In a Rapidly Changing City, Native Washingtonian Artist Carves out Space for Himself

By Christina Sturdivant on May 21, 2014

By Christina Sturdivant

Photo courtesy of Kaliq Crosby.
Kaliq Crosby in front of a mural he painted for a local barber shop. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Editor’s Note: Originally published in the East City Art Spring 2014 Quarterly


When Kaliq Crosby travels throughout his Columbia Heights neighborhood, there’s a certain air that did not exist too long ago.

“At times I feel out of place—ten years ago, it would have been the norm to see me in certain neighborhoods heading down the street to get pizza, or to the subway station or anywhere,” says the 28-year-old African American man who grew up near DC’s U Street Corridor. “Whereas now that it’s a predominantly white neighborhood that I live in, things are a bit more awkward for everyone.”

Crosby recalls instances of his new neighbors crossing the street at the sight of him turning the corner. The level of safety, he believes, is constantly being measured as newer residents attempt to co-exist with the old.

While Crosby’s street gear and DC persona often confine him to a stereotype marked by black male incarceration, high school dropouts and petty thieves, he is far from being a product of his environment. Instead, he uses his passion for art to extrude misconceptions about himself and to unify his community.

Inside the Best Cut Barber shop on Georgia Avenue NW, across from the Howard University School of Business, a mural of the Washington Redskins is airbrushed in burgundy and gold, conceptualized by Crosby’s realization that this enclave is a rare safe-haven of solidarity amongst black men.

“I wanted to make a piece that displayed what a young black person could do in an environment where we’re always looking out for each other. The barber shop is probably one of the only spaces where black men are around each other and everything is cool—we’re relaxed, there is no tension, everybody speaks and we’re all a community,” says Crosby, who has been a regular at Best Cut since he was twelve years old. “I decided to put up a piece that would show pride for our city, for our hometown. I used the Redskins because that’s something that everybody loves and probably grew up on.”

As a child, the artist bug hit him early.

“I started drawing as soon as I could pick up a pencil and write my name,” he says. “I was drawing on the walls as a kid in the living room and always getting in trouble for that.”

To prevent their home from becoming a playhouse of their child’s imagination, Crosby’s parents provided constructive support by enrolling him in special arts programs throughout elementary and middle school.

“They’ve always bought me things that would help me get to the next level with my art,” says Crosby of his parents.

During his sophomore year in high school at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, his father gifted him an airbrush for Christmas. This tool has become the primary medium in which he uses to create his art.

“Air brushing gives me a lot of range as far as creating lines and shapes at the same time, and getting things done quickly,” says Crosby who can be spotted at local events throughout the city performing live art installations. “It’s a really technical and tedious art form, but I love the results that I get so I stick with it.”

In 2008, he combined his artistic skills and interest in fashion into an entrepreneurial endeavor, Kaliq Customs. The business specializes in crafting signature clothing for individuals and organizations—from caps, to sweatshirts to dance uniforms.

Currently, Crosby is mixing airbrush and hand-paint in a mixed media series of portraits featuring black women, “capturing their beauty and natural essence.

Conceived from photographic memory of women from varying heritages adorned in head wraps and handmade garments with bold and bright colors, Crosby hopes that this collection will further exemplify his mission to create works that are appreciative of his culture, and in particular, his female ancestry.

Later this year, in advance of college homecoming season, he plans to create a series of pieces dedicated to Greek fraternities and sororities. Organizations like the divine nine, Crosby believes, promote African American culture in a way that demonstrates strength and a larger sense of community.

The graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art continues to be inspired by the plight of inner city youth.

“There’s a negative connotation about black men and people get examples of that more often than the good stuff,” says Crosby, who plans to arrange workshops at his high school Alma Mater, teaching students the basics of airbrushing and how to monetize art.

He hopes that these engagements will allow youth to identify with success and explore opportunities to be impactful through creativity.

“I think there needs to be someone like me who’s young and looks like them, walks like them and talks like them who can actually spread a message of how great we can be and to show them the different possibilities that they can have within art,” he says. “We don’t live in a culture that cultivates people becoming writers and artists and doing artistic and creative things that literary have changed the world since the beginning of time. I definitely want to be a vessel to bring out the good stuff.”