I don’t remember when I found out I was an artist. I think I was born to be one or the pleasure and pains of my life turned it into my passion. My name is Niyjale Ollie Damani Cummings and I have a really hard time describing my life, but here it goes. I was born on February 7th, 1994. I’m an Aquarius, my favorite color is green, I love seafood, and I love the water, and I’m an artist.
I’m the oldest of my mom’s five kids. On my dad’s side, I’m an only child and I’m the youngest grandson. My dad was the youngest son and everybody says that I look just like him. If it were not for him, I would not be an artist today. My dad was very talented; and, everyone says that I got my art talent from him. I wanted to be just like him, but I could not draw or paint well; and, I have to have something in my hands at all times to twist, pull, or manipulate.
I chose to do animation as my major because ever since I was a little kid I would come up with crazy stories and characters with my brothers and my sisters. I also loved the classic DreamWorks animated movies and the Disney animated movies. I felt like such a geek because I come from a family of athletes and I’ve never liked playing sports. I preferred to twist metal or rig electronics. I developed a strong sense of curosity that only grew as I aged. Early on, I was out and about finding things, picking them up, and seeing what I could do with them. I was very tactile and I still am.
Around the time I was nine and in third grade, I encountered some major upheavals in my life. Due to some issues, I was removed from the home of my mother and stepfather and placed in the home of my father. This necessitated my changing cities, friends, school, houses, and all the things I was familiar with. This change made it imperative for me to learn to live in a different environment and think in a different way. My life had changed. I had been split between my mom and dad-spending the weeks with my dad and weekends with my mom.
My mom started treating me differently as I got older. Since I was starting to look more like my dad, this caused mental, psychological, and minor physical abuse of me. I guess my mom figured she had four other kids and a complete family so there was no need for me anymore. But my mom had a change of mind when the child support checks stopped coming. I had truly become a motherless child. I remember the day that she wrote the letter and gave me to my dad. Years of living with my mother had me hating my father based upon things she told me. I remember the car ride. It was like any other weekend – I was going to see my dad but this time I would not be back on Sunday afternoon. With my dad, I had every material possession I wanted but adjustment did not come easy. At first, everything was very hard and different for me. Due to my confusion and insecurity , games, television and books became my mainstay as I basically became a recluse. My dad was cool to hang out with. A lot of the time we did share common interests. We played video games, and did art. It was our outlet to escape the pains of our lives. Whether it was me dealing with my mom and her religion oppression or my father trying to raise a hard-to-understand child.
My art has always been abstract. People said it was good. It was surprising because most of my art was a stress reliever and used to cover up the pain. Subconsciously, I feel that art is all around me in everything. I feel that art is an extension of me to be used to show a different perspective of my senses and awareness. I really like colors and I like to build unusual things.
During the time that I lived with my father I led a pretty sheltered life. I was different from most of my peers. Most kids went trick or treating on Halloween. I never experienced that with my mom because of her religious oppression and my dad’s over protectiveness. It depended on who had me that year or for that holiday. But growing up with my dad was cool. I had everything I wanted. The one thing in my life that I regret the most is the day I found out that my father had passed . My father had been getting sicker and sicker for sometime. The stress of dealing with a teenager, while working at the fire department, as well dealing with my mom and her claims for child support even though she never used it on me . I knew he was sick but he always bounced back. I thought my dad was Superman but when he died it was like, “Whoa this cannot be happening.” I lost my father, the man who took me in after I went through hell, the man who did not give up on me when I was destined to fall. We may not have gotten along all the time but he was a good man and he was fair. I wish I would have been a better son. Even though it’s been 3 years now, it still haunts me. I should have stayed with him that weekend. If I had stayed, maybe I could have done something, or at least been at his side that day.
