"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
I recently met with Brooklyn-based artist Christa Pratt to discuss her work and how it is both affected by and attempts to influence her experiences as an artist and activist.
"'Black' is a word that has been used to describe unpleasant things, but it is also a word that I use to describe myself. I use many different variations of this color exclusively in my work, and use my extensive knowledge in paint-making technology/chemistry and industrial raw materials to visually convey the simultaneous limitations and liberations I have associated with the color, cultures, and racial identity."- Christa Pratt
Anthony Philip Fine Art: Who are some of your influences?
Christa Pratt: I always have to give credit to Ad Reinhardt's black paintings as they, mixed with my own self-awareness journey as far as coming into my identity, were the impetus for me painting with the black color palette that I choose to paint with. I just initially chose to paint black portraits and nudes instead of abstracts. Also, Kerry James Marshall and I think similarly about a lot of things pertaining to blackness and visibility. Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu are forever #goals; I think they are truly brilliant and badass artists and I appreciate their vigilance in the ways that they render black/female bodies. And I often look to Nina Simone for her visceral emotional connection to herself and our people and the fact that she continued to create and include all of that in her art.
As an artist, I feel that I paint to look forward. As a black woman, just looking at the women in my family and the power in even just their existence in a world that would prefer that they not exist at all, it is the biggest influence on me and my work. Their love and their subversion is art to me. Being raised by them taught me to continue to look around me, see the ugly, and then continue to step forward, regardless. I paint because I feel that painting is so HUMAN, and their self-affirmation of their humanity is a large influence on why I continue to paint reflections of my own.
APFA: What are you trying to say with the work you make?
CP: Well, I want my work to speak of subversion, and the power in that subversion. They're all-black paintings, sometimes of black people or alluding to black bodies, that are usually shown in white-walled galleries. I want their existence in those spaces to be stark and unapologetic, in the space but somewhat in a separate, vibrant world. I want my work to speak to my world, where blackness or darkness isn't just something ugly or bad, but is something whole and complex and beautiful. I want my work to speak to my personal black female identity and the dichotomies of that experience: the joy and the pain, the visibility and invisibility, the community and the loneliness, the immense pride and the insecurities, the chaos and the restriction, etc. I want the paintings to draw the viewer in, and require a certain amount of participation from them to get the full picture. Seeing viewers dance around a painting to view it satisfies me, especially when it's a portrait. The women that I paint are the women I love, so I enjoy seeing people make an effort to "see" them.
APFA: What was a breakthrough moment in your art?
CP: I'm not sure if I have any one, singular breakthrough moment in my art. I do what feels right in the moment, and every single new thing done with the paint is something to take note of, something to add to my own arsenal of my capabilities as a painter...and I guess you could call those little moments breakthroughs. That's what pushes the work forward for me.
APFA: What kind of media do you use? Tell us about why you chose that media.
CP: I use primarily water-based paint, usually acrylic. I also use a lot of different matting agents, effect pigments, industrial dry fillers, anything that will produce different surface and color effects and stretch the color palette- make the limited color palette limitless. I work at an amazing art store - Guerra Paint & Pigment - so being around so much paint innovation is very inspiring for me.
I also sometimes incorporate beauty supply materials such as synthetic hair, false eyelashes, and acrylic nails into my paintings. I find them interesting in their cultural weight and also in the their use as enhancements of feminine beauty/presentation. I also enjoy using them to sometimes break up the flatness of my painting surfaces.
APFA: Take us through the process of making a work of art.
CP: For my abstract work, after gessoing the surface black, I'll draw the shape I want to work within (nowadays it's either a circle or a shield). Then I draw a grid within that, and then live with that for a little while to make sure it feels right. Sometimes I freehand it, sometimes I use a straightedge. Then I'll tape off certain sections and start painting whatever comes to mind, like some weird, highly-restricted meditation practice. I'm a person driven by emotion, so doing this helps ground me. I do a lot of random paint samples and a lot of comparing of those samples. I pace a lot while I'm working, either thinking, looking at the painting, or comparing paintings. I do not usually work with the painting hanging on the wall; I work with it either in my lap or on the desk or floor (no matter the size).
If I'm doing a portrait, that process entails what is usually an impromptu photo shoot of some kind. I then go through the photos with the muse and we choose one together for me to paint. I usually show them the painting at many different stages, and I try to use the feedback that they sometimes give me to finish it. I very much want them to feel included in the process because the intimacy- and community-building aspect of it is important to me. I have taken a break from portraits for a while now, but I hope to start doing them again soon, and to revamp that process as well.
If you would like to find out more about Christa Pratt and her art, please visit her website at: http://christapratt.tumblr.com