What are your thoughts on being a self-taught artist?
It’s something I am a bit self-conscious of actually. I started off in college as an artist, wanting to become a studio artist and to have my “paying job” be a graphic artist/cartoonist. That was kind of my thinking through much of my high school years. But then I had a really bad art teacher in high school who sucked the joy out of painting for me. I remember in particular this teacher getting angry when we started to learn oils and said I was “wasting” materials because I wasn’t trained enough. The teacher also would mock our work by taking it from our workspaces and holding it up in class for the other students to critique and she would rip it apart. There were four of us in that class and two of them persisted and studied art in college, but I stopped creating work in the class at that point and just accepted the grade I got.
It was the first time I really protested a teacher formally. So, when I got to college, I said I was going to be a fine arts major, but by the end of my first year I was studying just about everything else earnestly and had no plans in taking any art classes. I gravitated to history, literature, and philosophy. I became a history major, and then became a teacher, and then went to graduate school. It wasn’t until I was in my PhD program that I began painting again for fun. People were shocked that I liked to do it, and that it was a passion. For me it had never really gone away but was just on the backburner. It was like, yeah, I love history and want to be the best historian I can be, but for me visual art was the first love.
That said, I am self-conscious because there are years of knowledge, I just don’t have from not studying it seriously. I haven’t even felt comfortable calling myself an artist until recently. The university I work at now offers free classes to faculty, spouses, and children (great perk btw!), and we have an MFA program. I am hoping that after this year I can start taking classes and maybe begin working toward my degree. Our art faculty are fantastic and I know there is so much technique I can learn from them.
Outside of that, I am as I am writing this, realize I am still terrified of oils. I mostly work in pastels, acrylic, and watercolors. I am going to fix that. I have boxes of oil paints at my home that have been gifted to me, but I that I have been afraid of “wasting” if I use them. So, I am going to do a big oil painting next! I have the perfect subject for it.
How has the body positive movement figured into your work?
I am really interested in painting fat folk beautifully. I am working on a book project where I have interviewed body size activists about their art and activism and how they have been censored on social media. I have gotten to know a few of them very well, and love their art. They are out there using their bodies to inspire others to not only love themselves but to tell anti-fat bias in society to fuck off. I love it! I have done two smaller painting, a woman in pink and a woman in green. Both of those are composites of different models I know. The woman in green specifically is from a body size activist and trans woman in Latin America. It was great working with her to make that piece. I would like to continue this work, and specifically am wanting to move out into broader depictions of the disabled community.
Historically, fatness has had a place in visual art. The fat body in different times has been venerated and shown to be beautiful. But it is complicated when we start to understand how that was sometimes code for class privileges, male gaze, and whiteness. I want to create images that celebrate fat and disability, but that is more conscious of that legacy of fine art. In this, I am neither alone nor novel. There are way more talented artists out there doing this work too. So, for me, I am just part of a much longer and broader social movement in politics, society, and culture.
What other themes inspire you?
I recently moved to Alabama this year for a new job at JAX State University. I am working on a number of projects, one of which is trying to tease out how I feel about Appalachia. I am from the Ohio River Valley originally, and JAX is in Southern Appalachia, so that theme has been with me for a bit. Trying to see the society and region as both novel and familiar. Metaphors abound in our studies of regions, and the problem is that regions are more than metaphor. They are places. Historical places. Lived places. We lose something when we collapse them into metaphor and narratives. But the problem is metaphors and narratives are how we make sense of the world. I haven’t really figured out how to approach this issue, and part of that is because I have really mixed feelings (negative and positive) about Appalachia.
The other theme that has been inspiring me is the concept of radiating rings. That sounds weird, maybe, but I am just really fascinated with this idea that everything we can perceive, from radios to a blade of grass, is connected to everything else through movement, etc. I have done a number of really small pieces exploring this and want to pivot to making some really big pieces that give the viewer this sense that a mushroom in a forest or planet in space or sunset is reaching out to them in a constant connectivity.