I’ve reached a point in my creative life where things seem very wide open. I don’t have any immediate shows coming up and no other urgent obligations, I have the freedom to do whatever I want. I think if this was a few years ago I would’ve panicked or made myself feel bad about it, but currently I feel just the opposite. I’m excited. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a break either, because I’m still working, thinking, reading, and seeking. Ideas that I couldn’t fit into previous shows will now be able to be put to colors and shapes. I can now experiment with different materials and scale. Obtaining commissions and connecting with people online and offline can now take more of a priority. Already I’ve been able to implement a semi-consistent painting schedule and I even look forward to it! At the same time it’s also nice to know that I can completely change the game plan at any point if I desire. Art life is good.
Since moving from DC 4 years ago, I pretty much hit the ground running once I arrived to Reno. I did multiple shows a year, and almost everything that I showed was brand new work. I also addressed different themes almost every time. As great as the momentum was, eventually it felt like something was off and I couldn’t wait for things to slow down. I wanted to focus my efforts and focus my subject matter a bit. After my last solo show in June 2016, I took a long break from painting. I spent a few months just chillin’ out, meeting new people, connecting with friends, and I kept any art-related tasks reduced to administrative work and research/learning. There are some sources out there that may discourage taking a break, but personally it was great for me. I think it’s important to take a step away from creating when you need it, and not to feel guilty about it. You have to recharge, get open again, and have a fresh mind full of energy and inspiration when it’s time to create again. The time away did just that for me, and it was really good.
Now that I’ve returned to a semi-regular art life schedule, there’s been a lot of movement. I’ve casted my net wide this year by applying to artist calls, focusing more on my online presence and trying out new materials in my work. I haven’t yet seen it pay off in a huge way, but the progress that I have been noticing has been great. If nothing else, I think that I’ve come to a stronger sense of who I am and what I may provide to the world as an artist. The internal and external aspects of my pursuits are challenging and exhausting, but I enjoy it all very much. I am very happy to be able to say that this is something that I still enjoy and that even though I have no idea to what end it’s all for, I’m excited to find out what’s next. For now I’m going to make the most out of the freedom and openness that this time is providing for me, and I invite anyone who wants to follow the journey! If you’re on Instagram I started using the hashtag #paintingwithoutdeadlines to help chronicle and single out the work I’m creating during this period. Follow me at @tracilturner to check me out, and let me know what you think!
One of my goals this year was to continue to build and refine my online presence. So I finally got around to creating a new YouTube channel that is specifically for videos about my art and other art-related topics. Yes, I now have an official art vlog (that word will always sound funny to me). There’s a lot that I still need to learn about this realm, so please be patient – especially when it comes to quality and on-screen presence. For now I’m just trying it out to see how it goes, but I won’t know how well I’m doing unless you chime in! Be sure to subscribe, share, and/or drop me any questions in the comments section. If it’s really thought-provoking, I’ll definitely make a video about it for you in response. The above video is just an intro, but you can find some of the other videos that I’m in by checking out my whole channel.
The plan is to do weekly, if not bi-weekly, entries. I don’t know if that’s too aggressive or not, but at this stage at least I can still adjust things as needed. I’m already working on my next video about a painting that I’m stuck on, so that should be ready to go up really soon. Stay tuned…
“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.
“Stripes” Oil on wood panel 2015 by Traci L. Turner
Are black Creatives obligated to make “black art?” What is black art? Has the definition of this been able to expand and evolve just as we have?
