Larry Saxton - Sitting Comfortably at the Nexus of Art and Music

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/25/2012, 12:13 p.m.

The Kansas City native has come a long way from the days when he was a wayward young man, more prone to partying hard and hanging out with friends and associates than focusing on the more serious aspects of his life. He credits his time in the Navy with changing his direction.

"I was drafted to go to Vietnam and I decided to go into the Navy," said Saxton. "The Navy gave me that discipline, they gave me a job. Either you did the job or you'd end up in the brig. I was in communications - as a Navy radioman. They gave me confidence."

In high school, Saxton said, art "helped me significantly."

"I always knew I wanted to be in art. In my yearbook, I said I wanted to teach art and go into the military. Art helped me," he said. "From the aspect of popularity, everyone knew me. I did the posters and banners for big games. Art has been a very big part of my life."

Fresh out of the Navy in 1975, Saxton worked at the Pentagon with the Chief of Naval Operations for about six months and then decided to plunge into art fulltime.

"I went to two art schools and worked odd jobs. I was a messenger for the American Petroleum Institute and sold ads for the Washington Informer for about six months," Saxton said. "I realized I needed to get a portfolio together so I took art classes. I was out of money and had nowhere to live. My mother was worried about me. I was this close to leaving D.C. and I went to a party and a guy I met said he could find me a job."

Saxton became a teacher's aide at Grant Elementary School in Northwest. It was there that he met his wife Tanyna. The couple recently celebrated their 30th anniversary.

As he mapped out his artistic future, Saxton decided that he wanted to study at the Corcoran School of Art.

"I had pen and ink drawings of Freddie Hubbard, Duke Ellington and Martin Luther King, Jr., and I showed them to Tony Taylor and I told him I wanted to go to the Corcoran," Saxton explained as Michael Jackson's Thriller played in the background. "I had a bad experience at a liberal arts college and I knew Corcoran was the art school."

Taylor was the founder of Let 'Em Play, a jazz foundation that helped young people get involved in the District.

Saxton earned a Ford Foundation scholarship after his first year which he said made all the difference in the world to him.

"It really helped me because it allowed me to focus completely on my art and not have to worry about working. It really was the best time of my life," the father of two daughters gushed.

Saxton earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Corcoran and he completed a year of master's level work at Howard University.

He counts Gilliam, Lou Stovall, Jacob Lawrence and Sebree as among those who have been his guideposts.