Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

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Artists To Know: ArtPrize 9 Edition!

Hello all! I visit ArtPrize in Grand Rapids every year, and always look forward to being able to share some of the favorite works I have seen. This year, I was involved as an artist as well, showing my series at Founder’s Brewing Co.

I enjoyed visiting my series with my significant other, drinking excellent beer, and even getting to pretend to drive a Tardis! Though we tried to stuff as much art inhalation into our day as possible, I was only up at ArtPrize for approximately 10 hours so only saw a cross section. However, I’d love to share with you my favorites from what I witnessed that day.

Empowered Women by Florencia Clement De Grandprey

This collection was hands down my favorite. Not only are the portraits themselves diverse, emotive, and detailed to perfection, but upcycled mixed media elements such as wallpaper and fabric samples were used along with the paint.  A woman after my own heart!

Companions by Deborah Rockman

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These digital drawings have an interesting style to them as the backgrounds are more photographic, but the images of people are more illustrative making them stand out. This is the image that particularly stopped me in my tracks. The entire series explores inequity in our world by placing side by side images of people that mirror similar situations visually, but reflect a glaring difference in circumstance.

Time Marches On by Sue Laage

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I love antique assemblages, and this collection was a little Alice In Wonderland which made me adore it all the more. Each piece has it’s own distinctive style, yet similar colors and forms unify them as one.

Be The Change For Human Rights by Hazel Park High School Ceramics Students

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First off, I am so jealous of these kids! Secondly, this is an amazing project. Each student picked a human right to represent on their tile. Assembling it into a mirror where the viewer can literally see themselves behind the well-known quote asking them to be the change really drives the impact home.

Kirsten by Carolyn Zinn

Portratiure is challenging enough when using pencils or paints, let alone joining together hexagons of printed fabric. The 3 dimensionality of the shading and highlights that is achieved is mindblowing, and the image completely transforms as you look at it closely and then far away. This was an ambitious, out-of-the-box, and very successful design that I kept wandering back to.

The Resistance of Hybrid Cacti by Salvador Jimenez Flores

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I love love love surrealism, and the fact that this piece wasn’t just a sculpture but almost a mini created universe was especially entrancing. It turns out, a new universe is just what the artist aimed to create. In Flores’s ArtPrize bio, he says that his inspiration comes from sci-fi and re-imagining what the future may look like as opposed to what is presented in mainstream media. He states that in most sci-fi content, the majority of the future’s inhabitants are depicted as white. He aims to resist labels and create a future where the protagonist can be a minority, understand his experience, and also be relateable to others.

Struggle by Kyle Orr

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What drew me into this sculpture was the strong sense of illusion that was created by the floating chains. This piece at first glance can seem very dark, but then you realize the walls aren’t really there … Orr’s concept statement reads, “Life can be a struggle. Sometimes life feels like it has you chained down in imaginary walls that keep you from achieving your inner most desires conquering the fear that causes you to hide your face in shame. We’ve all been here at one point or another in our lives. These are the moments in time that we make the decision to look at the chains as something to be broken or something to enslave us. The struggle is what grows courage and strength. Decide to thank the chains and imaginary walls, for they have grown strength and courage, but break them, indeed!”

Reflections of A Quilted Iso-Cube In Primary Colors by Diane Rabb and Julius Cassani

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I found this piece ridiculously calming to look at. I find geometric designs relaxing for my brain, which is probably why I am including them all over as I continue to renovate my new house. I also loved how modern this piece was as opposed to what traditionally comes to mind when people think of “quilting”.

We Are One by Melissa Machnee

For this piece, the title really says it all … Its impact is in its simplicity. Too often, works of art have these detailed, lofty concept statements hanging next to them that you have to actually read in their entirety to even understand the piece you are looking at. With this work of art, the meaning in the dynamic composition is clear immediately.

Suspension by Sarupa Sidaarth

Sidaarth states in her ArtPrize bio that she likes to use unique raw materials that are usually rejected in traditional paintings such as crystals and even GOOGLY EYES. Now, I’ve been known to throw some bling on my mixed media drawings and paintings more than once, and am all for using non-traditional materials. However, as an art educator, I have a very complicated relationship with googly eyes. At the art studio where I work, I oftentimes go so far as to hide them or fib that we don’t have any right now when students ask for those goofy little eyes, because I had always thought of them as a surefire way to ruin what was formerly a decent creation, making it look like a daycare craft project. These amazing paintings have completely changed my mind about googly eyes (and yes, they are in there!) – not an easy feat.

Atomic Reaction by Susan Supper

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Supper wrote in her artist statement for this piece that growing up in the age of television, cartoons and pop culture not only entertained but also provided a moral compass for children. She was particularly interested in Astroboy, who harnessed atomic powers for good rather than their traditional destructive nature. In this series, she depicts social issues and moral dilemmas through the lens of popular media. As a pop surrealism fanatic, I am in love. Her mix of familiar pop culture/advertising imagery with a Japanese aesthetic reminds me a lot of one of my favorite artists, Alex Gross.

It was hard to narrow everything down to just these pieces, as there were so many talented artists on display this year. Until 2018, goodbye ArtPrize! I’ll miss you!

 

 

Art Prize 9 At Founders Brewing Co.

IMG_0372 (1)This past weekend I trekked to Grand Rapids to hang up my installation for this year’s ArtPrize, my Unlimited series. My parents came along for the ride to both help lug my 12 pieces to Founder’s Brewing Co. and ensure I didn’t get lost and miss my installation appointment all together, as I cannot do directions. I think this may also be the only time my mom has been in a bar, so we had to capture a photo for posterity.

