This is the first installment of the ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ artist interview series. ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ features work by Delano Dunn, Damien Davis, and Brandon Dean.
Delano Dunn | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in ‘Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love’ from August 29 to October 15, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Lisa Noll
To begin, can you give some information on where you’re from and how you became interested in pursuing art?
I am from Los Angeles. I was born and raised there until 1997 when I came out for undergraduate. I went to Pratt and studied illustration. I did that for a few years then after doing a couple of jobs where I had to sue to get paid for, I wanted to start a studio practice. In addition, when you work as an illustrator you are subjected to whatever your editor wants, and you lose creative control. So, I found myself getting into a studio practice and that led me to where I am now. I went to graduate school in 2014 and graduated in 2016. In high school I was really into the arts and I did music and acting but the visual arts seemed to win out.
Are there other artists that you take inspiration from? Where can this influence be seen in your pieces?
I don’t particularly take influence from other visual artists. I get a lot of my influence from literature, music, the news, history… a lot of that plays into how I approach things. That source material dictates how I decide to go about something. There are artists I really like, like Mickalene Thomas. It’s more about their practice and how they are dedicated to what they do, how they are willing to push boundaries that inspires me the most.
What is the importance of color in your work – how does it frame or underscore your larger concepts and reflections?
Color is an amazing gate way. People respond well to color, whether it is the absence of color or the abundance of it. My choice is to have an abundance of color. I don’t know how that happened. I’ve always been someone who has done work with a great deal of color. For me, it’s two-fold; when you see a great deal of color, in most cases, I like to think people are going to approach that color. It’s inviting, it’s engaging. And with that, it’s kind of like I can trap you so if you are willing to engage on the level of strictly visual appreciation, then maybe you are willing to go a little deeper to see what the undercurrent really is. If you are going to talk about varying subject matter like drug addiction, civil liberty issues, violence, then you need to say to people ‘it’s okay, come over to this carnival so you can really see what’s going on behind the tent.’ One of the analogies I like to use is that it looks like a very enticing piece of candy or unbelievable piece of cake and your mouth waters and as soon as you bite into it you go ‘oh this is really bitter and it’s not what I thought it would be’, but at least you engaged, at least you got in there and I was able to suck you in and say ‘this is really what I was trying to tell you’.
In my blog about your work I wrote about female representation. Can you speak to the importance of female representation in your work?
My wife is an avid feminist. There was no agenda whatsoever but just knowing her and getting to know her I found myself going from being very into issues with the African American experience to also wanting to focus on feminism and the experience of women. When we had our daughter I thought, maybe I could produce a body of work for her or I can change my practice to show her that it doesn’t need to be just women who can contribute to this dialogue, but men can do it too. Not to appropriate this experience, but to say, ‘look I am on your side and I’m also going to contribute to this conversation’. So that is how I started to do work that, instead of always using the male figure, let’s use a female figure. Why can’t I communicate the exact same message but with the female figure? That took the message someplace else, some place deeper. I contribute a lot of that to my wife and a great deal of that to our daughter. Female representation is important I don’t think enough men do enough to try to understand what that experience is like.
One of your works, Jane Crow, references Supreme Court cases fought and won by the ACLU and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, on behalf of women in the United States. Regarding this work, studies have long shown that the judicial system in America creates a system in which African Americans are the most negatively impacted and disenfranchised, but mostly focus on African American men. What led you to begin thinking about and wanting to create an artwork that focuses on women, specifically African American women?
If you look back at the emancipation proclamation, you see that women are completely absent from it. None of the language is about it. It’s all about black men. If you look at the constitution, there is no language in it about women. If you proceed toward the amendments, it goes for a very long time before it gets into women, and even then, it’s like ‘are you really talking about women?’ And it’s kind of amazing, yet women held so much, and they do hold so much, yet they are clearly absent from a lot of the official documentation of the American experience. With African American women it seemed like a very glaring thing that when people talk about slavery or make a work about slavery you usually see this image of a proud male slave with a supportive woman behind him and that, to me, implies their experience with slavery is sort of second to men. You have black men whose bodies are being completely used as a tool but think about the experience of black women during slavery. You are forced to breed with other slaves to make more babies and your babies are taken and sold. While you are still lactating, you are forced to not only feed the black babies who are also yours, but you are also forced to feed the masters babies and you are also forced to be raped by the master. That is a hell of a lot to go through so why is it, again, considered second to the black male experience? It’s phenomenal.
