Category Archives: Introduction

“Easy to Swallow, Hard to Digest”: An Interview with Nina Chanel Abney

The Live Unchained team and I were discussing how artists, in general, but conceptual artists in particular, are often stereotyped as tortured functional depressives. You don’t really hear about how these artists have to be resourceful and trust their instincts. From an early age Nina Chanel Abney created pieces that resonated with her, even if they didn’t fulfill others’ expectations–i.e. young Nina’s painting of a bloody eyeball that caught her art teacher off guard.

Paper Magazine described her work as combining “strong feminine and masculine images infused with humor, irony, perversity, satire and fantasy.” As to the playful, challenging nature of her paintings, she says they’re “easy to swallow, hard to digest.” Having exhibited works throughout the United States and abroad, being featured in The New York Times, Essence and Glamour, people like us, are eager to see the stories her paintings have to tell because they make us better–even if we have to choke a little. Here, Nina discusses how she came to be so bold in her work, her creative process and visual storytelling.

Nina Chanel

Could you share with us a little about your background? What made you want to become a painter?
My love for art and my hate for the “9 to 5” drove me to seriously pursue painting as a career. I’ve been drawing and painting since I was a child. But it wasn’t until graduate school that everything started to come full circle for me. My boundless imagination and I moved to a place where “anything goes.” Prior to coming to New York, I had a very limited view of who an artist was; I had a very limited view of art in general. I had never been into a gallery. I had no idea how artists made a living. I had no notion of contemporary art.

Most of the schools I attended insinuated that a “good” artist was one that could draw and paint realistically. And though that was what was typically taught, because my gut told me differently, I began a mission to find my own truth. And that started by me purposely doing the opposite of what my art teacher expected. As a fifth grader, I remember having to paint Rene Magritte’s “The False Mirror” as an assignment, and I turned in a painting of a bloody eyeball. And from then on I continued to push the limits of my assignments and my teacher’s buttons by doing my own thing.

And I never meant to be rebellious in a disrespectful manner. I just needed to paint by emotion and instinct rather than paint out of docility.

"Close But No Cigar," Acrylic on canvas

To me your work appears to possess a playful yet mysterious quality that I am drawn to? How would you characterize your artwork?
Easy to swallow, hard to digest. The playfulness of my work is a result of my use of vivid colors and my interest in satirical cartoons. I love the fact that anything taboo suddenly becomes tolerable as long as it’s not “real”. I’m a huge fan of The Family Guy because of their ability to spoon feed their audience touchy topics with the use of humor and animation. If it were a sitcom with actual actors, they would no longer be on television. And as far as the mystery…I personally find the artwork that I am mostly drawn to is work that keeps you guessing and keeps you coming back for more. I enjoy work that doesn’t give me a definite answer, but challenges me answer my own questions. I cannot even sketch an idea for a painting because the definitive nature of the act itself would make me lose interest in the painting before it’s begun, so I couldn’t possibly expect the viewer to want to continuously look a painting that is too literal.

"Null and Void," Acrylic on canvas, 77 ½ x 45

During the opening of my second solo exhibition, “Emma’s Basement”, there was a woman who came into the gallery, stood in front of my painting, “Null and Void,” and left with a look of utter disgust. She then came back about 10 minutes later, and I knew then my work was doing exactly what I wanted it to.

When looking at your work there appears to be layers to the narrative, which I find really interesting. Is there usually a specific story that you wish to be conveyed in a piece?
When I begin a painting, I never have a specific story in mind. I usually have a few general topics that I want to start a discussion about, or attempt to resolve for myself. And in that process I usually end up with a lot of contradictions. It is not until then that I meld together all of these disjointed elements to create a narrative or multiple narratives. And to adhere to the mysterious quality of my work, in my most sinister voice, I say, “I NEVER share the stories!” ☺

From what sources do you get your inspiration?
Most of my inspiration comes from personal thoughts and experiences and the things that arose from those experiences, or resulted from those thoughts. I then relate them to specific songs, emotions, movies, celebrities, world issues, etc. So I am constantly watching television, movies, browsing the internet, looking through books, magazines, and listening to music in order to immerse myself in the things that relate to the topic at hand which is usually what I am dealing with at the moment in some shape or form.

But when I find myself in some sort of slump, in which for whatever reason I am not feeling very moved by anything in particular, I usually go to any art museum, or go check out some gallery shows to rejuvenate myself.

Could you discuss your collection GO BERSERKER? What made you create this collection? I was specifically drawn to your pieces: “A Capitol Offence” and “The Liquidators,” could you speak about those?

