studio practice back in New York City, I was asking him for tips on how to effectively network with the goal of increasing the outreach of my work as far as possible. He said, “you have to be able to be the artist in the studio when you’re in the studio, and be the best advocate for the artist in the studio when you’re not in the studio.”

He was explaining to me that it makes no sense to take my insular, introverted, self-contained state of mind that I use in the studio out into social situations that the greater art world might create, like at gallery openings, artist talks, or any such event where it may behoove me to be able to speak about my work more in a way that makes it relatable and desirable. The artist is always the first and best line of defense in terms of how their work is relayed to the masses.

Therefore, it is always to an artist’s benefit to build the communicative skills that we tend to neglect while pursuing our studio practice with the tunnel vision necessary to create works unique and interesting enough for people to want to look at them. Once you’ve made those works, you can’t stay in the mental place you facilitated to create them. You have to push yourself to be as comfortable as possible with promoting your work, speaking about it, and facilitating other peoples’ engagement with it. That is how the work will live far beyond you. If you do it right, it may even live forever. That’s what we all hope for.


 Photo by Scramual L. Packson, and edited by Martin Czajkowski at Brooklyn Editions