When you go into a museum or a gallery, what’s the first thing you notice? It’s probably the paintings and sculptures adorning the walls and filling each room, as one would expect from a space dedicated to art. But what would these pieces look like in a different context, say with different lighting, a different configuration, even a different font for the interpretation or description next to each work? While these components may seem like they have little or even no impact on the way we experience art in a gallery, they in fact play one of the biggest roles in how we interact with and perceive works of art. This aspect of art management is handled by the curator — the person in charge of selecting pieces for each exhibition, displaying them appropriately, and determining how the visitor experience will be molded to elicit a certain response or teach the audience something new. One of the most important aspects of this job is the creation of interpretation for each work, i.e. the small square of text that sits next to each piece and gives context for its creation. Through this small but vastly important inclusion, curators are able to craft the narrative that will follow these works as they are viewed, discussed, and further interpreted by the audience. In this way, a curator is not only the designer of an art space, but an educator as well.
In the current show for the Stamp Gallery, Pink Is a Color That Feels Like Love, all of the works deal with issues of representation, and the artists interpret this topic through a use of motifs and abstract color use. Due to the conceptual nature of the art, it is necessary to dive deeper into each artist’s art practice to discover the true meaning of and context for each of the pieces. Not all visitors to the gallery necessarily know how to access this information, which is why wall text becomes such an important aspect of this exhibition. Each painting or mixed media piece is accompanied by a short description outlining the greater concept behind each work, and without this short text, many visitors would leave the gallery without being aware of the larger social and political contexts in each piece.
In Damien Davis’ work for example, each of the three mixed media assemblages he has in the show explore sickle cell disease, a blood disorder that disproportionately affects the African American community. Through his investigation of this topic, he discusses issues of racism in healthcare and specifically highlights a lack of funding and research for this illness. At first glance, visitors are drawn to the bright colors and abstract shapes that make up the base of each of the assemblages. They call to mind simplistic wooden children’s toys, especially those you may find in a pediatrics unit. On top of these shapes are both abstract and recognizable motifs — the power button on some sort of electronic, the profile of a man’s head, afro picks, crescent moons, and teardrops, among many others. After reading the interpretation provided, the relationships and perceptions of these shapes drastically change and give new meaning to the abstract work. Crescent moons suddenly appear as the “sickled shape” that sick cells take on in the body of someone afflicted with sickle cell disease, and teardrops can represent blood, usually a life-giving source, that has instead become a sign of illness and struggle. In conversation with one another, these inclusions force the viewer to see the pain and struggle of a child going through this disease, and to question whether there would already be better management or even a cure if it widely affected white people. Context is vital for an accurate understanding of this work, and while the pure emotional reactions to these assemblages are of course valid, much more can be learned from an in-depth study of their true meaning.
In this way, the artists and curator work hand in hand to provide this information to the public. The artists create multi-layered, conceptual works of art, and the curator provides the context for a full understanding of these pieces for the public. Through this process, the gallery becomes a space for both emotional and educational exchange — emotional in that the first response to a piece is based on how it makes us feel, and educational in that the second response is based off of what we’ve learned from the information provided. These two responses, when combined, create a well-rounded visitor experience and allow the audience to walk away not only feeling fulfilled from a visual or emotional standpoint, but from an educational and intellectual standpoint as well.
Come visit Pink Is a Color That Feels Like Love, running from August 29th-October 15th in the Stamp Gallery.
Written by Erin Allen
Throughout history, art style and meaning has changed drastically, with conventions such as composition, art movement and subject. When art historians study past and present works, there is a wide range of ideas and perceptions that can be uncovered. Along with art style, the world has become more progressive and ideals have changed. This blog will assess the numerous perceptions of femininity and being a woman in art, from Leonardo da Vinci’s convention of female to Delano Dunn’s powerful representation of women in power.
We begin with the High Renaissance. For Leonardo da Vinci and many other artists of his time, the female form represented reproduction and motherhood. For this reason, women were depicted reserved in their posture and grace. The Mona Lisa became a standard for which women should be depicted; portraits of women with a slight, aloof smile, hands crossed on their laps and their hair pulled back in a net. In a quite literal sense, she is reserved and elegant, with her hair pulled back and tidy. This was the standard for which women were expected to live. Their role was not part of the outside world but to be kept in the home, taking care of children. Artists in Leonardo’s world used muted colors to present their figures in this way. As much as women should stay reserved, so should the colors they are represented with.
Fast forward to the early 20th century, artists like Erich Heckel, a German Expressionist artist, had their own take on the representation of women. Woman as a seductress became a broader topic of discussion. Along with this idea, came certain iconographic elements. The color red, for instance, is associated with seduction and often used when depicting women who are temptresses and prostitutes. Heckel’s muse, Franzi, was a thirteen-year-old girl he often depicted in his paintings. She was often portrayed nude and modeled in a seductive manner. In these works, it is clear she is mature for her age, however, to what extent do women, even young girls, have to be sexualized?