THE LIQUIDATORS (2010) acrylic on canvas 66 x 80 in.

A CAPITAL OFFENCE (2010) acrylic on canvas 36 x 36 in.

I don’t attempt to communicate anything specific to the viewer. I simply share my thoughts and hope that the viewer will have an experience, rather pleasant or unpleasant, that will start a conversation, spark an emotion, or help to them to convey their own message to themselves. And I don’t have a specific audience in mind for my work. Creating work for a specific type of person would create too many boundaries. I create the work for myself, and then share it with anyone who is interested.

The pieces in my exhibition Go Berserker, explore introspection and the idea of fighting against and/or accepting the things one might find when looking inside oneself. With that body of work I was also interested in exploring the collision of instinct and intuition, as well as the power in the ability to harness both.

Are there any specific pieces of art you would like to share with us?

Nina Chanel Abney The Escorts, 2008 Acrylic on canvas 93 x 66 1/2”

Nina Chanel Abney Law and Order, 2010 Acrylic on canvas 65 ½ x 74 1/4"

Nina Chanel Abney Holey Grail, 2011 Acrylic on canvas 48 x 40"

 

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?

Living unchained for me is living for myself without regrets and obligation.

I have a shameless plug…

I’m currently collaborating with a well-known brand to develop my own line of limited edition t-shirts that should be out sometime this summer.

I will be in the traveling exhibition 30 Americans, which is coming to North Carolina in March.

http://www.ninachanel.com

http://twitter.com/ninachanel
(I haven’t tweeted anything since July, but I’m working on it, ☺)

Dreaming Through Art: Our Conversation with Daisy Giles


I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities. –Daisy Giles

Live Unchained had the pleasure to speak with painter Daisy Giles, who studies and creates art in Minnesota. An admitted Harry Potter fan, she recognizes the magical in everyday life and translates that into vibrant, fantastical and beautiful paintings. We discussed her art, creative process, and inspirations.

Photo of Daisy Giles by Gyasi Jones

Can you tell us a little about your artistic background?
How did you become interested in art and why?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. My mother’s and my paintings cover the walls in our home (and my father’s office). My mom always loved to paint, as did both of her brothers and her own mother, so I suppose you could say its in my blood. Art was always a hobby for me however, and it wasn’t until taking some elective art courses at the University of Minnesota that I was opened up to the idea that I could pursue art as a career. I am incredibly thankful to my parents for always being supportive in this interest – my father bringing home stacks of recycled paper from his job for me to draw, my parents’ paying for private and community art classes when I was younger, building special storage in their basement for my artwork, and most recently – providing me with financial support that enabled me to quit my job so as to spend more time on the my art as I complete my BFA program. I am incredibly and eternally grateful to them for supporting my passion.

Mette by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Of your art, you’ve said:
In my work, I aim to explore the beautifully natural and the stunningly fantastical…My work is meant to express things that are inexpressible in words, which only live on the tips of tongues, in the subconscious, and in dreams of suppressed purposes and identities.

Can you say a little about what you mean by this? How did you come to be committed to this purpose?
Guilty pleasure and embarrassing admission: I am a Harry Potter fanatic. I love the Twilight series, I love fairy tales and folktales, I love campfires and spooky stories, and I love the idea that there is hidden magic all around me. I also am very interested in showcasing the beauty in things and people as they are: round bellies, soft bodies, wild hair, and humped backs. I feel like I am constantly painting portraits of myself, be it how I feel or how I want to feel.

The relationship between these two interests is what I am most concerned with exploring. I like the tension it creates when these two ideas collide. I think that there is something magical in every one of my paintings, something hidden and secret, something private, but something powerful nonetheless. I like playing with the simple situation of a beautiful and natural woman, pot bellied and relaxed, with the implausible situation of her hair growing three feet past her head and branching out to become a resting place for nearby birds. I like creating images of things that aren’t actual possible but that I wish were possible and that somehow feel like they could be. I think that these feelings are ones that many women can relate too, but that they perhaps can’t quite put their finger on and can’t quite define. When I am creating images, its always to express a feeling or an idea that I feel cannot ever be fully expressed in words.

Pomi's Roses by Daisy Giles. Oil on Canvas.

