VCU alumnus creates featured artwork for blockbuster film ‘Candyman’

A film still from the 2021 film, “Candyman” depicting paintings created by Cameron Spratley, hanging behind an interactive mirror. The paintings portray hands surrounded by fire and a man being attacked by fists. Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures and Monkeypaw Productions

Hadia Moosvi, Contributing Writer

VCU alumnus Cameron Spratley remembers the initial fear he felt in 2019 when he joined the artistic team for the sequel of the 1992 film “Candyman.”

“It was the scariest possible thing to do, but it ended up being super, super fun,” Spratley said. “Especially with [director] Nia DaCosta and the producers, they would come to the studio every couple of days to see what I was doing and that fear went away.”

Spratley created featured artworks for the film, including a self-portrait of the protagonist, paintings of nooses, hands surrounded by fire and a man being attacked by fists.

Spratley graduated from VCUarts in 2016 with a degree in painting and printmaking. He also graduated this spring from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where he received his Master of Fine Arts in painting.

Set and filmed in Chicago, “Candyman” follows the legend of a hook-handed murderer through the lens of artist Anthony McCoy, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. He explores the history of Candyman only to discover that when the legend’s name is repeated five times into a mirror, he comes to life to kill the summoner.

In the film, McCoy creates artwork inspired by the legend, which sets off a series of deaths and unleashes the artist’s sanity as he begins to discover his own ties to Candyman and a history of racial injustice.

The movie has grossed over $77 million worldwide as of Nov. 2, according to IMDB box office reports.

Spratley said he was “lucky” to have the opportunity to be a part of “Candyman” and to contribute artwork to such a high-profile movie.

Spratley said he got the opportunity to create for “Candyman” in 2019 after receiving a phone call from Arnold Kemp, the former chair of the VCU department of painting and printmaking and current dean of graduate studies at SAIC. 

“He [Kemp] called me and he was like, ‘I just met with these producers for a Jordan Peele movie for artists to make work, and I recommended you,’” Spratley said.

At the time, Spratley said he was in Richmond and was about to move to Chicago for graduate school. After receiving the call, he met with the producers for an interview.

Spratley said seven of his paintings were featured in the movie, some of which depict a noose wrapped around a person’s neck with a fist in a clutched form. 

“I think there’s a very strong pressure within those words of like, what position is this person that has this noose in front of them actually in?” Spratley said. 

Spratley said he also drew a self-portrait of McCoy for the movie and the paintings behind an interactive mirror in a scene where McCoy holds an art show. The paintings depict hands on fire and a man attacked by fists. 

“I wanted to just, more than anything, channel those feelings into the work so that it was believable that the character who’s involved and all these things that are happening around them actually made that stuff,” Spratley said.

Spratley said his artwork for “Candyman” was less specific than his other works. Instead of involving collages in the artwork, Spratley solely focused on painting and keeping them secondary to the movie’s cultural references. 

Spratley said some of the classes he took while he was at VCU helped him expand his ways of working, including painting, sculpture and animation classes.

Spratley’s former drawing studio professor, Nathan Tersteeg, said that as a student, Spratley would try to change assignments in a way where he could integrate his own voice into the work.

Tersteeg said Spratley would take the risk of going against the assignment, but it would ultimately be fulfilled, with his own voice involved.

Alongside the work for the movie, Spratley has had exhibitions in Richmond, Chicago, London, New York City and Philadelphia. 

Last month, he published his first monograph of works from 2016-2021, called “Necropolis,” through M. LeBlanc, a gallery in Chicago where Spratley showcases some of his work.

Gallery owner Marc LeBlanc said he wanted to represent Spratley as an artist at his gallery after viewing his artwork.

“I find it deals with topical issues in a very fantastical way,” LeBlanc said. “There’s devils — there’s angels. There’s signs of betrayal, there’s signs of deceit, there’s all the things that you need for modern drama in Cameron [Spratley’s] work. So that really kind of drove me to want to represent him.”

Spratley said VCU helped him network with people who were interested in the art field. While at VCU, he did art shows in people’s apartments and garages.

“It allowed me to have these solo shows, but they were at places where you could just do whatever you wanted,” Spratley said. “They weren’t commercial spaces.”

Spratley said he hopes to give people a historical perspective through his overall artwork.

“I really appreciate artwork that documents the time that it was made within,” Spratley said. “So, if that is my experience in the world now, I hope that in 50 years it’s not the experience for people and they look back on this work and they’re like, ‘Well, what was going on?’”


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