Let’s start off with the most basic question, how do you identify yourself? As a LGBTQ or a woman artist?
Although I can identify as both a woman and an LGBTQ artist, most importantly I identify as an artist for social change. In other words, I hope to use art as a way of making people see past labeled identities and serve as a reminder that above all else, we are all human beings and interconnected, regardless of who we are, what we label ourselves as, or how the world sees us.
How did it all start? What were your earlier works like?
My art career began at age 19, later than what is typical for most. However, the content and story that lead to the evolution of “The Gray Area”, unknowingly started during my adolescence, as I struggled in discovering my own identity, which became a part of my thesis which I wrote while acquiring my Masters of Fine Arts. I find that my thesis truly captures the beginning of what led me to become an artist for social change. Unlike the other artists that I attended graduate school with, my skill and passion for art stems from only two years of traditional art education at an art school.
My college journey started as that of an education major, but early on I realized I was having trouble finding a subject that I felt passionate enough to commit to. On a whim, I took my first drawing class at 19 years old and that was the first time I had ever picked up a piece of charcoal. But, although unfamiliar, that day I felt what I can only describe as a calling. It was then that I realized that I wasn’t meant to teach in a traditional structured way, from syllabi and books, but that I was meant to teach and connect to others through shared life experiences. From the moment I started on this path, the odds were stacked against me, but I felt compelled to drop my education classes and declare fine arts as my new major. A series of events began that day that would give me the ability to connect and communicate through my art for social change.
From 19 to 22, I made up for lost time by taking foundational courses in painting and drawing, however working with the figure was the first thing to come naturally. By the end of my second year of art school, I had completed my first series of painted self-portraits in which I replaced familiar actions/objects with thumbtacks. At its inception, this series was nothing more than self-portraits and thumbtacks. In retrospect, I can now see that this series was the start of discovering human connection through art, laying the foundation of my understanding that much of our individual and societal problems begin with the person in the mirror.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later, after moving to Miami, from the state and people that I had known my whole life, that my first true body of work, “Six Degrees of Separation,” came about. I had trouble fitting in the Miami social scene and had used art as a way of starting conversations to find common threads with people. It was then that I realized that art had the power to break down and reach beyond social barriers. I created 27 portraits of people that had been a part of my personal journey up until that point. As graduation was approaching, I knew that I wanted to return back up to the New Jersey/Philadelphia area, but needed a reason to leave Miami. “Six Degrees of Separation” gave me that reason as it was strong enough to get me accepted into graduate school in Philadelphia.
It was the move to Philadelphia that inspired the beginning of “The Gray Area”. . While in Miami, I used expression and portraiture to relate to people, not of any particular age, race, or gender. It was a very lonely time for me and art helped me get through it. While I never specifically realized the concept of what I was doing, that series of choices led me to understand the true impact art can have on people. “The Gray Area” is the first body of work that was completed at a time in which I was transitioning from a student into a real artist. Today, everything in my life and art has a purpose, even the mistakes.
Is it easy to echo concerns from these two diverse identify points?
As both a woman and someone who has struggled as an LGBTQ individual, I can easily discuss concerns that arise from both identities. The bottom line is that every person on this planet, regardless of race, gender, orientation or age, are all individually unique and simply human. No two people and no two experiences are identical. As humans, we all have struggles despite of what shape or appearance they take. Regardless of the fact that I am an LGBTQ woman, most importantly I am human. Through that common identity, I am able to relate to the experiences and emotions of other humans. Thus, it will always be easy to connect over and explore and discuss the issues of identity. It all comes down to the same thing, at the end of the day, we all want to love and be loved, while experiencing as much happiness as we can in the short amount of time we are given on earth.
The art world and market is getting more and more niche, in my opinion. There has even recently been a queer biennial. LGBTQ artists are being marketed as such by various galleries. Do you think that this is right? Or should an artist be only identified by their work instead of their orientation?
As the world’s population and diversity has grown, niches and labels have been used to set and acknowledge a multitude of contemporary identities to provide a gateway to understanding some of society’s social differences. However, because a label serves as an umbrella term for sub-groups, individuality is often generalized and overshadowed by a stereotype. Social niches have assisted in uniting while concurrently dividing humanity. We continuously invent new labels with the hope of being an all-inclusive society. This can be seen rather easily in the art world as there seems to be heightened interest in niche marketing across the spectrum.
I am an artist who once identified with a niche, I found comfort in being proud to represent my subgroup, which was LGBTQ. Identifying and connecting with a particular group helped me get a strong foundation of support. I still participate in LGBTQ art shows and similar market strategies, however now I personally attempt to stray away from the labels rather than box myself in to a particular category. I think marketing our differences in moderation can help us gain support, but the bigger idea is to connect our similarities while celebrating individuality.
Your thesis points to your life journey and how your work has come to be because of it. In that way would it be correct to call your work very autobiographical?
I think in some way every artist’s work is autobiographical. Our creations come from our perceptions or experiences. How my work evolved into “The Gray Area” is an important story, but my story is not what the content of my work is about. Yes, I became aware of the broad spectrum of gray because of my own experiences with identity and sexuality, however I create a piece of work that is serving as a gap to allow connection between humanity. Although I am the one hearing these compelling stories and interpreting them into a work of art, they are not my stories to tell. The only autobiographical element is that somewhere along the way these people have crossed my path and made an impact on me.. so I draw it and put in multi- interpretational components. I believe art is a reflection of the viewer. We all bring our lives and experiences to the piece and we cannot predict what will be interpreted. There is no right or wrong. My work and what the viewer sees is all autobiographical.
Coming from a third world country, from where I am now for example, there is a constant questioning of the purpose of art and the usefulness of it in a society where people are dying due to hunger and poverty. How would you answer these people?
As an empathetic person, I feel deeply for many things and for what I cannot understand, I try my best to increase my awareness. Although life in the US is not all that it seems to be in the media, I realize that, even at it’s worst, it can not even compare to most situations in other countries. Even here, I find myself constantly questioning the purpose of art and sometimes doubting that it’s useful… but then I remember that art, my creation, is one of the only things that can’t be censored. Making art is the only way that I am truly free. I don’t make art with the hopes that people will purchase it and hang it over their couches, if they do, that’s a bonus… but in reality I make art to bring light to the changes I wish to see in the world. Because I am only one person who’s world and struggles begin where I’m at, I have to start with myself and my immediate environment to create the change that I wish to see in the world. No two struggles are the same, the purpose of art is to create connection, discussion, and awareness about the harsh realities of our world. Even in a society where people are dying due to hunger and poverty, I believe art can find its place and create more awareness and discussion about these issues in a very real way. There are few universal languages and I was lucky to discover early on that art was one of them. Art really does have the ability to change the world. It is my form of a peaceful protest.
What are you working on currently?
I’ve been pulling some late nights in the studio and it’s been worth it. About two weeks ago I finished “Steps Forward” which is the latest addition to “The Gray Area”, and I’m just finishing up the first piece of my next series which parallels to “The Gray Area” by adding hints of color to the black and white drawings. The idea is that the many shades of gray pertaining to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. are what gives color and life to our society. I’m in the very beginning stages of really getting into several projects, but I see some of my ideas potentially extending into photography, vlogs, and performance pieces. Stay tuned.