Paintings are a window into the soul of “Candyman,” the story of a budding artist who becomes fascinated with the urban legend of a killer with a hook for a hand.
In Nia DaCosta’s update of the 1992 horror film, opening Aug. 27, the artist’s work starts to consume him and begins affecting his life. Yahya Abdul Mateen II plays artist Anthony McCoy, while his girlfriend Brianna Cartwright, played by “WandaVision” actor Teyonah Parris, is a gallery director steeped in Chicago’s art scene.
DaCosta hand-picked Black artists Cameron Spratley and Sherwin Ovid to create Anthony’s work in the film. Currently completing his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Spratley says he hadn’t seen the 1992 version when he got the call from DaCosta. At the time, he was living in Richmond, Va., contemplating his move to the Midwest. “My introduction to Chicago was by studying this film to get this job,” Spratley says.
He describes his artwork as reflective of Black culture and the Black experience in America. “It’s a critique and problematization of the relationship between specific racialized forms of state or cultural violence and their normalization in popular culture writ large,” he says.
Spratley created seven pieces that are seen on-screen. When he received early drafts of the script, there was mention of nooses depicted in Anthony’s paintings, so Spratley researched art that showed a negative mental state and had allusions to death, going to galleries around Chicago. “I was looking at what people were doing and what that work looked like,” he says. One painting that appears in the film has a yellow noose on a body with a fist clutching it. “Instead of putting that noose in an abstract space, I wanted to put it on the actual body of a person so it was instantly recognizable,” he says.
“Everything in that is super saturated so if it’s in the background, you can see what it is,” he explains. In the film, the piece hangs in Anthony’s apartment. Spratley also created the paintings that lie behind the interactive mirror on display at the gallery. In the legend of the Candyman, if his name is summoned five times while the speaker is looking in a mirror, the sinister figure appears.
The appearance of the mirror signifies a turning point for Anthony, as his work begins to get darker. “I was trying to merge the two aesthetics and make the switch in style believable,” says Spratley. “I tried to incorporate some of the impasto styles Sherwin uses to foreshadow the paintings that come later.”
Spratley also contributed the design of the mural featured in the final act. Since the script called for a religious aspect to the piece, he looked to the art in Chicago’s Black churches and to Black music. “The center of the mural is inspired by [art for] the ‘Black Moses’ album by Isaac Hayes,” he says.
Ovid’s most prominent painting is the self-portrait of Anthony, a striking image that uses purple to create a menacing mood. “Everything revolved around that violet, with pops of yellow and blue, and I muddied it up a bit,” says Ovid. “It comes at this phase where he’s transitioning and losing his sanity and his career is starting to nosedive.”
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