Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter

Inspired by the legendary German painter, Ty writes about soft sounds, his brother, and prison in a new Rizzoli art book.

Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter   Skira/Rizzoli
Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter   Jory Lee Cordy for Atlantic

Feelings: Soft Art, a new art book published by Skira/Rizzoli, pairs contemporary works with text from artists and thinkers, each relating to the broad idea of “softness” in different ways. The book bridges different generations of artists and places them in rare dialogue with one another; living legends like Tracey Emin and John Baldessari are pages away from newer names like Petra Collins and Parker Ito. Feelings also includes artists from less obvious mediums, like YouTube comedian Jenna Marbles, singer/composer Dev Hynes, and Hood By Air designer Shayne Oliver.

Ty Dolla $ign, a veteran of heavy collaboration, is one of the book’s most surprising contributors. His piece in Feelings reacts to "Cloud," a 1970 work by German painter Gerhard Richter. It’s an oil on canvas piece that’s realistic and textured, depicting a fleeting, white/gray cloud on a dark blue sky. Beneath the painting, Ty’s response, titled “on All the Soft Good Things,” uses the idea of softness to describe his creative process and references an inspiring church in his hometown of Los Angeles.

That short essay is not the only place in Feelings where Ty tells a personal story. Tucked away on another page entirely, there is a photograph of a jail cell followed by a long caption, titled “Ty Dolla $ign on Free TC.” That refers to both the name of his recent album and the message behind it—a call to free his incarcerated younger brother, who he says was wrongly convicted.

Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter   Skira/Rizzoli

In the caption, Ty writes about the soft light and the barely soft mattress in the image, forming a poignant conclusion: “Everything about jail is hard.” Then, he concludes with a promise. “In my new album I’m going to show people out there how it looks, how it feels...through the music, through the interludes, and through the visuals; I’m going to let people understand how it feels and especially how it is for a person who gets caught in a situation and doesn’t deserve it.”

Ty expanded on this sentiment in an outtake that didn't make the book, which further detailed his choice to dedicate music to his brother. “I don’t know what else my purpose would be,” he said. “I make music, and I could do that all day. With the album, I just want to give people more—a real outlook on my life, regardless of how fun it could look. At the same time, we all have problems, and this is mine—my problem that I deal with every day.”


Read Ty's essay about the Richter painting, “on All the Soft Good Things,” below and learn more about Feelings: Soft Art via Skira/Rizzoli here and on its Instagram page.

Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter   Gerard Richter, "Cloud" (1970), oil on canvas / Skira/Rizzoli

on All the Soft Good Things
by Ty Dolla $ign

The softest thing I’ve ever heard are the wind
chimes in my backyard. They are soft and cool
and mellow.

As a producer, when I’m trying to make something
soft, I start with a slow tempo. Then after
that, it would be straight to acoustic guitar
and vocals, or I’m going to go strings and just
piano. Something real chill without the drums.

Piano feels soft. Violins and all different string
instruments feel soft. Guitar, even electric gui-
tar before you start adding distortion, that you
can play soft. Even drums — anything as long as
you touch it softly. As a singer, it’s just that
you have to approach it really nonaggressively.
Like a slow build.

I used to go to the Church of the Harvest, right
off Adams and La Brea. There was a pastor there
who had the best big choir and the best band. He
would start praying and the music would start
playing and just make people feel so good, you
could break out of whatever you were going
through. Soft music can have that effect, too.

When I look up in the sky and I look at clouds,
they look soft to me. I always wish I could just
touch one. But I guess when the fog comes down,
you are touching one.

Ty Dolla $ign On Gerhard Richter