Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best of the 2015: Confessional Reflections on Art & Impending Graduation

How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once Like No Other Lover©
, oil on canvas, 40" x 60," 2015.
My studio contains endless secrets.
Used panels and old canvases are purposely turned around or hidden beneath other scattered objects, gathering cobwebs, dust, and dried tear tracks.
Often, I am petrified of sharing thoughts delivered in visual context. Bold colored, sugar high fantasies seem indecent exposures, inaccurate oddities that should stay tucked inside diarist sketchbooks. Certain critics harangued lack of sophisticated academia-- that sophisticated academia legendary canon men like Da Vinci, Durer, Michelangelo, Vermeer, and other peach cheeked art historical patriarchs technically conceived. Sometimes there uttered a crying thirst to fall into the catacombs of primitive, folk art abstraction, stroking my weathered brow.
However, defiant inner heroine screamed a stoic reminder: I am my own person, my own artist, a black feminist woman making art about love and affection. 
Is the world ready for truths I lay evident?
For an inexplicable amount of time, I have had a strange, quite unorthodox relationship with painting. I often questioned if it's a true lover's manifested destiny. The usual symptoms were present, simmering, ready to boil. My heart beat a fast, ferocious drumming when at the easel (or the floor), paintbrush in hand. An extreme burst of joy erupts within. The urge is so great that laying down the paintbrush for temporary rest is one of the most challenging exercises ever known.
I am a nocturnal creature, sleeping in the day, mixing paints at night.
In late April, after protesting for the first time in a Center City "Black Lives Matter" march, an instinctual urge burned between sorrow filled eyes, begging artistic prowess to mold ire and frustration into things poetic words couldn't convey enough. The limited palette Amerikkka series had been seeded and soiled, starting off as a penetrated thought watered by sadness and rage. Paintings depicted three different braided hairstyles created by three different women. Found wood, beaten and discarded, exposed a black woman's pride and natural fear. Thin layered oil paint breathed metaphoric intentions, whispering embittered sonnets like some long, forgotten African deity that would not be silenced. A power fist awakened in my cerebral cortex. Its residue sank in the fibers of synthetic paint brush hairs and it wasn't merely the Winsor & Newton or the Maimeri Classico or Williamsburg's Handmade Oil Colors enforcing conversation.

Ma Can Protect My Afro Curl, But She Cannot Rescue Me From the Unlawful Blue, oil on panel, 2015.
Buckeye Open and Carry State Love From the Good Hairdresser, oil on panel, 2015.
Philadelphian Hair Dresser Dislikes My Hair Just Like The Blue Do, oil on panel, 2015.
Roni Horn's large scale portraits of endlessly rippled water also guided me towards a new way of utilizing photography. I kept documenting my beautiful nappy hair, taking infinite close ups in varied sources of light with and without camera flash. A pleasing beauty in twisted spirals that grow free and unconstrained, this curling splendor once considered a feral menace, a grotesque symbolism of "ugly" negroid heritage. By capturing my hair, I proudly celebrate strength, porosity, and texture.

Untitled, digital print, size undetermined.
Untitled, digital print, size undetermined.
In the early spring, my painting teacher had an intriguing final assignment: Self Portrait with a Painter You Admire.
Choosing one artist was the most difficult task known to womankind.
I treasured Jean Michel Basquiat, Faith Ringgold, Wangechi Mutu, Amy Sherald, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Frida Kahlo, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Aaron Douglas, Henry Ossawa Tanner, Jacob Lawrence....
And I couldn't stop at admired painters-- Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Kara Walker, Augusta Savage as well as my sacred resident critics having become beneficial allies.
The first painting was a painted sketch of which would eventually be titled Shouldering the Burden of the Blackbird Flock in a larger work. Quintessential metaphoric dream arose from having seen these remarkable women's paintings in person, having experienced the essence of their person and inventing a reality based on that sublime logic. 
I wanted to express individuality, individualize their facial features, the way they wore their hair, but illustrated an imagined black sisterhood, a black unified sisterhood of profoundly thinking painters.

Untitled sketch oil painting on paper featuring self portrait with artists Wangechi Mutu, Amy Sherald, Faith Ringgold, and Njideka Akunyili Crosby.
Shouldering the Burden of the Blackbird Flock, oil on canvas, 32" x 48," 2015.
It's Not Just About the Sweet Life Around Here, oil on panel, 34" x 45," 2015.
In the midst of portrait painting, donuts were my other obsession. Often I ate insatiably.
It was natural tying two concepts together-- admirable artists and rounded fried dough rings combined with inspiration from Emily Eveleth's sensual doughnuts and Will Cotton's gluttonous sugar worlds.
Augusta Savage and Frida Kahlo, two profound pioneering women artists in art history, would be the most compelling, most entertaining minds to share Dottie's Donuts. Augusta clutches strawberry vanilla, Frida has bitten into milk chocolate sprinkle, and I have frosted coconut cream poised at my disposal. Vivid color brings out infectious rush for this imaginary companionship, a sincere bonding formed onto the wood, a fetching tale on a much larger piece of abandoned wood.  

Close up.
How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once Like No Other Lover©, title taken from Yinka Shinobare and a Julia Anne Long romance novel, was the second painting, straight after Shouldering the Burden of the Blackbird Flock. Quixotic purist comes alive through the act of inventing loving tenderness only acknowledged through writing and brazen brushstrokes.
I chose Basquiat and my flowing black and purple braided summer extensions as basis for this short forbidden rendezvous, aspiring to make ardent fervor become reality. 
Perhaps my work will open further, allowing viewers to seep through artisan pores, to discover "pesky build up," a strong emotional progression.  
Well, moreover, a few small, unexpected accomplishments of 2015:

Aminah's Cake, a mixed media watercolor/assemblage drawing, was accepted into ACA Gallery's special one day show/auction in memory of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, a MacArthur fellow, who passed away in May 2015.
Closeup. Also included typewritten page serving as "cake frosting."
Meeting Faith Ringgold on her 85th birthday was such a treat. This wonderful, groundbreaking artist will always be one of my favorites.  I adore her.
Becoming a Fourth Wall Finalist alongside peers Miranda Kuchera and Jonathan Chase. PAFA's 8th Annual Fourth Wall Panel consisted of painters Angela Dufresne, Mira Schor, and Matthew Deleget. Each year the three invited panelists choose three outstanding students in their second year of MFA studies based on eight images and an artist statement.
The clock ticks an apprehensive serenade.
My timid fingers are tightly crossed for a good, solid future. A shard of hope, thin yet sharper than glass, beckons inside fragile being, still so unused to rewarded praise. Rejection acknowledges life's little failures, but perhaps maybe, a little maybe, acceptance shows itself.
Five more months away from graduating and receiving a Masters of Fine Arts in painting. There is no idle wait. There comes more art making. A major criteria is exhibiting in PAFA's longstanding tradition now in its 115th  year--the Annual Student Exhibition (or ASE) come May. Scrutinizing criticism give nightmarish beads of fearful sweat. They're all counting on me to do well, to create an incredible installation.
I want to do well too. I want to make them proud. I want to make myself proud.
This next chapter entails no easy answers..... 

1 comment:

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