I find myself pondering these questions at various points in my life and art career. Lately it has been on my mind pretty heavily as I step back and evaluate the steps I’ve taken so far as an artist, and figure out my path moving forward. It seemed appropriate to share some of my thoughts here and invite readers to chime in. I’m always open to hear new perspectives and connect to achieve a deeper understanding on this topic. I definitely don’t label myself as being hashtag “woke” at all, but I’m going to try my best to express some of the things I think about when it comes to being a black Creative and producing “black art.” Hopefully it will make sense…
Back in my early 20s, when I first began to consider making art seriously and putting myself out into the world in such a way, I often thought about whether my blackness should play a part in my work. I don’t know if this is a common dilemma that most black Creatives face, because I haven’t had the chance to discuss this topic with many people outside of a few of my friends, but I distinctly recall struggling with it. I felt some sort of internal pressure or obligation to make “black art.” It seemed like all of the black artists that I knew about, famous or not, incorporated that part of their identity or history in their work. So I thought that if I didn’t make an intentional, intelligent statement on blackness, black history, or my identity as a black woman then there’d be a part of me that would feel like I would be doing a disservice in some way – a way that I didn’t truly understand or could explain at the time. All I knew was that I wanted to express myself and share it with the world, but I didn’t want to lean on my blackness in order for my work to be considered relevant. In my creative life, I was more attracted to expressing something about the human experience in general, not just any particular black experience. There seemed to be more than enough black artists in the world who were addressing that subject, and doing it extremely well. I didn’t think that I fit into that group at all, and I was ok with that for the most part. In my mind, I wanted to break that mold a little bit and just look at myself as an artist. An artist who happens to be black, not a black artist who makes black art. Perhaps it was naïve of me to think that it could or should be separate. I can’t deny that something felt “off” by being so deliberate about dividing that part from my work. There were definitely times when I felt some deep guilt for not wanting to use my work to tap into black identity as much as maybe I think is expected of me. Luckily, I’ve managed to make artwork that was still meaningful to me despite having an underdeveloped statement about my connection to the black experience.
In recent years, there has been an increased acknowledgement of different black identities and issues that exist in the world. It has permeated all of our accessible media, especially entertainment. Current front runners in this movement (people like Issa Rae, Solange Knowles and Donald Glover), have addressed many different topics and subtleties about the black experience in their own intelligent and engaging ways. It’s encouraging to see black Creatives rise up and be celebrated because on one hand it means that people want to share and hear our stories. The phrase “representation matters” is something that I’ve come to understand more intimately as I’ve matured over the years. It’s extremely validating to see that more of our images, words and sounds are considered art, and not just a vehicle to achieve “cool points,” by people across various races and social standings on such a large scale. Looking at things through that lens has allowed me to see why it’s important for me, as a black artist, to add my own points to the conversation. It was that realization that inspired me to start the Flyy and Kinky series that focuses on black natural hair. One thing that I enjoyed about starting to incorporate characters into my art that had highly textured hair or who were meant to be read as black, was that I never felt like I was jumping on a trend or that I was doing it in an empty attempt to attract a certain demographic. Though it was new for me to be intentional with that subject matter, it still felt personal, it felt significant and I was able to have a subject I enjoyed painting that contrasted the darker emotions that I usually tend to express. Considering the cultural or racial aspect of my identity when approaching some of my work now feels like less of an “obligation” and more like a natural part of expressing myself and providing a commentary on what I notice in society during my time in this world. Nowadays I think I have a better understanding of the scope of the uniqueness of being a black American, as well as the weight that comes with it, than I ever did before. I’m not yet sure if it’s because of the racially charged atrocities that have been brought to the attention of the world at large, or the fact that I now live in a town with a mostly non-black population (after spending the vast majority of my life in the huge, culturally diverse DC metropolitan area), but I find myself clinging to and trying to preserve my identity as a black American woman more than I ever have in my entire life. I also don’t feel any of the guilt I once felt because I no longer hold expectations of myself to fit into any one perception of blackness, or as a black Creative. I now see that by living my own life on my own terms, and making whatever art that I want to make, that is in itself a valid part of the narrative of being black. So freeing!
I know that I’ve only scratched the surface of this topic, and I may not have even written about it well, but as always I would love to know what you think! What have you noticed about the surge of black excellence in various creative fields? Who are some creative people of color that you’re following now? Do you think that we’re heading closer to an era where content and stories by people of color or other marginalized groups will be more universally accepted and enticing to the majority?
