A couple lounge on the flower-dotted grass, gauging the prospects of eternal love against time’s gathering clouds. A woman in a yellow dress abandons her saddle shoes at a sock hop. Tennis players measure their strokes up against old-timey nets. A young Miles Davis cradles his horn on a stump, honing his chops in the great outdoors on the way to transforming a thousand smoke-filled clubs.
Honor Titus’s paintings, on display at Timothy Taylor gallery NYC until March 27, adroitly mine the grand bohemian tradition of freewheeling leisure. Titus, who grew up in Brooklyn and relocated to Los Angeles four years ago, is glad for the homecoming. “It’s amazing to come back and have something to share,” says the 31-year-old painter. “I’ve got so much history interwoven in these streets, and it could easily not be a feel-good story.”
Titus grew up steeped in hip-hop and rock ’n’ roll: his father, Andres “Dres” Titus, was one-half of the seminal rap outfit Black Sheep, and he recalls ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ cranking at ear splitting levels in their Canarsie apartment: “I remember being like, What is this?“
Titus fancied himself a writer early on, and was drawn to a Beat-inspired, art-forward way of life: “I’ve always been kind of uninhibited with my art endeavors,” Titus says. “I remember seeing Patti Smith give a talk at St. Mark’s Church. Richard Hell, too. Coming up in the 2000s, it was one of those New York moments where everything felt possible. There was a kind of punk renaissance with Beat undertones. It doesn’t feel quite the same today.”
He was practically destined to thrive in the cool, weird downtown subcultural soup, it was just a question of how and when. He tried music, first, forming the hardcore outfit Cerebral Ballzy with his friends while still a teenager. One of their very first gigs was at the New Museum (“It didn’t happen again because we were, um, wild,” Titus recalls), and the band would eventually go on to sign with Julian Casablancas’s Cult label and tour with former Black Flag frontman Keith Morris’s supergroup, OFF!
But his trajectory would get redirected by another Black Flag affiliate. For a day job, Titus began moonlighting as an assistant for punk godhead-turned-global art Godzilla Raymond Pettibon, who would go on to do the cover art for Cerebral Ballzy’s eponymous debut album. “The day I started working with Raymond, the very first thing we did was walk through his library. He was pulling down books and we were discussing the likes of Salinger and Genet.” A spark was lit.