“What Dat Mouf Do #5”
Diptych, oil on wood
by Traci L. Turner

Lately I’ve been revisiting a lot of the work that I’ve done in the last two years. Taking some feedback I received about my body of work, I started thinking more about what it means to work in a series. I’m still not totally sure what it means, to be honest, but consistency seems to be a necessary factor when creating them. Up until recently I had only been making work for art shows, which has been great, but looking back at the work from those exhibitions I did start to wonder what strung them together as a whole. Or did it really matter to me? Luckily I don’t think that everything is completely disjointed, however I realized that what I had was a lot of “great starts” to concepts that I would like to continue to work with. The single item paintings that I like to create, such as the lips or human heart paintings, are really fun for me to do yet have a significance to me that goes deeper than being just a painting of a heart or a mouth. Having a personal or emotional meaning to the artwork is important to me. What I also like about those type of pieces is that they are accessible to people without sacrificing quality (in my not-very-humble opinion), which is a huge thing to me because of the reach that I hope to have with my work. I think a reason why I’m concerned with that is because one of the main pillars of why I create is to connect with other people. But I suppose that is the bottom-line for most artists.

So in the spirit of wanting to flesh out my work and truly develop series that can align with my artist statement, I went back to the What Dat Mouf Do series. It’s called that because I’m a ridiculous person and I amuse myself. Also, internet memes. Anyway, I revisited that idea and decided that I wanted to keep going with it. It’s an emotionally low-maintenance project, plus people have seemed to respond well to it so far – it’s a win win. When it comes to painting human figures, the lips are probably at the top of my favorite things to paint. I especially love full, sensual, plushy mouths – a physical trait that is commonly found in black people. I’m sure there’s a part of me that prefers the look for that very reason. When I search deeper about why I like to focus on just the mouth, I think it’s because it’s a piece that is integral in communicating and connecting with people. Be it with words, with a kiss, a frown or a smile. Even with closed lips, a person can still say something. We all hold a certain responsibility with our mouths. In the same breath we can inflict pleasure, pain or confusion in our dealings with each other. That point becomes emphasized when I zero in on just a mouth in a painting. Plus, it’s just an attractive feature in a face to me, period. It’s definitely one of the first things that I examine in other people and continue to pay attention to as I get to know them.

Left: When I first started painting just the lips (2014). Right: A practice piece which renewed my interest in the idea (2016)

With the What Dat Mouf Do series, I’ve officially finished five pieces so far. The fifth one is featured at the top of this post. It’s a diptych, which is my first attempt at something like that (that I can remember). Trying to stay within the scope of my current statement as an artist, #5 highlights a sort of carnal, unrepressed affection between two individuals. It’s something that I think a lot of us desire deep down. I often find my own mind bending towards thoughts of this, more than I’d like to admit. I’ve already created a piece in this series that has put two figures together, except they occupied the same space:

“What Dat Mouf Do #4: Besos”
6″x6″, oil on wood
By Traci L. Turner

With #5 I wanted the fact that the figures were separate but go together to have a specific importance. I think separating them is visually a more accurate depiction of how I view an “ideal” romantic relationship. Where you have two individuals who may have a lot of different qualities, but they are alike where it counts and come together by choice. I think it’s more realistic to choose a partner who complements you, instead of seeking someone to fill in the blanks to “make you whole,” or someone who is practically the same person as you. But hey, it’s a nice thought. I can’t officially say that I know what works. Please do not listen to me, kids. I just like the idea of two people who can stand alone and be fine, but can also come together and take on a whole new meaning through their bond. It’s that thought that was behind my intention with this 5th piece in the series.

I look forward to adding more work to this series of paintings. As I get deeper into it, hopefully it will all start to take on a look and meaning that will translate into a more cohesive and attractive body of work. I have a few other series that I would like to add on to and a couple of newer ideas that I want to start. That’s one thing that I’ve learned to see as an advantage to working in a series: it’s an opportunity to make a bunch of new work which may also inspire new thought trails to other projects.