Chicago art prodigy Thelonious Stokes becomes the first African-American student to attend the prestigious Florence Academy of Art In Florence, Italy to study art with a handpicked class of highly skilled artists. The 22-year-old multidisciplinary, identity-based performance artist and Chicago native will showcase his work in two upcoming exhibits to help provide financial support to pay for the historic opportunity to attend the Florence Academy of Art to study with master painters and nurture his natural gifts as an artist. His upcoming exhibits include “Horses and Birds: the Agency” which will highlight work from artist Timothy Jenkins for a special auction on Saturday, March 17 at Connect Gallery. Stokes says he became an artist for no reason other than to thrive. Stokes utilizes art as a vehicle to reform systematic injustice and redefine our contextual beliefs of what it means to be a man. “Being the first African American to attend the school makes me feel grateful,” expresses Stokes. “...Grateful yet aware of the relevance of institutional racism. By being exposed to the beauty of oil painting, I am now able to break the barriers of being defined as Black in America. I want to not only impact art itself, I ultimately want to share light with the inconsistencies of ethics and morale.” Thelonious has had the opportunity to work with Chicago artist legends, world-renowned social practice installation artist Theaster Gates and graffiti-artist-turned-painter Hebru Brantley. His work has appeared Art Talk 1” (Solo show) Silent Funny Gallery, Chicago, “L.A. Renaissance” Premo Art Gallery, LA, “Chicago’s New Realists” 33 Contemporary Gallery, Chicago, University of Chicago’s The Muffler Shop, Chicago and Artspace 8.