Cbabi Bayoc and his wife Reine own SweetArt, a bakeshop and art gallery in the Tower Grove neighborhood of St. Louis. Reine provides the treats, keeping the display cases stocked with cakes, cookies and cupcakes while Cbabi provides the art. His paintings — a father doing his daughter’s hair, children hanging on their father’s arm, a group of kids playing tug of war — decorate the walls of the shop.
Cbabi graduated with an art degree from Grambling State University in Louisiana during 1995, but he got his breakthrough as an artist in an unlikely place. He says his art career was “hit and miss” until he landed a job at Six Flags St. Louis during 1997. He spent his days there drawing caricatures, and at night he taught himself how to paint those same caricatures on canvas. This led to a job as an illustrator at “Rap Pages,” an old hip-hop magazine. Soon he had an offer to do an album cover, and other commercial work followed.
When Cbabi and Reine opened SweetArt during 2008, Cbabi’s artwork took a backseat to the new business.
“When we first opened, I was helping with dishes, doing lunch, sometimes the counter,” Cbabi says. “Being here all day and running around, the days are hectic. And having kids — it was just a lot going on.”
Recently, Cbabi has been able to devote more time to his artwork. During 2012, he came up with a project called “365 Days with Dad.” Every day for a year, he painted a different image of a black father and posted it on his Facebook page. As a black artist, Cbabi says he tries to be intentional about what he paints because black images are still relatively new.
The Harlem Renaissance was a flourishing of African-American culture in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City during the 1920s. Cbabi says before the Harlem Renaissance, black artists could not paint anything black related and make a living off of it.
It did not take long for Cbabi’s project to gain recognition. Soon he was getting calls from all over the country, from people requesting dates to sit for portraits to others ordering paintings up front. Even though he was finally putting more time into his art, Cbabi says the project was still overwhelming.
“I just made time, sometimes in the middle of the night, sometimes early in the morning,” Cbabi says. “I just made myself sit at the easel everyday and do it. Even a couple field trips. I took my little travel easel with me. The kids had a bowling thing for school, and I was right there in the bowling alley working on my art.”
Despite the demands of the project, Cbabi says it made him a better painter. He learned tricks and techniques that sharpened his painting skills and helped him work faster. His paintings are filled with faces — he says that’s the caricature artist in him — and he depicts scenes of family, fatherhood and “kids doing something cool.”
“So many still don’t have access to good art,” Cbabi says. “More than anything I want black kids to see the art and be impressed by it, maybe with the intention of ‘I can do that too when I become older.’”
Reine Bayoc shares how her passion for baking led to SweetArt’s beginnings in Detours Magazine online.