Robert Pruitt grew up surrounded by the dead. His bedroom was in the same building as his family's business -- Jimmie Pruitt & Sons Funeral Home -- but instead of focusing on the morbid, Pruitt became obsessed with comic books.
"We lived in the funeral home until I was about 9," Pruitt says. "I was pretty much into the arts early on and loved Marvel Comics. My favorite characters to draw were Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four."
Given that history, perhaps it's no surprise that the Houston-based artist's work now walks a fine line between the dark and the comic, from an M-16 rifle made of rainbow bubblegum to a man with a face-obscuring hoodie and a halo of pistols.
Pruitt, whose work references African and African-American traditions while exploring the contradictions of modern black culture, makes his South Florida solo debut this month at North Miami's General Audience Presents, a new alternative space located across the street from the Museum of Contemporary Art.
"His work is very fresh and has not received that much exposure in Miami," says Lissette Garcia, the show's curator. "Robert's work deals with concepts of Afro-futurism, Afro-centricity, architectural tropes, and black popular culture in a very intelligent and powerful way."
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Pruitt grew up in Houston's Fourth Ward, where his family's mortuary served mostly the area's large black community. Although Pruitt's elementary school friends were afraid to play at his house, his unusual upbringing didn't faze him. "I got what my family was doing, so I wasn't disturbed."
Instead, he concentrated on his drawing. After high school, he went to Texas Southern University, where he met artists Dawolu Jabari Anderson, Jamal Cyrus, and Kenya F. Evans. In 2002 they founded a conceptual collaborative called Otabenga Jones & Associates. The group -- which takes its name from Ota Benga, an African Pygmy brought to the United States in 1904 and exhibited in zoos -- has drawn acclaim and headlines.