Here we are in the 21st century and, thus far, representations of women have mostly been reserved and held back to display their expected roles or sexualized to a questionable degree. Contemporary art strives to create new conventions for women. Delano Dunn is featured in the exhibit “Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love”. His prevailing piece Where Neon Bends depicts powerful women who travel back in time to destroy the patriarchy. This piece holds an entire new convention for women. These women are portrayed in powerful stances in order to assert their dominance. They are not reserved or holding back from their destiny, they are fighting back with strength and authority. Dunn was inspired by the Jackson Five’s music video Can You Feel It and the science fiction film, Tron, to create a radiantly neon atmosphere. Here, women are not portrayed by one color, but their powers are augmented by the brilliant colors Dunn uses. This piece does not hold back from depicting women in a position of power. In the past, art depicted women in a way that dictated where they belonged in society. Now, that convention has been slashed in order to claim that women are able to break their stereotypical roles in society.
A thought piece on Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love (August 29th– October 6, 2018)
Think about our lives as a coloring book. The outlines are there. A house is a house, a cat is a cat, or even things so small and insignificant such as a toothbrush, are still just a toothbrush. Everything is drawn out for you, guiding you through daily life with substantial ideas. We follow these guidelines willingly, however, the importance of the coloring book is not necessarily just the contours. Yes, they are important and they keep you engaged, helping you to imagine the larger picture; but it is what we read between the lines that is truly significant. These are the colors we see.
Colors let you experience ourselves, our identities, our personalities. By seeing colors, we can express ourselves and how we feel. A bright yellow can remind you of the sun on your face at the beach, or brown can make you yearn for the bare trees in the winter time. Red could make you feel angry and fuel with rage, or purple could make you feel calm and centered. Pink is a color that could make you feel love. Orange is a color that could make you feel warm. Whatever you see, you can also feel or interact with.
Within this coloring book of life, you are the artist, you are in control, and therefore you can make the colors we percieve anything you want them to be; magenta, chartreuse, teal, lavender, mauve, burgundy, eggshell or even tangerine. As the artist, you get to choose what colors we use; all stored in our little crayon box. However, there is a downside to our box of crayons. Yes, colors give you the freedom to award personality to objects and to show off our identities, but by being given the privilege of freedom, the artist is also given the privilege to judge, to hate, to question, to express, and to advocate. By given the power of color we are given the power to recognize, read in between the outlines, and speak up for those who maybe can’t see what we do. By being given our little crayon box, the artist becomes the hero.
In the ongoing exhibit, “Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love,” three artists are doing exactly this. Their pieces revolve around questioning the stigmas attached to color, how the color of our skin, though pre-determined, is not a fault, or the LGBTQ+ rainbow of colors is not a shame but a celebratory relic. They use colors to finally be heard. Colors that are usually judged, hated are instead expressed and advocated; using our crayon box to its full capacity.
Within the show there are a series of books that invite viewers and artist’s alike to critically analyze the colors we percieve and the colors we choose to see. We ask how each color of our crayon box can make you feel. Red is a color that feels like…., blue is a color that feels like…., purple is a color that feels like… etc. The responses are endless and serve as clear representations of our voices, screaming and shouting in despair and encouragement, the voices we seek to be heard. Come into the gallery to experience these voices and of course read between the outlines in our own coloring book.
Come experience Pink is a Color that Feels Like Love exhibition in The Stamp Gallery, happening now through October 6, 2018.
Written by Tess Hyatt
We are welcoming back the Stamp Gallery’s radio show ‘Art Hour’ back with the fall semester this week! This year the show will continue to be free and open to the public in gallery and on WMUC Digital on Thursday evenings from 6-7PM. Can’t make it on Thursdays? Not to worry. The shows will also be available online on the Stamp Gallery Blog so you can catch up in your own time!
This year Art Hour will feature music, interviews, and guest lectures with artists, curator, art historians, and even student staff. You won’t want to miss it!
This week’s show (September 6th from 6-7PM) features an interview with Pink is a Color That Feels Like Love curator, Katy Scarlett. Scarlett is Philadelphia based curator that has brought together three dynamic artists to examine issues of representation and to critique dominant paradigms in relation to the formal and conceptual uses of color in the current exhibition.
What does Katy Scarlett have to say about her curatorial vision?
“[All of the artists] are taking information from the history of these different struggles and different types of standards that have been present in society for a long time, and they’re trying to question them, recreate them, and create awareness around them.”
