It seems to me that you are really committed to building community. Do you think about yourself as a community organizer?
When you are in the field, and I use that word loosely, you don’t think about your work. When you’re doing it well, you aren’t conscious of the depth of your impact in the community. I am an agent of change and my work reflects the cultural need that’s around me. Due to my personal intersections, I never want my children to live in a world that I haven’t worked hard on.
How do you contextualize the intersections that you live in?
It depends how many cups of coffee I’ve had and what day it is. I’m a black American. I am a woman. I am gender non-conforming. I am an experience. I’m a painter. I’m an artist. I’m prissy. I’m a daughter and granddaughter. I am an eldest. I am educated. I’m over thirty, and that’s something I’m really present to now.
What role does art play in your life?
For me, art was my first and last resort in life since I was a child. I’m embarrassed by the amount of paintbrushes and markers that I own. It is a gift that I’ve learned to exists within. Due to the needs of my community, I try to be honest in my work as a creative. I think that honesty always creates opportunity.
How does your work connect or receive inspiration from the movement for black lives?
I’ve been in mourning since my last show. I’ve gone to DC, I’ve rallied in the city, I’ve donated money. I’ve had conversations with young black boys and girls. I talk to teachers about this. And then I come home with a guilt. Because painting is a space that exists outside of whiteness. It’s the only space in my entire world where there is no white influence.
How do you get to that space of honesty?
I always set my stage. My canvas is blank. It usually stares at me a couple of days or a couple of weeks before I actually touch it. There are usually incense burning, Frank is my favorite. I tend to paint on my knees as a position of prayer, a position of giving back. I always pray before and after I face my canvas. Sometimes that prayer is five minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. Depends on how long I need to travel into myself. I listen to music, Millie Jackson, Fela, James Brown, Patti and gospel. I’m usually very exhausted after painting. I eat a lot when I’m done.
I know that Romare Bearden has been a big influence on your work — how did you discover him?
He was one of the first artists that I was introduced to in school. And I knew that I could mimic those forms. It was an approach to the work that was tangible to me at the time. His work is really bold, especially for the time and space he was in. The black people in his pieces are so gorgeous.
Do you think of your art as a therapeutic practice?
No — this is a spiritual practice. In therapy you receive, in a spiritual practice you give. It’s an offering. Also, therapy to me is a space you have to arrive to. Whereas spiritually, the door is always open.
What’s next for you?
Well, I dream of going to Art Basel and being in a show next year, but coming up sooner, my work will be featured in “Pancake and Booze” an art event in Washington, D.C. If you’re interested, check out www.genesistramaine.com for updates.