Lenworth “Joonbug” McIntosh
JUXTAPOZ|Winter 2022
Life as an Open Studio
Yétúndé Olagbaju
Lenworth McIntosh Jr. is a strong name. So is Joonbug. As with many, these names are the residuals of complicated history for my friend and prolific artist Lenworth “Joonbug” McIntosh Jr. I know him as “Joonbug”—a common and endearing nickname for “Junior”—but his full name belonged to his father. Joonbug’s reclamation of his full name was significant, due to their relationship, complicated by space, harsh memories and eventual death. It represented an acceptance of his own greatness and destiny.

Since meeting Joonbug in 2014, we have been in a collective, in friendship, and solidified an artistic trust that feels generative, empowering, and uncommonly authentic. Rarely seen without a camera and a sketchbook, his characters are among his best creations. Alive, dancing, vibrant, and sometimes a bit mischievous, these characters feel familiar, familial even, and embody a sense of timelessness in their composition.

Through The Stories I Tell Myself, I practice remembering. A focused dancer wearing a dark chartreuse dress reminds me of photos of dancers from the Black ballrooms of the Harlem Renaissance. A group of youngsters with caps and sharp fashion sense take aim in a sunny, cinder block-lined backyard. Their chicken companion squawks off frame, at what is sure to have been a strike. The scene reminds me of times I’d meet friends at the creek to practice our aim with rocks and pop cans. The self-assured stance of the gentleman in the mustard-yellow suit pulls memories from my own family photo album. My grandpa, posted up out front of the house, dressed dapper, in Philly, next to a tan sedan.

A woman sits down at her breakfast table with both chicken and egg, while grinning dogs are in the corners of the dancehall. However familiar some of these scenes feel to me, it is clear that these characters, scenes, people are definitely Joonbug’s. They derive from the insight that could only come from the blessing of being able to view experiences in hindsight, an insight that crystalizes into memories. That morphs into lessons.

The Stories I Tell Myself is vulnerable and honest in its recalling of those memories. The works elongate time and welcome moments of introspection for Joonbug regarding his childhood and its influences. Both a love letter and examination, The Stories I Tell Myself doesn’t offer aside to choose but rather a space to reflect on them.

Joonbug and I started with the small stuff on a sunny Tuesday morning: his recent move, a carved wooden spoon, and furniture ideas for his new place. Eventually, I jump right into it.

Yétúndé Olagbaju: So tell me what were some of the broader inspirations and intentions with the exhibition? What was your process, and how did it feel?

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