American Artist: Ted Washington: Helping Others Keep Their Creative Minds Alive


Ted Washington does his best to stay behind. He actually prides himself on it.

“I’ve never really been too much of a ‘me,'” Washington says over coffee in North Park. “It’s what allows me to do things like animate poetry nights, because I don’t really need to be in the spotlight. Even when I make music, I have a dancer and I sit behind a keyboard. I am hide. I only get up and do something once in a while.

But for someone who can be considered a Renaissance man, it can sometimes be difficult to do. He is simultaneously a musician, playwright, visual artist, publisher, comic book creator (“Horn Dog”) and, perhaps most notably, a poet and champion of the spoken word community. So yes, he has his proverbial quill in a lot of different wells.

“No, I don’t feel like I have control over anything,” Washington says. “Some people say to me, ‘Oh, you’re a Renaissance man,’ and I don’t even know what it is. Things find me. I started to write just to get things out of my mind.

Humble at one fault, Washington is certainly known for one thing: being a champion of others – the guy who always shows up on people’s shows or encourages newcomers to read their poetry in front of a crowd. His own publishing house (Puna Press), with which he began publishing his own work, published nearly a dozen local poets, and his bi-monthly Palabra open mic party provided hundreds of poets with space. sure to read their works.

“This is, without a doubt, what I’m trying to do,” Washington says. “And for something like Palabra, I really want to make it comfortable, especially for those who haven’t done it before, because I’ve always been unsure myself. So I want to bring that support where they can step into that space and feel that support. “

In many ways, Washington’s upkeep of the local scene could be seen as its attempt to push it forward. He recounts the chance encounters over the years that were enough to keep his creative mind alive – the bartender who bought one of his drawings or the friend who picked up a piece of his poetry from the floor and told him to publish it. . Washington says creatives need this kind of community support precisely because America can be such a difficult place to make a living as an artist.

Poet, musician and playwright Ted Washington

(KC Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“As far as being an artist or a designer in America, that’s the danger in this country – the idea that you have to be commercial to be successful,” Washington said. “I don’t even know what it is.”

“I feel supported by the community, because they always give me the opportunity to do my job, but the idea of ​​being supported by America, absolutely not,” continues Washington. “I don’t think America as a whole has support for individual artists unless you reach a certain level where other people can make money with you. If other people can make money from your art, then they will support you.

Born and raised in what was then a very “racially divided” St. Louis, Washington says he didn’t always know he wanted to be a creative. After graduating from the southwestern state of Missouri, he moved to Denver with friends, but couldn’t endure the winters and eventually ended up in Venice Beach, where he says he lived there. roaming for the first time.

He eventually moved to San Diego in the late ’80s and says he partied a lot before falling into the art scene after a waiter spotted him drawing at the bar and ended up buying the ‘one of the sketches.

“Art saved my life. If I wasn’t doing art, I’m not even sure I had a place to live, ”Washington says. “When I started to focus on art, my whole life changed dramatically. I started doing art, I got a grip on myself, and even with poetry, which came from me reading so much to get ideas for art.

And that’s Ted Washington in a nutshell: While he has published his own books and has become one of the most recognizable voices on the local poetry scene, he still considers his greatest achievement to be to be in the background, to offer encouraging words and to let others be saved by the art as it was.

“The only role I could play in this is that I believe in progression,” Washington adds. “I think I can remind them that if you succeed in something, you can either change it or move it forward. To keep telling you, this is the danger zone for a lot of artists and writers. You can find success, but are you willing to change it, change it, walk away from it, because it is necessary for growth.

Ted Washington

Profession: Musician, playwright, visual artist, publisher, comic book creator, poet and champion of the spoken word community

Age: “Please do not include. I need there to be some mystery.

Place of birth: Saint Louis

Prolific artist: Washington also wrote a libretto and performed at the Without Walls festival at La Jolla Playhouse. He has written two plays and hopes to produce one (“The Last Roll”, about the last roll of toilet paper) this year.

And after: The return of the Palabra open mic evenings in person and the recording of an album with his band Pruitt Igoe



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