It's hard to believe that a year ago today I got that life altering call confirming that my biopsy taken a week earlier was malignant. At 4:30 pm this day last year, I became a breast cancer patient.
What followed for the next few months of my summer was numerous trips to the radiology center for MRIs, which led to more biopsies, so many calls to my insurance company to figure what was covered, switching health insurance twice to get the right care, copious research,running around town to get and copies of images, and then looking for second and third opinions. Within all that, there were times I careened between absolute terror of my diagnosis and relief that I had caught the cancer early.
It's really true when they say a diagnosis like this changes you. While I'm mostly the same person, I've grown in ways that I couldn't have anticipated. These changes include:
One year later, I have so much for which I am grateful. The journey and the healing continues.
This latest piece was inspired by the photography of Judy Dater and Jack Welpott. My photographer friend recommended their photography book Women and Other Visions as source material for models.
I was immediately drawn to the image pictured on page 72 (Wally and Nadine, Aries, France 1973 by Judy Dater) of the two women seated next to each other. Even though they weren't holding hands, they appeared so connected to each other because of how their shoulders, arms and thighs touched. So far all of the abstract figurative pieces that I've worked on have been more focused on singular portraits but I really wanted to depict this feeling of togetherness between two individuals. I emphasized this feeling by showing the two figures conjoined at the shoulder, sharing the same color space, legs intertwined.
The connection between these two individuals feels like a subset of what community care looks and feels like. Community care is more important than ever in these increasingly tumultuous times. As we continue to navigate a pandemic, a swiftly tilting American democracy, an environmental crisis, and so much more, our interdependence and interconnectedness is undeniable.
It's been forever and a day since my last blog post but the past year has been challenging.
A year ago this month, I was diagnosed with DCIS, an early stage form of breast cancer that was caught through a regular screening mammogram. Needless to say, the diagnosis was the scariest thing I ever experienced but thankfully I was successfully treated through surgery in September.
Leading up to my diagnosis and surgery, I was already experiencing burnout from my previous body of work of Inkscape photographs and digital portrait collages. I think the isolation of the pandemic and relying on a computer screen for social interaction made me realize how much I missed holding a paintbrush or a pencil and feeling the texture of cold-press paper on my fingertips. I realized I wanted to go back to painting and drawing again.
My craving to take a new direction with my art came at a time when I was starting a new phase of my life after diagnosis and surgery. Over time, I started developing a style of figurative art drawings and paintings that explore and challenge what it means to feel whole again. What I've been creating has been characterized by loose, overlapping bold lines, full-figured asymmetrical figures and interpretations of mythological beings, and of course, bold color. Honoring and examining my imperfections through painting and drawing has been enormously healing.
I've been composing this email for many months in my head; I was so nervous about divulging such personal news and showing this new change in my practice. While sharing this is deeply personal, it would be impossible for me to move into this new journey without explaining the inspiration behind it.
While I have been publishing my work on Instagram, I plan on restarting my blog to develop a more connected experience with my audience. In the meantime, I've added some of my originals to my online store. Special thank you to my newest collectors who have purchased my new work! Your support means so much.
And thank you for taking the time to read this. I am most grateful. That’s it for now.
One of the goals of my art practice is to discuss the realities about being an artist and to dispel myths. One of the biggest ones that I encounter and one of the ones that I find the most frustrating is when people question why I'm not a a full-time artist (i.e., why I am not making a living as an artist). As if it were that easy.
For those few who are able to make a living off of their work are truly blessed but that isn't true for most artists, as this article written in 2017 points out. Even though it is from 2017, not much has changed in two years.
I have a bread and butter job because I need to pay bills, keep a roof over my head and eat. I often invest my own money in my projects. I've been told that I shouldn't tell people that I have a day job because galleries or other art world entities would look down on me for devoting all of my time to making art. I think this is ridiculous when we live in a country that doesn't support or advocate for artists or we live in a culture where people mock the importance of what we do. While I would love to exclusively create for a living, it's not possible. How I can be creative when I have to worry about surviving? This is a reality for so many artists and I think it's silly to dismiss those who work and still come after their day job to create. That's dedication.
Please keep this in mind the next time you are skeptical at how much an artist charges for their work, their prints, and their labor. Please keep this in mind when supporting women artists, especially Black women artists who have it the toughest out of anyone when it comes to recognition and support for their work.
