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How Baltimore painter Purnell Gray dropped everything to chase his dreams

Although the odds were against him, Baltimore-based painter Purnell Gray never fell victim to the tough environment he was raised in. Growing up in one of America’s deadliest cities, his choice to pick up the paintbrush was a decision that still positively affects him today.

Exposed to gangs, guns, drugs, and violence at a very young age, Gray needed a way out. From youth, he knew that there was more to life than crime and punishment.

In a way, he was a diamond under pressure proving to those around him that no matter how rough your edges are you too have the power to present yourself as a unique and perfect gem.

Kulture Hub was able to catch up with the self-taught painter over the phone to find out what message he looks to convey in rebranding the diamond, how he navigates the art world, and what has kept him motivated thus far.

Gray selflessly paints each of his pieces with the goal of inspiring those who are under duress. The vibrant colors he uses pop off the canvass and his works are brilliant reminders to push through the chaos.

Over the phone, the 22-year-old painter expressed how each diamond he paints represents people who are under pressure. He said,

“Everybody knows of the concept that diamonds form under pressure. I basically made it as something for everybody to look at as something to get through each day. I grew up in Baltimore city and everyone sees what’s going on here in the news. So this was like my way of trying to look forward to a better outcome instead of the same outcome we keep seeing like going to jail, getting locked up, the murders and the deaths, and the heroin epidemic that’s going crazy over here. That’s basically what I made it for. It was for people within the urban community but at the same time, it can relate to everybody and whatever their circumstances may be…”

Gray continued,

“Everybody has their own problems and their own things that they have to overcome. It was something that I could do that could relate to every person, except myself, that might give them something to look to as a reminder to push yourself through all the chaos…”

“Color From the Gray” coming soon 🎬Shot By: @skthefinessegod I told yall we steady building… We rebranding the diamond, This Diamond movement bouta take over 💯💎💎💎💎💎💎 like, share & comment 💎 #purnellthepainter #art #artlife #dope #dopeart #urban #urbanart #life #create #creative #baltimore #city #citylife #colorful #gold #expensive #wealth #street #streetart #live #color #sketch #photooftheday #photography #colors #vivid #esoteric #kings #queens #monarch #wealth #streetart @esoteric_collection @esotericaaron @lightsfox @tevindwashington @dare2b_bri @gregorysiff @sozegallery @avantgallery @artabovereality @gagosiangallery @themusepublishing @lilblacktheceo @drew__k @drejohnson1 @theflywire @king_saddler @sourpatch1029 @kingsaladeen @imonlyizzy @ironeyeretna @bktheartist @artrevolts @yg @nipseyhustle @red_wing_da_pirate @chino_mmg @carmeloanthony @iamkinglos @kevinlileskwl @therealswizzz @thedeancollection @diddy

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Coming up, Gray had to adapt to a dangerous environment. For him, the tough city of Baltimore made him who he is today. It raised him to be a strong headed, wise, and judgment-free man.

Through his art, he looks to be the bridge between those who prejudge based on appearances and those who “appear” to have a hard exterior. He expressed how he wants to set a new example of what it means to be accepted. Gray said,

“A lot of people you see coming from these urban environments put on this real ‘hard’ image. It’s not because people want to be hard all the time, because nobody is hard all the time, but you’ve got to have that shield because if you show any weakness people will prey on it. Because of that everybody is going to do whatever they have to do to get by. So, me personally, I try my best not to judge anybody because you never know anyone’s circumstances. I also feel in the same breath sometimes it can be hard to communicate with other people outside of this environment…”

He continued,

“So, they might get intimated by a person’s appearance or how they dress and how they talk and they might not necessarily be accepted. That’s one thing I wish could change but we’re working towards that… It’s hard because you’re accepted but not all the way unless you’re cleaned up a certain way.”

Gray has been on a different artistic wavelength since his youth. Growing up, he would draw pictures until he was inspired in middle school to take his artwork off the paper and spray paint it on to a concrete canvass.

From middle school, he would meet the right people along the way that would inspire him to transfer his graffiti skills on to the canvass manifesting in his heart a fresh feeling of freedom.

The freeness he felt gave him a similar feeling to when he would ride dirtbikes which happens to be another love of his. Gray was candid about the vibes he felt while creating. He said,

“This is what I like doing every single day. It’s like a freedom that comes with art between that and the dirtbikes. I’ve got a lot of hobbies, there’s a lot of things that I like, but the artwork is number one because it’s something I can do every day. I don’t have to think about doing it, it’s not something I have to force myself to do. I’m just naturally in a creative mode…”

Have you ever seen a painter this trill? Skrrrtt Skrrrtt.

Eventually, his work ethic, artistic drive, and creativity would lead him to Aaron Von Ossko founder of the Esoteric Collection, an artist resource collective.

Proving that he was really about this art life, Gray met Ossko at Miami Art Basel after hopping on a Greyhound bus from Baltimore for 27-plus hours. The connection made was worth it and since then it’s been history. Over the phone, Gray told me what motivated him to get on the bus trip that would change his life. He said,

“I had a concept that I thought could touch so many different people in so many ways I couldn’t sleep on it. So, I was talking to him and I was already planning on going to Art Basel and he told me the spot where he was going to be at and that just gave 10 times more of reason to go… If anything I could just get advice and that advice could take you wherever it takes you. I was like I gotta get down there and pretty much the rest was history…”

Sheesh, could you be any more motivated to chase your dreams? If you’re looking to turn that passion into a career you should follow in Gray’s footsteps. He risked it all to do what he truly loves and he’s doing it. For the upcoming creatives out there he had a message for you too. Gray said,

“There’s going to be stuff that’s going to try and throw you off so just stay focused and keep pushing towards your vision. Try to reach out to people and put yourself online if you can. Either way, if your dedicated enough to whatever it is that you’re trying to do I think you will get there some kind of way. It might not be tomorrow but you’ll get there eventually if you just keep pushing on that track…”

If Gray can dodge the adversities of Baltimore and still come out on top, imagine what you can do young blood. Make sure you stay connected with Gray as he’s destined to big things with his paintbrush. Keep your ear to the streets as he might have a show near you sometime soon.