Sunday, September 13, 2015

Making paintings and the Soulful Arts Collective

Soulful Arts Collective group exhibit at the Living Gallery, Bushwick, Brooklyn

When I applied for the Community Arts University Without Walls (CAUWW) summer program in Puerto Rico, I decided that I would launch a crowd-funding campaign (out of financial necessity) through GoFundMe. Not being too comfortable with asking people for money, I figured that I should offer “gifts” to donors in certain categories in return for their contributions. Being that I’m a painter, I planned that after I returned from Puerto Rico, I would create a series of paintings based on my experience – and I could offer these as my donor “gifts.” Once I got back home to New York, I had to sit down and start wrapping my head around what that all meant. In addition to having a profound learning experience with CAUWW, I am also of Puerto Rican descent (my dad was born and raised on the island) and so there was a lot for me to consider about the subject matter of the painting series. I wasn’t sure where to start. To get the artistic juices flowing, I simply started painting.

In the process of my starting a new series of paintings, I was offered the opportunity to exhibit my work in a group show, the Soulful Arts Collective. The show was being organized by a woman called Maninha from my capoeira group (Ile de Palmares) and all of the artists involved would be capoeiristas. (For those not familiar, capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian martial art, which I have been practicing for about nine years so far.) I thought exhibiting at Soulful Arts Collective was a great opportunity since I had not shown my paintings in quite some time, and it would challenge me to keep my practice up. I made two capoeira-related paintings especially for the event and chose which others I would include.  

I am a self-taught artist and while I have been painting since I was about eight years old, I have never been a full-time “working artist.” I have had a day-job for all of my adult life - and while I would not consider painting to be “just a hobby,” I must admit that sometimes it falls by the wayside, as life gets in the way. I do not (and have never had) a real painting studio; I paint from home, in very close quarters. I think this is a relevant point to bring up, for a few reasons. First, as it relates to my actual artwork: the confines within which I can create (physical space, scale, time and execution). And also with regards to how it relates to me as an artist of a particular social class; the fact that I am self-taught (some would classify me as an Outsider Artist) and the fact that I have to work a day-job to support myself and cannot function as a full-time artist (which also comes with particular prejudices in the institutional art world).  I also feel that this is related to what we learned about through CAUWW with regards to concepts of Cultural Equity and Social Justice through the arts – and placing me, as an artist, within those frameworks. 

So back to the Soulful Arts Collective... On Friday, September 4th, the event took place at the Living Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn. There were seven of us exhibiting our work and being that we were all connected to one another through capoeira, it felt like a family affair. (There was Jean Tree, Martell Oliver, Amber Ink, Brandon Valery, Abyot Thuo, Kirsten Haslett and myself.) I liked the fact that the organizer did not ask to select our works; she let us each bring what we wanted. As an artist I really appreciated this totally non-hierarchical approach to the show’s curation – the Living Gallery also seems to have that type of mission. I had not seen my fellow artists work beforehand and I was really impressed with what they displayed. The event was well-attended, DJ Lua Chea played good music, there was free beer and wine offered and everyone was in high spirits. At one point there was a live art performance piece featuring two of our capoeira teachers, Omi and Caiman, creating a painting by way of their movements (hands and feet dipped in paint, moving across a canvas). They blew everyone away!

As a painter, I work in private and the idea of taking pieces out of my house to show in public can be somewhat nerve-racking. But being involved in this exhibit was a totally positive experience for me. It was great to be included alongside other talented artists and to have the opportunity to show (and sell) and discuss my work and ideas with other people. As for my Puerto Rican painting collection, preparing for the Soulful Arts Collective definitely got my practice going. I already have a few new pieces complete. I will be making more in the coming months (some of which I will send to my GoFundMe donors) and will hopefully be exhibiting them somewhere soon.

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