By Christine Joy Ferrer
I distinctly remember driving up to Homosassa Springs in Florida and 33-year-old Eric Hornsby free-stylin’ with his brother, Andrew, during an hour-and-a-half car ride. That’s when I first heard, “Tigress” Hornsby’s song about being passionately in love with a woman who’s nothing but trouble. He sang—Oooo baby is a tigress/ when she wakes up she’s hungry/ ready to feed/ she’s a savage, she’s an animal/ so bonapotit.
I then found myself mesmerized by the vibrant artwork that covered the dusty walls of his little art space in his home on a 1,200-acre nature preserve out in the boondocks of Hillsborough County, Tampa Bay Florida. His bodacious, glimpses of life include imagery of poisonous dart frogs, glorious nude female bodices, volcanoes, cigs, pomegranates, and vipers. There’s just something about a man in his natural element or more appropriately, an artist in his realm of creativity.
In this carnival town, where all the carnival people go, you’ll find Hornsby—the one man-show: an artist, lyrist, painter, and a Hillsborough county park ranger of mixed black, white and Native American descent. His trademark is a lower case “e.” He lives with his Bengal kitty, Tachikoma (the name of the spider type multi-leg combat vehicle equipped with artificial intelligence in “Ghost in the Shell” by Masamune Shirow) and her two kittens Racoony and Skunky. His stomping grounds overlook Akaiya Lake, which he named after his niece.
Born in Rhode Island, Hornsby grew up in Thonotosassa, Florida—running through the sticks, doing the country-boy thang, fishing and communing with nature. Today after a quick work out, a cup-of-tea, and his dose of daily vitamins, he patrols the grounds on a four-wheeler. The wild influences much of his aesthetic artistry.
CJF: You really do enjoy expressing yourself through different modes. Have you always been so multi-talented?
Eric Hornsby: I’m one of those people who gets totally fired up, caught up and inspired by too many damn things. Good thing I don’t dance like you, Tine or I’d try out for So You Think You Can Dance. But I do dabble in dance every now and then. In these parts I’m famous for my “chicken dance.” Hahaha. I’m a park ranger because I’ve always loved the outdoors and music makes life worth living. I write songs. But growing up I did more rap like a lot of my homies. I’ve played the harmonica since I was a teenager. I thought it would be cool and funky. When I was a little guy, 8 years old back in 1985, I got into Hip-hop and old school beats. My biggest influence was L.L. Cool J’s Bigger and Deafer and the Great Adventures of Slick Rick. As I got older I wanted my lyrics to have more political flavor. I added a little truth and matched it with a little bit of artistry. Back in the late ‘90s, I was in a group called the “Backwoods” and I wrote a song called, “Roads,” a verse went—I aint perfect /tryin to work with what I got/ trying to be hated for who I am than loved for what I’m not. And art just runs through my blood.
CJF: What do the arts mean to you? What inspires you to create?
Hornsby: I remember my older brother Nate and I would draw, spaceships, battles, and dragons as kids. He would draw the good guys and I’d draw the bad guys. One time, we had a long, big piece of paper, and we drew spaceships attacking military supply trains carrying tanks and fuel. We’d watch G.I. Joe, go play with our toys, and then draw pictures of the stuff we’d act out.
My cousins and I would also draw miniature characters, cut them out and tape them with scotch tape to sort of laminate it. We’d play with our “action figures” in the mud until we tore them up. We’d play with them rather than our store-bought toys.
I transitioned into comic books as the years passed, drew tons of heavily illustrated characters and storyboards, and now I do fine art. My paintings come from a much deeper personal place.
It’s really satisfying to create something that isn’t there yet. Not saying my stuff is so original, but before I did it, it didn’t exist. Sometimes these paintings paint themselves. I start off with an idea and then it ends up somewhere else. But it’s where I’m supposed to be. Art to me is something you create via any kind of medium, paint, pottery, sculpture, music, etc. that the creator finds value in.
CJF: Describe one of your best pieces?
Hornsby: After I traveled to Costa Rica with my sister, Nikki and her husband, Joe, I painted “The Darker the Negative the Brighter the Picture.” I felt inspired to paint this beautiful half-naked black woman sitting on top the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica while playing a flute. A neon blue butterfly rests in her hair. Around the border are black hands reaching and weaving in and out of a rose-bush. In the painting are also vipers native to Costa Rica, a poisonous dart frog wrapped in a key, and a butterfly illusion. It must have taken me 30-40 hours.
Hornsby: Men have been painting the female nude since the earliest pieces of recorded human art— the Venus of Berekhat Ram, a piece of volcanic rock shaped in the form of a female human body; the Stone Age African fertility goddess; the Greek goddess Aphrodite—paintings of women with large breasts and booty. It’s beautiful you know. A woman’s body is a beautiful thing. I try to paint beautiful things. Sometimes people say my work is a little raunchy, but what can I do?
CJF: What gets you in the zone?
Hornsby: Mowing grass haha. Riding my lawn mower is probably the grooviest time when I get most of my creative ideas. The lyrics I spit may have yet to meet pen and paper, but I memorize verses as I go.
When I’m painting, I enjoy listening to books on CD—long books I’d rather not read or classics, Moby Dick for example, that should be part of my education. I also listen to tunes. Lately I’ve been into psychedelic rock and soul. Jazz and R&B works too. I sometimes turn the radio on to this local community radio station and listen to a show called, “Step Outside.”
CJF: What are you working on now? And what’s next?
Hornsby: I just finished painting graphics on my nephews’ skateboards. There’s a rooster fighting a cobra on one board, and stencils of Chinese-style dragons spinning around in circles on the other.
I’m working on developing a comic/photography/art book called Paradise Manifesto. In this revolutionary tale the world is a terrible unjust place. These activists and revolutionaries see the world and all its injustice. They fight to break down the machinery of greed, war, capitalism, and the prison industrial complex by creating pamphlet called the Paradise Manifesto, for others to read, hoping to remove the scales from blinded eyes. Whoever reads this pamphlet finds truth. But there’s a struggle between those who are trying to get the pamphlet out there and others who want to stop them. There will also be giant, talking animals haha.
I’m wrapping up the artwork for a children’s book, written by a friend, Miss Sherry, called “Down by the River.” It’s about this little boy sitting by a stream and day dreaming about castles in the sky, hippos, frogs landing on his head, and other silly things.
I also just started to lead park tours as a little side gig. So if anyone needs a tour guide I’m your man.
CJF: Why is social justice important to you? And how do you reflect that in your work?
Hornsby: Everybody deserves justice. Martin Luther King Jr. said there can be freedom no where if there’s in justice anywhere. And that’s so true. Think about the poor kids making sneakers in china, those children need to be free as much as those falsely accused in prison. Ensuring social justice for the American people should be our nation’s number one priority above making profit. It must be the number one function of society.
I want to do more political arts. My Paradise Manifesto is just the beginning. I’m down for raising hell and bringing something new to the table that inspires social and cultural change and provocative thought.
CJF: What brings you the most joy?
Hornsby: My family—my two brothers and three sisters (and their husbands), mama and papa, the babies (nieces, nephews, cousins). In Florida, there’s close to 80 extended fam and that’s not including the family in other states
CJF: And what do you want to go down history known for?
Hornsby: Saving the human race from an asteroid or from alien invasion.
INTERVIEW HAS BEEN CONDENSED AND EDITED.