“Personally, I think curators are responsible for representing what they believe in through what they curate.”
“I think everyone should be concerned with issues of politics and identity, especially now.”
“When you go to an art museum, do you see artists that are like you? Do you see people painted that are like you, or representations of people like you?”
“I want people to think about the way that color makes them feel.”
Want to find out more? Tune in Thursday night!
This is the sixth installment of the VOX LACUNAE artist interview series. VOX LACUNAE features work by Sobia Ahmad, Sera Boeno, Marta Gutierrez, Nilou Kazemzadeh, Jason Kuo, Kim Llerna, and Yuli Wang.
Marta Gutierrez | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in VOX LACUNAE from July 18 to August 22, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Can you tell me about yourself, where are you from, what inspired you to start creating art?
I was born in Colombia, South America. Since I was a child I loved drawing, painting and playing with clay. I was trained as an Architect and then moved to USA and got a BFA at The Corcoran School of Art. These multiple disciplines give me the tools to create my ‘Alternative Whimsical Universes’.
What drew you to the particular trees that you reference in your “Flora Exótica Americana” series?
Finding a theme for my series is important for my creative process. FLORA EXOTICA AMERICANA is an infinite source of inspiration and it is a subject where I can combine the beauty of our natural species with their names, creating pieces where words and visuals complement each other.
Yarumo or Yagrumo or Guarumo or Guarumbo, 2017. Wire and fiber sculptures.
The colors and patterns used in the sculptures are not necessarily true to life, what drew you to those materials?
The subjects for my series are just a starting point for inspiration. My art is in constant search for abstraction. Freedom is basic for my creative process.
What was your goal with these pieces?
The goal with my work is to create alternative whimsical universes. Research is important for my inspiration and there is always a story, a name or an experience behind each piece. Then comes a process of playing with line, color, shape and finding the right title. I obsess with one theme until several finished pieces create an interesting and fun experience for me, and hopefully for the viewers.
Do you see your art as a means to communicate with those who do not speak the same language as you? How does language affect the way you create art?
Art is a language on its own, a universal language because it does not need translation. There is a tendency of explaining art works with words, it is not really necessary to me. It makes me very happy as an artist when viewers react to my work, it does not matter if they get something different of what inspired me. Freedom of interpretation is important for me too.
Where do you see your art going from here? Are you going to continue bridging gaps with your art?
I want to continue creating my Alternative Universes but in a larger scale. I want to see my art work bigger and in public spaces.
Marta Gutierrez’s work is included in Vox Lacunae at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018.
For more information on Marta Gutierrez, visit http://www.martaluz.com/.
For more information on Vox Lacunae and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.
This is the fifth installment of the VOX LACUNAE artist interview series. VOX LACUNAE features work by Sobia Ahmad, Sera Boeno, Marta Gutierrez, Nilou Kazemzadeh, Jason Kuo, Kim Llerna, and Yuli Wang.
Nilou Kazemzadeh | Multimedia artist | Exhibiting in VOX LACUNAE from July 18 to August 22, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Rina Goldman
Tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from? How did you start creating art?
I was born and raised in Maryland by my immigrant Iranian parents. Since childhood, I always enjoyed artistic endeavors such as drawing random eligible writing on the wooden frame of my bed when I was probably around 6 or 7 years old. My parents also enrolled me in various art classes growing up at community art centers or Montgomery College. Besides those, I think what subconsciously lead me to creating art or being attracted to it was all the Persian art I grew up seeing and living with.
How did your work for VOX LACUNAE develop? Is it something you created for this show or had you previously been working with language and art?
I didn’t create the work specifically for VOX LACUNAE but when I saw the open call I knew my work would fit perfectly with the theme. The main focus of my work revolves around language and the meaning of things. When I was a student at the University of Maryland College Park I began to experiment with writing Farsi and translating it into art. Funny side story: I started incorporating Farsi calligraphy into my work when I had to take the language placement test at UMD. The first time I took it I was placed into intermediate Persian which was way above my understanding so I dropped out after the first class! I then made it my mission to test out of taking any Persian class. I began to read much more Farsi poetry and began to take the written words and repeating it on paper as a way of practicing, and that’s how style came into existence.
Within the exhibition, you have a collage, a carved pieces, an embossed pieces and an etching –that’s a wide variety of styles– what is your favorite to work with?
Now that you write it out, I do work with a lot of different materials and processes. I guess I enjoy seeing how the calligraphy is affected when it is incorporated into various materials or vice versa. Most of the work I produce is through printmaking which has so many different processes such as relief, intaglio, litho, and screen printing. I really enjoy experimenting and learning about new processes.
