‘Color is my passion’ is what Rhonel Roberts, aka Chez Rhonel, says about his work. “It takes an ability to know how to use it in a space, on canvas, or even to wear the right colors. Also, it takes time to learn and develop the proper use of color.”
A native Californian who grew up in Stockton, California, Chez Rhonel was actually born in French Camp California, where “a group of fur traders camped.” So it’s not surprising that he has a French name and loves Paris, France!
His art education started with watching Walt Disney’s “The Wonderful World of Color” show each Sunday night. “It blew me away. I was taken by the use of color! After that, I was never the same.” He pursued art in school and excelled. He was taught by great art teachers in public school from junior high to high school. He went on to gain a scholarship in art at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
Living in a small town where most people pursued blue-collar jobs, Chez Rhonel headed to the Bay Area, where he felt more at home in his creative pursuits. He finished his education at a local Bay Valley Technical School in Santa Clara, California. He landed a CAD job at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company after much deliberating and focusing on the choice of either art or technology.
But to his surprise, he was a part of a lay-off, and his department was closed. So he chose to regroup and made a segway into the retail business after doing many “dot-com” jobs.
During the “dot-com era,” he visited the Hunters Point Shipyard and requested an art studio.
“I applied for a studio space at the Hunters Point Shipyard and eventually rented one. Hunters Point is where many black men came from the south to find work, build community, raise their children, and have family there. The Hunters Point Shipyard is where I have created artwork over the last 18 years. I named my studio Chez Rhonel (Rhonel’s House) Galerie in the shipyard in San Francisco. Each year I participate in the Spring and Fall Open studios. I also was hired as a Creative Pro at Apple. I now work part-time so that I can pursue my art career.”
Chez Rhonel Gallerie
The Le Coton Story started when Rhonel purchased a twig of cotton for Black History Month. It was when he entered his studio and examined the cotton plant for its beauty. When he removed the cellophane and caught the plant with his hand, the thorns pricked his finger. At that moment, his heart and mind were flooded with the injustice of slavery. The pain he felt was an all too common experience of what the daily experience of picking cotton was for many of my black brothers, sisters and what their children had to suffer. It’s exactly how the infrastructure of American was built, on the free labor of black people.
So decidedly, he began to create a motif, a design that would encourage healing and celebration from this trauma that so many black people still suffer from to this day. “I’ve called it “Le Coton” (which is “The Cotton” in French). I decided that the best way to fight racism and injustice is to start locally with awareness, which is how I am using my artwork. I am spreading Le Coton worldwide through textiles, paintings, clothing, and a musical Le Coton Soundtrack coming.”
Chez Rhonel’s work can be seen at several merchants in San Francisco, SF Travel, Laboulangerie Bakeries, Kaiser Permanente, UCSF Hospital, Photograph & Frame in the Marina, Peak Design SF, Minimal Home SF, Meals On Wheels SF, YES PUDDING SF at the Ferry Building.
“I’ve called it ‘Le Coton’ (which is ‘The Cotton’ in French). I decided that the best way to fight racism and injustice is to start locally with awareness, which is how I am using my artwork. I am spreading Le Coton worldwide through textiles, paintings, clothing, and a musical, Le Coton Soundtrack, coming soon.”