The first week after that was tough. Many changes took place. It was at this time in my life I started really losing myself in art. I found it becoming a panacea that helped soothe my thoughts and occupy my mind for long periods of time. The more I manipulated objects and gave it my attention, the easier I was finding myself able to communicate with others and feel comfortable. Gradually, without my recognizing it, I found myself no longer reclusive. During my junior year at Lowell , one of the teachers saw the creativity I used to make things in her ceramics class. One day she gave me a bag of wire and I made the Robot, the “Cryptic Darkniy.” This lead to the advanced placement art teacher taking an interest in my potential. I was put into my first Advancement Placement Class and it was an art class. I knew then and there that my dad did not truly leave me. He was there helping me.
That summer I moved in with my aunt and uncle because I was not going back to live with my mom. That summer before I was officially in the AP class I had art projects to do. These helped me refine my skills. I was naturally talented which shocked most people – especially my family. This was after I quit trying to be something I was not. I was finally finding myself. I found a new life. This new outlook led to the creation of the petrified tree. It was like a self-portrait.
At the suggestion of my art teacher, I auditioned for a paid internship as a Young Artist At Work at the Yerba Buena Center for the Art. Much to my amazement, I was chosen. I began working on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the center. Eureka! I had found myself. I knew then that art was for me. It helped me bridge the uncertainties I was facing. I knew that was where I belonged. I had found my niche. I was happy doing what I enjoyed. This led to my applying for scholarships related to art and entering art contests. I remember I had entered the scholastic art competitions ; and, I had won a gold key for my paper clip tree. It was amazing because I had never won anything in my life outside of video games; and, I finally proved to everyone who had doubted me that Niyjale is good at what he does. Through it all, my art matured and developed. It was always abstract. People said it was good. But, that was surprising because my art was a stress reliever and used to cover up my pain.
After that, my teacher suggested I apply for the Vernon Davis foundation art scholarship (shocking moment – Vernon Davis, the tight end of the 49ers, does art. Wow!). Anyway I applied for it and I made it to the finals. I got invited to this amazing mansion with art and celebrities and I was thinking I could be like this one day – a famous artist. A few weeks had gone by and one day my grandma called me in class. She knew that I was prepared for the worst so she called to give me a heads up letting me know I had won the scholarship. I was prepared for the worst ; but, surprisingly it was good news . I had actually won the Vernon Davis Scholarship! I get to meet Vernon Davis! I remember before he signed the check, I had him sign both of my 49ers hats.
At that point in time, a lot of cool things started to happen to me. My Uncle Russ, who is a DJ and one of the coolest guys I know, who knows people, got me into Comic Con It was the best road trip ever. After that I went to New York to be in my stepdad’s wedding -my stepdad and mom did not last either. I met this most beautiful girl while I was there I plan on going back this year for the carnival parade. I got to work and go to ROCK THE BELLS. I made friends and connections that I hope can help me later as I progress with my art. I feel art is an extension of me to be used to show different perspectives of my senses and awareness.
As summer was ending, I came out of my shell. I was happy because I was going to be attending the Academy of Art University which was in my top three schools to go to. I had received a scholarship from the San Francisco Fire Department . As long as I maintained a yearly GPA of 3.0 or higher they would pay my tuition. The Vernon Davis Scholarship has helped me get exposure in the art world. I can now Google myself and things show up. He also got me on NBC’s Today show. My family was so proud.
Art has given me self-esteem. I know now that I can do something and do it well. I know that I am worthy of appreciation. In the same way that musicians use music as comfort, I have found comfort in art. Without having art in my life, I am not sure how I would have been able to continue achieving and knowing that I have something to offer. I do not know just where my art will eventually lead me, but today I can say that it has been, and continues to be, my comfort zone. I am not that fearful boy anymore. I have become a man. I am proud of the man that I have become. I am an artist, I am a brother, I am a friend, I am nothing at times but who isn’t, and I am happy doing what I love which happens to be art. I love being creative. That’s how I ended up here. My name is Niyjale Ollie Damani Cummings and I am an artist.