Yes, his artwork sells for tens of thousands of dollars, yes he paints on the most extravagant cars, yes he has created three collaborations with Champion yet he was a boy from west Philly that so desperately wanted a way out. He accomplished that through perseverance, motivation and at some points in his life - sheer luck.
At about age five, King began his art endeavors by writing on the walls of his room with any marker or pencil he could get his hands on. He admits to having very little to draw with as in his house, like most others of his friends, art was not an understandable talent; supplies were sparse. His Mother would make him erase anything he created until he began to draw in places he could cover with objects she could not see. But, once she found the drawings, she would tell him to erase them again. He really didn't understand her dilemma with the drawings, and thought if it was his room what did it matter what he did in it? He wasn't drawing in the kitchen nor other rooms of the house and after several attempts in his room- he was finally allowed to do what he wanted to on the walls of his room only.
(Video Interview "In The Lab" with Nicole Gordon & King Saladeen)
Fast forward to years later when he became a well known basketball player in West Philly, and traveled with his team to other cities. He began thinking about getting out of his neighborhood. A car accident had him hurt and confined to being cared for by his doctors and family for a month. It was in that time period that he craved to create once again. Graffiti was a natural thing for him and other peers in West Philly but he went into abstract art. It was at this time period that his mentor, John "JP" Thompson bought King his first set of art supplies- fabric paint.
King knew of a company that hand painted on t shirts which were $75 each, and decided to make one for his friend, JP, with his initials and a Crystal bottle on it and sold it for $25. King always liked painting on sneakers, jean jackets, sneakers, etc. Once he did that shirt for JP- King was flooded with orders as everyone wanted their own. Later on, he was actually hired by that same company to create shirts for them after they saw his talents!
He didn't know what art truly was, he had never gone to galleries, never saw art hung in anyone's home yet loved creating work. It was his mentor, "JP", who taught him about the arts, took him into the galleries, helped him learn of the different genres and ultimately shaped him into the man he is today. "JP" always pushed him, any job King had was never the right one as JP wanted him to focus on his craft only. Not the job at the loan office he worked in, not the career path in the juvenile children's facility he worked in...just to perfect his art skills. Focus on the art, ONLY.
Clearly JP had a huge influence on King. JP came from another part of Philly and was a Quaker that had been exposed to New York City and it's galleries, clubs, etc. It was JP that took King under his wing and brought King into his world of culture. King also had another wonderful mentor who also took a liking to King via his artwork. Even allowed King to share his mansion while King traveled back and forth to Philly to be with his family. King painted for this mentor and ultimately wound up in galleries in Miami because of this gentleman's full confidence in King's work. It was apparent to me that King had many angels around him who helped to guide him in the right direction as it he went "left" there could have been a tragic story to write today.
Getting back to his artwork- I wondered, of course, where the money bear came from as it is synonymous with King Saladeen's work. As soon as I see that money bear- I know who the artist is.
It was Kanye West's album cover with a bear created by Takashi Murakami. As soon as he saw the bear, he knew he could do better. King knew he could "kill it" and began to draw his own version of that very bear. He was painting mainly abstracts at the time that his friend and mentor "JP" saw the bear and told King to concentrate on that bear. "JP" insisted he take that bear to another level. Not to paint anything else but that bear. And he did.
The beauty of King Saladeen is that he also gives back. He and his wonderful management team feed the hungry three times a week here in NYC. They give backpacks and school supplies to kids from their West Philly community. King is very aware of how blessed he is and makes it a mission to give back and inspire others to do the same. Words he lives by: Create. Motivate. Inspire. (CMI)
I am taking your lead King, I am going to do more to give back in 2019. I was inspired by our interview and want to do more to help others. I can't wait to see what 2019 brings for you as I have already heard whispers of collaborations! Very excited to see what's next for you.
The interview team with King Saladeen: Ioana Alexandrescu, Erica Stella, Nicole Gordon