If you can’t make it to ArtPrize this year, you can still see the whole series up close in my online portfolio. Prints are also available on eBay and Redbubble. I’ll be going to soak in all the amazing art next weekend. Life has been a little ball of stress lately, and with all the house renovation stuff going on I haven’t left town all summer, nor even donned on a bathing suit once so I need this. Counting down the days!

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Final Artprize 2017 Series: “Unlimited”

Last week I finally finished the last piece in my 12 part series for this year’s ArtPrize, titled “Unlimited”. For this series, I created 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color, one representing each month of the year. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. I was able to connect with Founder’s Brewing Co. as a venue for my series. I love art, and I love beer so I must say it is sort of a match made in heaven ;).

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May: She Is A Dreamer

I really learned a lot from working on this project. I got experience in drawing portraits of a variety of ages and ethnicity, and with that different bone structures and proportions of features. I also furthered the skill of not choosing an arbitrary medium just because “this is what I want to use”, but choosing the medium that makes the most sense both aesthetically and functionally for a given part of a piece. All 12 in order can be seen below.

In the midst of all this Artprize excitement, life has been filled with a variety of other creative endeavors such as an art trade with former student turned instructor at the arts program I run, some fun summer painting workshops I’ve been teaching, and the purchase of a home which my boyfriend and I are aiming to completely renovate in one month with a combination of hopes, dreams, and elbow-grease ;). I knew that bachelor’s in interior design would come in handy one day!

But seriously, though I adore the unexpected job I found nearly by accident, I also love design. I have assisted friends and family with projects here and there, but I’ve never done something on this large of a scale, and best of all, the project is not for a client but for ME, so I get to tailor everything exactly to my tastes (Well, mine and my partner’s. My other half is so not one of those “whatever you say, honey” kind of guys when it comes to design, and actually wants to be a part of the process. This is equal parts amazing and frustrating depending on the moment ;).).

He didn’t put up a fight about keeping this trippy metallic wallpaper in the bathroom, so I guess we’re alright <3. Now, back to ripping down all the other wallpaper that is not so rad. See you in 10 million years -_-.

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One More Series Reveal + More On Redbubble!

december she is connected to everything

Say hello to December – She Is Connected To Everything. What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately. I don’t think I’ve ever finished so many different pieces 2 days at a time in my life … Granted, I haven’t been doing much of anything else in my free time, as the pile of dishes in the sink will tell onlookers ;). Though all the pieces in my current series I’ve been working on are similar in style and use of medium, I wanted to keep them different enough that each could stand alone as well. I went a lot softer and less graphic, high contrast with this piece. I even used some leftover dried moss I had purchased for a felt floral arrangement commission earlier this year in the girl’s woodland crown. There is something I never thought in a million years I’d ever use in one of my drawings!

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I have been getting all my series posted to my Redbubble Shop as well, available for print on a variety of gorgeous items. My series also finally has a name … Unlimited. Each individual piece has it’s own title and the works cover a variety of different themes, so coming up with one title to encompass the whole was a struggle. At it’s heart though, this series is about the best of humanity, and about the strength, curiosity, compassion, and vibrancy of women across time, nationality, and ability. It is about the common ground that unites us, and when people come together, they truly become unlimited.

New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

october she is full of curiosity

For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

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In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

New Work – September: She Is An Atlas

This was one of the most challenging pieces in my series thus far, because I was working with multiple layers of meaning and thoughts. It also is the most “mixed media” of all my series installments, utilizing not just mixed fine art mediums but fabric, metal chain, tiny rhinestones, and torn book pages. I have been so into metallic accents since the collaboration with my friend and student, Heather. I also blame her for the inclusion of rhinestones – she encourages me to be sparkly.

she is an atlas

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I feel, I feel BIG or not at all. There is no other way. The sketch that inspired this piece started as a way for me to process the weight of my own emotions and feelings of powerlessness. As  I began further conceptualizing this current series, I realized the idea could fit as one of the 12 pieces. For new readers, here’s my blurb briefly explaining the series (If you are already in the know, feel free to skip ahead 😉 ): I am creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. The title of each piece starts with the month it represents, followed by “She Is _______”. The figure in this piece quite literally has “the world on her shoulders” through the pattern on her clothing, much like the mythic Atlas. Atlas the physical object is also defined as a book of maps or charts, and can signify one feeling that they alone must have all the directions and answers to all of the world’s problems, a grand and impossible responsibility.

The exposed heart necklace represents empathy, an open heart waiting to be wounded , left unprotected and raw. She leans against a bulls-eye wall, surrounded by an outline of thrown knives, a target girl like in the well known circus act. With each act of injustice and malice directed at others, she feels as if she is standing in their place, each offense a knife thrown at her, just missing. Though fearful, her face is strong and even. I’ve written before about how compassion and empathy does not equal weakness. To stick one’s head in the sand and be ignorant of the world’s ills is weakness; foolish, avoidant, and selfish.

Another way the subject can be viewed is not as the empathizer but as the victim. Some people are born into situations that are so difficult, living day to day is much like standing against a target with knives being thrown at them. It can be their geographic location, their income, the people that surround them or lack thereof, and the list goes on. Though yes, our personal choices certainly can influence outcomes, isn’t so much of life like a gigantic, living lottery when you think about it? Yet we shake our heads and wag our fingers when we see people who are struggling both around us and abroad, because certainly they must have done something wrong or things would look different? This way of thinking frees us of the responsibility to help others, and gives us a false sense of power that by doing certain things we can be 100% sure we attain the exact sort of life that we want. It all goes back to empathy and control.

One of the things I love about art is the way people can discern completely different meanings from a piece based on their own thoughts and experiences. Did something different strike you as you looked at this piece, did it remind you of something? Please share, don’t be shy!