We’re sure it differs from piece to piece, but in general, can you share what the creative process and inspiration has been like for your portraits and your new series, Roses? How would you describe the aesthetic of these pieces?
The works in Roses, like all of my final works, begin with sketches, sketches, sketches. I let myself daydream and sometimes I let myself sleep. I like to create environments unto themselves, where my subjects are able to ponder whatever they so desire in solitude. Roses was no different from my Trees & Birds collection, in that I wanted to create these fictional locations, however in Roses, I really wanted the focus to be much more on the environment and on that seclusion than on the subject. So, rather than use the sparse open spaces that I created in my previous series, I came up with this concept of flowers crowding and encasing someone. I always begin my sketches with an overwhelming feeling (or some times multiple feelings) that I want to come across and then I go from there.

Who are some of your artistic inspirations?
Kara Walker is a huge inspiration. Her work literally gives me chills. I think I am so enamored with her work because she is able to walk that line of fantasy and the barely plausible so well. Her large-scale installations allow her to place the person viewing her work into her created environment and further heighten the tension created by the dark and violent images she creates. I admire her ability to create extremely beautiful and delicate images that are at the same time so heavy, so disgusting, and so off-putting. Mark Ryden greatly inspires me for similar reasons, although these tensions are expressed very differently in his work. I sometimes spend hours browsing his website and I absolutely never become bored with his highly detailed and romantic surrealism.

Ms. Paris by Daisy Giles. Oil on Panel.

Anything else you’d like to share?
I am constantly working on new and different projects. I like to keep it moving so that I am never bored with what I am working on and so that I always have five different things I can work on at once. However, I am currently most excited about my first portrait project. I have always drawn and painted commissioned portraits for those that would like them, but the portraits in this current project are created completely on my own terms. I am using real people and their real personalities for inspiration. (-Big thanks to my good friends who didn’t put up a fight when I begged them to model for me!) I have so far completed three of these life-size portraits and I have four others in progress. It is a new direction that I am very excited about.

Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained can mean many things, but to me, it means following your gifts and your passions without fear. The fear of failure can be overwhelming at times and I fall victim to it as easily as does anyone else, but it is important to me to not let that fear paralyze myself from action. I plan to give my art everything that I have and I’ll know then that I tried. The worst case scenario is that I never make it big, but I do know I will have created some beautiful things along the way and that’s okay with me.

Join Daisy’s e-mail list here http://daisygiles.com/contact.html to get the latest on her shows, exhibitions, new work, and publications.

About The Editresses

In light of all the interviews that we have done, some folks were surprised that Kathryn and I had not shared more about ourselves. So, we finally decided to interview each other. Here, Kathryn and I discuss our backgrounds, current work, and of course, what living unchained means to us.

KATHRYN BUFORD

You are studying sociology. Why did this subject matter interest you?
Sociology, simply put, is the study of society and the local and global communities and forces that shape it. Also, as a social science, many sociologists conduct experiments and develop theories to better understand social issues. So, I think everyone is a sociologist really—everyone has tried to make sense of the world and how they fit in it and why.

I became interested in sociology because I had a strong understanding of social injustice and inequality at an early age. I thought sociology might help me understand the social processes and problems I was seeing better…I think it has.

You are studying sociology. Why did this subject matter interest you?

Professor Delores Aldrige

I have SOOOO many opinions about this. If there were and audio button that I could insert here, you would hear me screaming: YESSSSSS!!!! Many black female sociologists are concerned with issues of race, class, gender and sexuality.

They have been strong advocates of the feminist “personal as political” concept, which explains that the discrimination that individuals experience in private spaces cannot be separated from their public interactions. Black female sociologists were also important in popularizing the concept of intersectionality—the idea that our race, class and gender identities, for example, cannot be separated.

Two important women in this regard are professors Delores Aldrige and

Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins. Let me say that what I admire about both of them is that they have acknowledged the black women who have come before them and are creating spaces for more black female voices. Delores Aldrige’s, Imagine a World: Pioneering Black Women Sociologists discusses the important contributions of black women to the field of sociology and academia, in general.

As for Patricia Hill Collins, I’ll try not to say too much about what she means to me because there simply aren’t enough words (maybe a million would get me halfway there…). Perhaps, her most recognized work is Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment —I read this book and it became a part of me. I am so grateful and honored to have her as an advisor. I see so much consistency between her words in Black Feminist Thought and how she approaches the discipline of sociology and interacts with her students—she doesn’t want to be idolized, she wants her work to stand for something and liberate minds. She makes me proud to be a part of this profession. (By the way, her nickname for me is “Miss Thing”).