I am grateful for the support that I get from other artists and patrons who support by purchasing prints or donating to my Patreon/Ko-fi accounts. I am thankful to have people who cheer me on and share what I do with others so that they know about what I do. It means more than you could ever know.
Today I woke up with a craving to see some artwork. After searching around for possible spots to visit on the internet, a family friend send me a suggestion about this small gallery in Sugar Hill, Harlem called Essie Green. Even though it was a bit of a trek from my neighborhood in Queens, I was eager for adventure and a change of scenery and hopped the train into uptown Manhattan.
The gallery is nestled inside a beautiful brownstown on Convent Avenue and I happened to get there when the gallery administrator was arriving with an armful of paintings. The space was intimate and friendly and I found myself in face to face with originals by the likes of Mailou Jones, Romare Bearden and Henry Ossawa Tanner.
In addition to the incredible collection of artwork by the Black Masters, I think one of the greatest assets of the gallery is the owner and the staff. Just as I was getting ready to head out, I got a chance to meet the owner Sherman Edmiston, who's late wife bears the name of the space. At first I was just expected a brief exchange but he insisted I sit down and talk with him to ask me about my background and my art practice. In that quiet and patient conversation with him, I got my an unexpected art education.
After looking at my work on Instagram, Mr. Edmiston asked me what it is that I wanted to do and asked if I considered going to art school. To be honest, I hadn't given it much thought (assuming he was talking about a degree program) and told him how the thought of returning to school and paying for another degree just didn't make me want to consider it. That's when he pointed out that I shouldn't think about it as having to go back to school but rather what I could gain from going to a program. I think my cynicism about higher education programs kept me from seeing it as an opportunity to gain guidance and as a chance of developing one's voice. I had taken a few art classes at the Art Students league (before that, it had been through some community college classes in Michigan) and witnessed teachers delivering blistering and withering critiques of students works, some of them seeming more personal than constructive. A lot of it reminded me of law school, which wasn't one of my happier personal experiences and wouldn't be eager to repeat. But just like law school, apparently having that degree will determine how well you will do in the art world. According to Mr. Edmiston, having that Yale MFA (or from another prestigious program) is a big factor as to whether you'll get the big art sales and shows at the museums. I've heard this before but it was still disappointing because I can't help but think of this as a form of elitism. While he agreed with me that these programs allow you to buy your way into a "special club", it's also an opportunity to get exposure to a good art program and guidance from a mentor that can draw out the uniqueness one brings to their work.
He also went on to say that being "self taught" is a real art-career killer.
But at the end of the day, it's about how you define success. As he also said, it's about what success looks for you and what you want out of your life as an artist.
What stayed with me from our talk was how he described his time with Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden, both of whom he knew personally. He described how they had these intense hunger, obsession with their work. When it came down to pursuing this obsession, nothing else mattered. He told me how both of them it wasn't until they got to the end of their lives that they felt like they were "getting it".He couldn't describe what it was but it just seem like everything was just coming together at this stage of their lives. There was never a fear of getting bored or burnt out.
So what started out as being a simple excursion to a small gallery ended up being an unexpected education.Talking with Mr. Edmiston left me a lot to think about, especially when it comes to my motivations behind why I make this work. I don't see my lack of a formal art degree as a disadvantage or a setback. I've had more opportunities that I could have expected that have included solo shows at galleries and universities or showing my work at the Schomburg Center. I may never sell work for six figures but I don't let that define me.
I do this work because it sustains me and has done so since I first picked up a pencil and crayons as a little girl. I do this work because I'm curious about the world and people and I have something to say. The mediums in which I work may shift but the desire to create is always there. I define my success by my continuing passion to create and how what I do is enough to move people. I may never sell my work for six figures or mingle with art-elite and that's okay.
I'm grateful to Mr. Edmiston for his kindness and patience and for the lesson.
I'm embarking on a new dimension of my Inkscape portraits. A few weeks ago I was inspired by this exhibit at the @posterhouse featuring the beautiful work of Alphonse Mucha. I loved the way his posters centered women and made them look beautiful and powerful against ornate backdrops and graceful #typography. His work inspired me to revisit old #Ebony magazines and from the 70s and to study the ads for #haircare and products geared towards women. The hair care ads stood out to me the mostly because it talked about hair relaxers and how they were supposed to transform a woman's life. I thought it would be interesting to address that notion in a time when Black women are not solely relying on straightened hairstyles to express and celebrate themselves. We continue to experiment with shape, color and textures and I wanted to extend that conversation through the #BelleNoir series that I've been developing.
