I didn’t grow up going to art museums, and I remember when I did see art, it was just never reflective of me. I love that today, and particularly in your work, these little Black kids are going to grow up and completely see themselves.
Yes, I love when the kiddos interact with the art! I was able to see that in-person during the Pandemic. I had a soft opening at the François Ghebaly Gallery in L.A., and the kiddos came through. I wouldn’t let anyone else touch the pieces, but if they wanted to touch the paintings… I didn’t see a thing!
I love when they interact with the work. It means a lot to me when they can see themselves that way and realize they can be anything they want to be. You can be an artist, you can be the person in this photo that looks really cool. That’s really reassuring.
I imagine that our readers may want to hear a little bit more about your choice to not paint faces. I’m wondering if you would share more about that?
Of course! So, I went to the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Minnesota. It’s a high school for the performing arts, and they had all these different programs, from the visual arts to theater. In my junior year, we studied all the different kinds of mediums in visual arts, and in twelfth grade, you got to choose what you wanted to focus on. I chose the drawing and sculpture course, but I found myself not knowing how to use this medium. I didn’t have access to oil paint and it was super expensive.
A guest studio teacher, Megan Rye, came into the classroom and said, “We’re doing 30 paintings for the next three weeks.” We were like, are you nuts?! She meant these little five by seven paintings. They were for a benefit for the houseless community here in the Twin Cities, to be sold at $30 a piece. It would help a person stay in the shelter for the night and get them their necessities, and to feed them. That meant a lot to me, and it still does. I’m currently a part of the Art4Shelter committee, and we’re still doing this thing.
So, at that point, I still didn’t know how to paint faces. I wanted to—so bad! I could execute and draw very realistically with charcoal and graphite. But then when it came to a new medium I’d never used before… ya know, I didn’t know how to clean my brushes. The colors were muddy…
There were about 12 students in that class, and every week we would put up our 10 paintings and speak about them. We were so good to each other! So kind! We would never tear each other apart, ever. But one of the class critiques—I think one of the first ones that I had were from Megan Rye and Karen Monson, who were our studio arts teachers at the time. They really enjoyed my work and Megan was like, “Continue to do this thing, it’s uniquely you. It’s beautiful. Even if it doesn’t have features, there’s something very angelic and refreshing about it.”
I was dang near about to cry in class! I was not confident in the work at all, because I wanted to paint realistically like my peers. You know, I wanted to be able to paint what was from a photograph and I simply couldn’t. And so, to hear those words in that time was super meaningful, and they stuck with me. And so I always give my thanks to Karen and Megan for instilling that confidence in me, and I could carry on. I don’t know what I would be doing today if I didn’t attend the Perpich Center, or if I didn’t hear those words from those two women. They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and I’m super glad that I had them—and I still have them!