Most importantly, both of these women have incorporated their knowledge into their activism; they have fought and risked a lot for their beliefs—they were truly unchained. I think many black women sociologists bring the field back to its roots as a discipline that aimed to not only make sense of society, but to better it. Sociologists in this camp include Harriet Martineau, W.E.B. DuBois (love him!) and Karl Marx who famously stated: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, is to change it.”

What does living unchained mean to you?
Some women live in societies where it is dangerous, even deadly to speak honestly about the way they see and understand the world. So, for those of us who can share, why would we take our voices and talents for granted? Living unchained means living with an awareness of the world around us and knowing women’s voices in it matter—deserving respect and an audience.

Living unchained also means being true to yourself and not waiting for things to be perfect or having something that someone says you need to have to act or speak your truth. Anna Julia Cooper did not earn her PhD in sociology from the Sorbornne until she was 66. She had gone most of her life sharing her social analysis and critique without having a formal titled that said she was “qualified.” I think that many women are waiting or simply have chosen not to speak because someone discouraged us; we don’t think we’re good at it, we haven’t studied it, we don’t want to be misunderstood. So we kill our potential, we bury our creative voices. Living unchained means coming back to life and squeezing all of the juice out of it. I don’t think I’m there yet, but I’m know I’m getting closer with every blog post, every dance, every tear.

MIRIAM MOORE

What do you do when you’re not working on Live Unchained? Is there anything else you like to do creatively?
When I’m not working on Live Unchained I’m often working on other design projects either for clients or myself. Digital media is my primary tool for creating art, but I also enjoy taking out my camera or paints and pencils and working in those mediums as well. Sometimes I find that I can take elements of those creative experiments and bring them into my graphic design.

What made you interested in graphic design? What do you like about it?
As a teenager I took a graphic design class and was hooked. Back then I hardly knew what graphic design was, but I loved how it merged technology and creativity, and I wanted to learn more about it.

There are many things I like about graphic design. As a designer I love to help my clients realize a vision. Many of my clients need logos or marketing materials for businesses they started or projects they are a part of. It is great to create a sharp logo to show of their business or develop marketing materials that help to more clearly articulate their message.

As society and technology changes, so does graphic design. It is a communication tool that has the ability to bring across important messages when used responsibly. I like responsible and thoughtful graphic design because of its utility and beauty.

Do you have any advice for people interested in graphic design or creating digital media?

Graphic design can be beautiful and it can be seductive as well. It is important for designers to be responsible and conscious of what they produce and put out in the environment. Graphic design can be just as effective in selling cigarettes as it can be in selling the idea of quitting. Make sure you take the opportunities when they arise to create something meaningful.

Can you share some examples of your work?
Sure, I’d Love to! In addition to the pieces seen below, my design work can also be viewed at: www.miriammooredesign.com.

Also, I just started a blog: www.miriammoore.wordpress.com, where I will show work that is not on my website. It is sparse now, as it is just getting started, but stay tuned! I would love to receive feedback from the live unchained family.

BOOK JACKET RE-DESIGN- I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS: In this jacket re-design I experimented with using type as image to create the birdcage imagery, and included paint elements in the piece as well.

PEZ WALL GRAPHIC- PROJECT FOR EBAY CAMPUS: Ebay wanted a fun wall graphic for their toy themed building. To create this wall graphic each PEZ dispenser had to be shot individually with a high resolution camera and photoshopped to fit seemlessly into the auditorium image. This image shows the final wall graphic.

ROCK TIMELINE - PROJECT FOR EBAY CAMPUS: To maintain a varied and fun environment for their employees, E-Bay has several buildings on their campus each with a different theme. This poster was a large wall poster for the music building on that campus.

JAZZ TIMELINE - POSTER FOR EBAY CAMPUS To maintain a varied and fun environment for their employees, E-Bay has several buildings on their campus each with a different theme. This poster was a large wall poster for the music building on that campus.

What does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained is allowing yourself to create and speak your truth honestly and freely.

Welcome to the Live Unchained Blog!…What does “living unchained” mean to you??

Thanks for visiting!

If you are viewing this blog, you have probably visited our website, http://www.liveunchained.com, which has more information about project Live Unchained.

Live Unchained is a multi-media anthology created for and by black women across the African Diaspora. As the project has grown we’ve learned that women from different parts of the world want a space to share opinions and ideas with each other; we hope this blog can help.

We’ll be posting regularly about topics we think the contributors and supporters of Live Unchained would be interested in and can benefit from. Every blog will end with a question of the day for you to respond to. Your opinions mean a lot to us–we look forward to hearing from you!

Question 1: What does “living unchained” mean to you?