This month's logo celebrates Black love and the power of 'raising one another up'

Toronto artist Kestin Cornwall created the CBC Arts logo for Black History Month. Here, he unpacks the story behind the design.

Toronto's Kestin Cornwall created the CBC Arts logo for Black History Month

February logo design by Kestin Cornwall. (Kestin Cornwall)

Every month, we feature a new take on the CBC Arts logo created by a Canadian artist. Check out our previous logos!

Plenty of artists have inspired Kestin Cornwall. He admires John Baldessari's use of flat colour and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol's pop-art esthetics. But take a look at this logo design, and there's one stylistic influence that obviously Biff! Pop! Pows! off the page. Cornwall loves comics and superhero stories (including the old X-Men cartoon from the '90s), and that's what hooked him on art as a kid. 

Cornwall has his aunt to thank for that. She'd buy him comics when he'd visit, he says. "I'd spend time at her house in Michigan and just read them and analyze the drawings." And when he started his art practice 17 years ago, he began referencing comic-book imagery.

"Comics are a unique place to reimagine Black futures," says Cornwall over email. Here, he explains the story behind February's logo design, a special creation for Black History Month.

Kestin Cornwall. Melanated Monas: Black Cake Recipe. 2021. (Kestin Cornwall)

Name: Kestin Cornwall

Homebase: Toronto

Let's talk about your logo! It repurposes mixed-media work of yours, is that right? What's it called? And what's that piece about to you?

Yes, I used parts of Melanated Monas: Ora et Labora and Melanated Monas: Black Cake Recipe. Both images are based on Black love and affection in general. [It's about] the power a woman has to lift a man if she chooses to, but on a grander scale, the importance of people raising one another up and the power of collaborative effort.   

Sports have had a huge impact on me and on culture. I also love basketball, and a well-known video of a UCLA player lifting another player's head up during a challenging game stood out to me. Their team was down, and so was their spirit, but without missing a beat, UCLA's point guard walked over, placed his hand under the other player's chin and tilted his head back up where it belonged. That moment at the basketball game reminded me of my mother and my father. Very different, but the intent is the same. 

Why did you choose to work those pieces into this month's logo? What's the concept driving the design?

I think Black History Month has value beyond what often comes across as performative gestures. I think it's a chance to highlight a significant part of history and celebrate Black achievements and culture across the diaspora, all while remembering there's so much work to do. 

Kestin Cornwall. Melanated Monas: Ora et Labora. 2021. (Kestin Cornwall)

Years ago, a friend told me that the cardinal symbolizes love, grace and nobility. I wanted to include that image in my work. I like that the cardinals stick around during the winter months. They find a way to thrive in these cold and at times bleak conditions. It made me think about how land was taken from Black Americans and Canadians, and they were not given land like other North Americans to build and grow but still pushed for progress. 

I was also thinking about the Afro. It became a political symbol that reflected Black pride. It was, in some ways, a rejection of the notion of assimilation. The link between the Afro in the 1950s and '60s, along with some of the other ideas from that time period, inspired this series of paintings and drove the idea behind the logo.

Any new projects that you can tell us about? What are you working on these days?

I'm working on a new series of paintings waiting to be completed in the studio. Some of my work will be shown in New York at Azart Gallery this year. I'll also be showing with the Philadelphia-based online gallery PxP Contemporary. Mike Whitesmith also has some events I'll participate in once COVID is more manageable. 

Dori Tunstall, dean of OCAD University's Faculty of Design, is building a team at OCAD U that I'm very excited to be part of. As part of the design team The Solid Black Collective I'm motivated by the opportunity to research, design and develop initiatives for Black communities. Angela Bains, Kathy Moscou, Michael Lee Poy and I have some community projects and research with OCAD U and the Solid Black Collective that we're excited about. We're looking for collaborators, so reach out

Kestin Cornwall. Melanated Monas: 800 Years. 2021. (Kestin Cornwall)

What's your favourite place to see art?

I don't have just one. Graffiti Alley in Toronto: I go there often to catch a vibe. Elicser Elliott has a lot of great work up there. He's prolific in the city. 

Patel Brown Gallery in Toronto — or any space or project Devan Patel is curating. He's on point and is one of the best in the city. I respect his work and the team of artists he's grown. 

New York and Chicago are some of my favourite places to see art. The Guggenheim and The Met are hard to beat. The DuSable Museum in Chicago is great as well. 

Who's the last artist you discovered online?

Bianca Nemelc, Jammie Holmes, Gio Swaby and Jon Key are all artists that I recently found online. I think their work is excellent. 

What work of art do you wish you owned?

I have a top three list that I have a hard time narrowing down. At some point, I'm going to get my hands on a Nina Chanel Abney painting from the Always A Winner show. Jean Michel Basquiat's Untitled, 1981 (Skull): I'd love to have it — absurd as that seems, given its price point. I'd like any painting by Kerry James Marshall, but to be specific, his 2014 work Untitled (Beach Towel)

Where can we see more from you?

On Instagram (@kestincornwall). I'm going to be sharing new videos and images of paintings there soon! You can also see artwork and get news updates on my website Zone! 

Kestin Cornwall. Melanated Monas: The Red Queen Problem. 2021. (Kestin Cornwall)

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

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