This is the first image in this new project. The slogan was taken from an ad for Curl Out Relaxer. It's somewhat ironic that the messaging was to suggest that putting harsh chemicals in Black hair was a form of liberation. In response, I decided to use my own model and have her hair take the form of a black and gold #Inkscape defying gravity in the same way that natural, unrelaxed Black hair does.
SOLD! Last week @blackgirlinmaine purchased my piece Soldier of Love (pictured at the bottom) while visiting @tesseraartscollective during their one year anniversary celebration. It’s always a great feeling when one of my works resonates with someone and they want to make space for it in their home. Images from my #BelleNoir series will be on display and available for sale at Tessera Arts Collective until September so go visit!.If you’re interested in purchasing one of the framed images on display there, feel free to DM me.
This past week marked a lot of firsts for me in my art career that have been some of the most gratifying moments of my life.
On Tuesday, the National Black Theatre presented their production In Perpetual Flight: The Black Body in Motion at the Schomburg Center. Their event was part of the New York City wide festival theme on migration which was developed by Carnegie Hall. NBT had commissioned me to create artworks that marked the four critical stages of Black migration within the United States: The Transatlantic and Domestic Slave Trade & Runaway Journeys, The First Northerm MIgration, Back to Africa: Colonization and Emigration and The Great Migration: Redefining Cities. Each era was celebrated through dance, spoken word and song with the works I created serving as an introductory backdrop for each performance. It felt incredible to be part of something that was bigger than myself and that celebrated the migratory experiences of Black people in such a powerful way.
After the program ended, I was invited onstage to join in the panel discussion that featured all the commissioned artists for the production. This was the first time in a very long while since I’ve been on a stage for a live show so leading up to it, I was kind of nervous but once I got out there, it felt good. The energy of the audience was so positive (replete with finger-snaps and affirming “mmm-hmmms”), and the camaraderie among my fellow artists was so strong, that it felt like I was having a conversation with people I had known for a long time.
You can watch the livestream entire program here.
Then the next day I traveled to Newark to hold my artist talk for my exhibition Fluid Resistance: Heroism in Two Acts. The best part of the talk was getting a chance to answer questions and explain my process to the students in an introductory photography class. For many of them, it was the first time they had gone to an artist talk so it was refreshing to see my presentation and the art world through new eyes. After answering questions about my process, inspiration and my thoughts on current social issues, we all walked over to the exhibition to view the works in person. One of the greatest parts of this experience with Rutgers was getting to see how committed Paul Robeson Galleries to the grassroots art community, which is a refreshing change from New York’s art scene, which at times can be too elitist and competitive. In addition to hosting exhibitions and artist talks, they also run workshops and classes so I’m hoping to work with them in the future about possible workshops regarding legal issues for artists.
So that was my week! It feels so good to see flowers blooming where I’ve been planting seeds for all the years. It gives a whole new meaning to the rebirth of spring.
My art is overseas! My Inkscape photograph, A Balm, has made it all the way to Kigali, Rwanda! My work was chosen by the editors of Mfon to be included in a group exhibition that will be on display at the United States ambassador's residence in Kigali for the duration of his term. I've always dreamed of displaying my work internationally so this definitely an exciting milestone for me. I am, however, kind of jealous that my artwork made it to the continent before I did but I will get there eventually.
Big thanks to Mfon editors Layla Amatallah Barryn and Delphine Adama Fawundu for this incredible opportunity!
The Belle Noir series continues with more photo shoots. This time I had the opportunity to meet and photograph Catherine, a vibrant professional model from Houston, TX. I had so much fun photographing her and capturing her grace and energy.
One of my favorite things about this series is meeting so many fascinating Black women and hearing their stories and learning about what drives them. Catherine's tales about the modeling industry were enlightening and in some cases surprising. While she is passionate about being breaking barriers as a Black model, she admits that there are still so many obstacles to overcome that include colorism and body image representation.
I'm grateful for this happy encounter with Catherine and look forward to seeing her shine even more. I'm looking forward to creating some Inkscape magic with her photos!