Bryan Christopher Moss sits with the spirit of Aminah Robinson

Andy Downing
adowning@columbusalive.com
Bryan Christopher Moss photographed in the home of late artist Aminah Robinson

When Bryan Christopher Moss sits down to draw these days, he’s never alone, even though the drawing table next to his in the back room of Aminah Robinson’s former East Side home remains forever unoccupied. An array of brushes, paints and pencils that once belonged to the late artist remain at the ready but untouched.

“We keep this as her space,” Moss said, gesturing at the table during an early December interview. Since August, Moss has lived in the house, which rests on Sunbury Road, serving as full-time caretaker for the home, which Robinson bequeathed to the Columbus Museum of Art upon her death in 2015. (The house has since been partially renovated and will serve as the site of an artist-in residency program beginning in June 2021.) “She’s definitely here. I intentionally draw in here and paint in here, because it’s like I’m sitting right beside Aminah. … I try to keep this space as sacred as possible.”

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Moss, 39, first met Robinson at age 19, when he was working part-time at CMA, and up until her death Robinson served as a mentor, encouraging Moss’ artistic interests and becoming a recurring presence in his life. Owing to his long relationships with both Robinson and the museum, Moss was a natural fit for the role of steward, which was necessitated, in part, by a COVID-driven delay of the CMA artist-in-residency program. (Moss said the plan is for him to continue to live in and care for the space during residences, sharing the home with the visiting artists.)

After moving into the space in August, Moss said he had to spend some time in quiet, reflecting on the opportunity and absorbing the spirit of the home, which initially felt overwhelming. Indeed, the artist said that only recently has he started to feel more comfortable, more settled in, which is entirely understandable when one is occupying a space that is, in essence, a museum. 

“Let’s take this table, for example, since it has my crap all over it,” Moss said, pointing to the drawing table next to Aminah’s, which was covered with a sketchpad, a computer scanner and various pens and pencils. “It took me up to like three weeks ago to be this comfortable, where it was like, ‘No, it’s OK for it to look like this.’”

Moss assisted CMA in the lengthy archival process in the home, collecting and cataloguing the art that filled every corner, some of which is now on display at the museum in “Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Robinson’s House and Journals,” and he said he considers it progress to have gone from that curatorial role to developing some comfort level with taking a small degree of ownership of the space.

A similar settling in has taken place throughout the home, from the kitchen, where Moss has recently started baking breads, his feet circling atop the mural-like tile floor painstakingly pieced together by Robinson, to the living room, where a bookshelf remains largely intact from the years Robinson occupied the house, its shelves still packed with the late artist’s books. On occasion, Moss will pull books from the shelf to read, using it as an opportunity to better learn the inner-workings of an artist he grew up admiring, or to shake himself from a creative rut.

And then there are the various messages and testimonials scrawled on walls and doors throughout the first floor of the house, left by visitors at the urging of Robinson. “You shouldn’t care what others say about your appearances! If you like it, it’s good enough!” reads one written by Kiah Hawkins on the door to the first floor bathroom. Recently, Moss has hatched a plan to try and contact the people who left messages, photographing the person and then painting a portrait as a way of further entwining himself with both the home and Robinson’s story, as well as continuing a mission Robinson long undertook in terms of documenting her neighborhood and its residents.

“It took me a long time to get to that idea, but I feel that’s my purpose being in this space,” Moss said. “I would say what this space has done, what this whole experience has done for me… You know, growing up poor, everything is a hustle. It’s all go, go, go. This is the first time I’ve been able to slow down as an artist and process things with a sympathetic eye.”

Additionally, Moss said he has been inspired to approach his own art with the same confident hand with which Robinson painted, directing my eye to a figure she painted on one of the doors in the back of the house. “That’s a nice door, an expensive door, and you can see that she painted with 100 percent confidence,” said Moss, who is currently working on a number of projects, including comics centered on the Black lives matter movement and the coronavirus, respectively, as well as “Eightfold Path,” a “Tales From the Crypt”-esque graphic novel he’s drawing for Abrams Books, pages of which he hasposted to his Instagram account. “So what I’ve been doing is trying to draw with minimal pencil, where it feels like her hand is guiding mine. It’s one thing to emulate. I could just emulate Aminah’s style, but that would be corny. But it’s seeing things like that door and knowingshe just did it. I need to get to that level of confidence.

“So now it’s like, let me explore her material and try to find where that confidence comes from. And I’m not saying it’s going to be in one of the books on that shelf, but maybe between the books, my past relationship with her, my present relationship with her, it’s going to be one of those things where that all just pushes the needle forward a little at a time, to where someday I can do something like that.”