Markus Prime never let his preacher kid reality get in the way of his fantasies, trashing his parents’ traditional views with a rebellious, Sharpie-thick stroke of dexterity. The pay off? His innovative flair for breaking down societal norms and relentless desire to celebrate the fruits of his family tree in new ways laid the blueprint for a new personal path. He arguably became the intriguing forerunner of this generation’s resurgence of thought-provoking black art.
At a young age, art proved itself to be the only constant in Prime’s life, recounting the Sunday paper his grandmother kept handy as his first influence. The comics section, in particular, was the equivalent of a miner striking gold. “I always drew out Peanuts characters like Charlie Brown, but I’d make them black to look like me. I wouldn’t even read or do homework, I would just draw. They didn’t give me coloring books because I wouldn’t color. I would draw on top of it, add to it, or trace over it. It was almost like my hand had a mind of its own. I couldn’t stop drawing,” he says from the comfort of his Bushwick apartment.
Nearly two decades later, an 18-year-old Prime decided to clean up his creatively frustrated act and enroll in the Air Force. “My dad was like, ‘You’re going to get out my house and go to college or the military.’ It’s weird because [my family] supported the fact that I had talent but felt I wasn’t using it the right way.” However, six years of comprising his happiness for the approval of others proved to be a draining gimmick. “I think everybody kind of realized it and was like, ‘Look Markus doesn’t care about anything else. This is just what he does.'”
Prime would spend time between Central Florida and Miami to “figure sh*t out and try to chase this art.” While he didn’t have a concrete plan, he dove in head first and never looked back or pondered failure. Between couch surfing, juggling a job at a sneaker boutique and a café, and trying to get his foot in the door at Miami’s prestigious Basel scene, Markus remembers that time in his life as tough. “That was what made me push harder on social media because none of the galleries were letting me in. I didn’t even want to be showcased. I just wanted to apprentice, just to learn really how to do this. And nobody down there would give me a shot. So I was like, you know what, f**k this. I started posting on Facebook and Tumblr every single day. That was my plan. So for the last five years it’s literally been, I’m going to draw something every single day until people know who I am. And it started working so I just kept doing it.”
Today, Markus’ unwavering work ethic and tastefully bawdy, conversation-driven illustrations brimming with raw emotion has garnered a loyal Instagram following of 131K and number of high-profile gigs including the cover art of Amandla Sternberg’s new comic book, NIOBE: She Is Life. While Prime is passionate about many avenues of art, his uplifting, artistic portrayal of black women convey a deeply rooted message that many of this generation have been devoid of: embracing the beauty of blackness.
However, for Prime, his Afro-futurism drawings showcasing hazel, mahogany, cocoa complexions isn’t even really that deep. “I just pick something and go with it and it just happens to be black,” he says. It all stemmed from a Tumblr blog that featured erotic art sans black and brown faces. “I just kept seeing white girls and was shocked that I didn’t see any women of color. If you did, it was always the video vixen, you know a** in the air. It’s just like, this is all we get? The fact that there weren’t different varieties of blackness on Tumblr portrayed on big platforms bothered me. I wanted to see more women of color. I was like, I could complain about it or start contributing. I at least wanted to be a part of the solution. I felt like I’m a part of the problem if I’m not even putting my own woman at the forefront.”
And that’s where the beauty of Prime’s striking hand-drawn images lies: skin deep. The innate translation of a lost narrative that confidently bridges the generational gap regarding the depth and beauty of blackness. “I’m just trying to show that blackness is infinite,” he says, reminding all that Prime’s perspective simply can’t be contained.