2022 Individual Artist Fellowships written over 5 separate images artistically arranged in vertical bars featuring artwork from or a portrait of a 2022 artist fellow



photo of Justin Tanksley
Photo: Aamir Rashad

Music: Contemporary Performance

By: Gail Obenreder

Life – an abundance of trials, beauties, and poems wrapped in moments of never ending discovery.”

Singer, composer, and writer TANKSLEY wakes up each morning “awaiting soul, a story or chord that perfectly imitates an emotional premise.” Inspiration can be fleeting: “The drive that turns lights on may not keep them,” and the multi-instrumentalist says that “nearly every day I fail, but accept this with joy,” awaiting the moment when he receives those “strikes of lightning” that ignite his work.

Growing up in a family of four in central New York, in high school TANKSLEY “became disillusioned with societal norms” and began to gravitate toward music, his “most freeing space.” Inspired by listening to a legion of great musicians (Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, George Clinton), he felt drawn to make his own music. He began to sing more and taught himself to play piano, guitar, and drums. But “soul came first. That was the beginning.”

Today, the multi-instrumentalist still listens to artists and bands that are “extensions of the lineage of progressive music,” especially soul, the sound first moved him. From these myriad influences – and to give “a piece of these experiences back to the world” – TANKSLEY crafts the blended sounds that he has titled “Art Soul.” As a performer, he’s shared the stage with Grammy-winner Lalah Hathaway and headlined with his band at festivals, universities, and the New York State Fair, as well as making frequent club appearances in New York and Delaware. “My promise is to reach widely with my Art Soul, to touch whomever I’m blessed to connect with.”

TANKLSEY also loves to experiment in the kitchen, cooking with international spices and creating new recipes – “I’ve been told my French toast is incomparable!” And he approaches everything, including his cooking, with the same creativity he pours into his music. The artist is also “endlessly interested in the state of the world and therefore technology,” and he spends countless hours working in his studio exploring new avenues and “pushing the envelope.”

As a writer and performer, TANKSLEY finds he is frequently challenged to balance the freedom to create with the need to find and pursue constructive outlets that can turn his passion into a sustainable career. Always looking for new resources, he “has been taking the steps necessary to educate myself on areas where I lack expertise.” But these challenges are balanced by the joy of performing, and he workw constantly for new and different interpretations. “A song can detail what it’s like to be human,” and it’s a great reward when he can witness people enjoying and experiencing his music.

Live music is something that’s not been possible in the past two years, when pandemic strictures stifled the musician’s ability to tour and travel. TANKSLEY has greatly missed the joy of performing and engaging with the audience, so he finds the Division’s Fellowship to be “a huge blessing. It really came at the right time.”

He plans to use the award to improve studio equipment and expand his knowledge of production software. He is also hoping to experiment with using “creative tech” in his live performances.  “Exploring the vast nature of expression is extremely important to me,” as he builds on his artistic foundation so that can “best fill spaces that no one else dreamt into existence.”

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