How does being able to speak a language other than English impact your artwork?
Farsi as a language is very poetic and expressive. The script that makes up farsi is also very free flowing and mysterious to me. Growing up in America I would always have to code-switch growing up. Switching from my American culture to my Persian culture. As a result, naturally, I became more accustomed to english and my American culture. When I write in English, I can immediately read what I wrote. In Farsi, I can’t do that, I still have to sound out each and every letter in order to read it. I can’t just look at a Farsi word and read it, I think that’s why I am attracted to writing in Farsi and not in English.
You use the geometric style of Kufic calligraphy when writing in Farsi within your artwork, what drew you to that style? Does it mean something to you?
This goes back to my interest in experimenting. While I was researching different calligraphy styles, Kufic calligraphy stood out to me because of how different it looked. It is characterized by its very geometric script. The writing is arranged like a maze, everything fits perfectly in a given boundary. Learning how to write in Kufi makes me feel like i’ve built yet another bridge between my two identities.
What do you wish for people (who do not know Farsi) to see when looking at your work?
I understand that the meaning of my work can be hard to understand, especially when the viewer cannot read Farsi or decipher the words. I would like viewers to take in the effect that I create with the calligraphy, and if i’ve done a good job of presenting the work, they will be able to feel the emotions I felt in the process. For an example, Sal-e Bad almost looks like a maze with no real exit point. It feels tight and suffocating with no open space. Release in contrast, is light and airy, the prints gently billow as they hang from the wall. The work allows for a moment of reflection and rest.
When creating Sal-e Bad (The Bad Year), why did you choose to do a blind embossing instead of a print? What does blind embossing represent to you?
Sal-e Bad was created after a difficult phase in my life. The poetry reads:
“The bad year, the windy year, the year of tears, the year of doubts, the year of long days” – Ahmad Shamlu
For this piece I took those words and arranged them in a repeating and mirrored Kufic style. By using this poem, which I related so deeply to at the time, helped me close a door on that chapter of my life. Through my work, the repeated writing, in a way has become a mode of personal healing. This leads me to explain why I chose to do a blind embossment instead of a inked print. When I was experimenting, I wanted to try doing a print with an exaggerated indentation. When I pulled the blind embossment off the block I was immediately taken by the light and shadow play. In certain light sources the calligraphy fully reveals itself to the viewer why in others, the print looks like a blank unused piece of paper. This alludes to the hidden struggles we go through throughout our lives. Sometimes these conflicts are physical and in view while some can be internal and unseen. The blind embossment was then the best chose in representing how I felt during that time.
Can you tell me a bit more about your piece Release? What drew you to create such a contradictory piece?
Release was made before all the other pieces, and was created in response to the 2016 Republican Primaries. This event opened my eyes to the very real distrust and prejudice pressed upon people of Middle Eastern background. Just like I state in the previous response, the prints were a way for me to reason and work through my issues and emotions. The poetry I used for this piece reads:
“You will not deserve the name of human, if you are indifferent of others pains.” -Saadi
The act of repeating these words endlessly over the surface of the plate allowed me the time to really think about what this poem meant to me. I learned that the poem is not just about the people I felt needed to hear this, but also my reaction to the things they said. How can I be setting myself above these people when I too was feeding into the hatred. So this poem really became a mantra for my growth as a person. I still have times when I let my emotions get the best of me, but this poem always comes to mind when necessary and I remember the meaning of the piece and that helps ground me.
How do you feel your use of language within your art works to fill a gap in our understanding of different cultures?
Growing up, I never really saw anything connected to my Persian culture outside of my home and family. I think it is extremely important to represent yourself and your culture to the outside world in order to demystify presumptions of one’s identity. I think including farsi calligraphy helps normalize Arabic looking text and imagery. I believe that most of the distrust and hatred stems from our fear of the unknown. From my own experience, i’ve found that being present and a proud middle eastern woman helps rewrite the age old stereotypes of my people and neighbors.
What inspires you to create art? Where do your ideas come from?
My inspiration comes from wanting to represent my rich culture as a way of honoring my ancestors and family. It’s a way of learning about myself and growing as a person. My ideas comes from my environment, things I read, images I see, my friends and family, artifacts I find around the house. Anything can potentially inspire the creation of work.
Where do you see your art going from here?
I have absolutely no idea! All I know is that creating art is an integral part of my life and I will continue to do it for a very long time!
Nilou Kazemzadeh’s work is included in Vox Lacunae at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from July 18th to August 22nd, 2018.
For more information on Nilou Kazemzadeh, visit http://www.niloukazemzadeh.com/.
For more information on Vox Lacunae and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.