I’ve recently become a consistent visitor of the Art Prof’s social media spaces. This month she posted an “art dare” to her followers to create a drawing, without human faces, based off of the phrase “your future self.” Since I’m in a period where I’ve slowed down production and am focusing more on restructuring, I decided to join in on the art dare. Inspired by some feedback from a recent art critique and reading several of the Art Prof’s blog posts, I’ve been trying to readjust my approach by organizing my thoughts and ideas before beginning a new piece by starting off with a mind map. Here is a mind map of my future self for the art dare:
From there, I took a few points from the map to think of an image for the final drawing. Although I thought that all of the points in the map were authentic to me, what stuck out to me were the points about being old, sick and alone. When I think about whatever my future self might be, I don’t tend to dwell on overly fantasizing or romanticizing about it. Doing so seems like I’d be setting myself up for disappointment. Instead I tend to think more about what’s inevitable or most likely to happen. Death and deterioration, though a macabre train of thought, is what seems more real to me. Those are the only things that I know will happen as I get older, one or both of those things. I don’t know if I’ll be alone or singular when that happens, but it seems like a likely scenario because that’s where I stand right now in my life. That’s what’s real to me at the moment, so it’s not hard for me to imagine that in my future and I do not fear it. The examples of older people in my current immediate circle would have to be my parents. Though my mom and dad are in completely different circumstances, I think that I may be slightly more influenced by the hardships that my mom faces with her ailing body. I’ve seen what she goes through firsthand and I hear about details sometimes when we chat on the phone. Although she does have family members that live nearby to help her when she needs it, she mostly deals with it alone. She lives alone, and fiercely clings to her independence as her body slowly fails everyday at the hands of a debilitating disease. I bet most people assume that such a fate would never be placed on them, or at least they don’t think about it much. However I have an acute awareness of the fact that none of us are too special to be spared any unfortunate occurrence, so I’ve become quite comfortable with the thought of my body eventually breaking down in some way, even if it’s relatively mild. It’s hard to break myself away from that thought when I envision my “future self.”
This art dare was a challenge for me for two reasons: 1) I’m not always comfortable/confident with drawing, and 2) I couldn’t use any human faces. The second point was extremely difficult because the human figure is my favorite subject, portraits too. I feel a little bit crippled if I can’t incorporate it in some way. Well, I took it a step further and challenged myself to not use a human figure at all. What I came up with was this drawing:
“My Future Self” White charcoal and Prismacolor pencils on black paper 2016 by Traci L. Turner
I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else who lives alone, but for me I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. Besides the obvious functions and reasons, we associate the bathroom as being a very private space. Even though I live alone and have x amount of square footage to deal with myself, the bathroom is still where I go to be alone and internalize. I experience the most moments of self-examination in there. Perhaps it’s the mirror that does it, or the meditativeness of standing in the shower. With a bathroom as the scene to this piece, which in my mind depicts a certain solitude, what made the most sense to me as a way to show a living body in deterioration was to use blood. Hey, I’m only too happy to be able to find a way to incorporate blood into any of my pieces. It felt natural so I just went with it. Then of course I showed an abundance of medication which seems to be synonymous with getting old and sick. I really tried to consider composition with this drawing to set off a sort of eeriness to it. I wish that I was much better at drawing from my imagination, but either way I thought what I ended up with was still compelling enough. Considering that this is the first time I hopped onto an Instagram “art challenge,” I thought the experience was great. I enjoyed the task of being given an objective and a deadline and then be able to make something out of it that is meaningful to me. I also appreciated that I got to try out a new approach to creating a piece by starting off with the mind map. I think that I’m going to keep that up. Or try to.
Do you have an image in your mind of your “future self?” Where would you want to be? What do you fear about the near or far future in your lifetime? Please feel free to chime in in the comments.