erica l chisolm
“Someone once told me if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan for your life, so I didn't plan, I just knew that I wanted to exist in the realm of art, and art degrees were expensive.”
Today I am so pleased to feature incredible artist and muralist Erica L Chisolm.
“I am inspired by portraits, and life events. Most of the portraits I paint are of people I have met or have some sort of connection to. I am inspired by the people and beauty around me. While I am painting I am reflecting and journaling, often I write down my thoughts and what I’ve learned as I’ve painted. I believe that art lessons can be applied to life.
The series I am working on right now, which is my first series as an art professional is about transitioning and becoming and what it takes to evolve into a truer version of who you are. I kind of let the flowers come to me and the color of the flower compliments the decorative paper.”
In our interview we discuss studio spaces, peanut butter sandwiches with Jean Michel Basquiat and travelling. We also speak about Chisolm’s powerful, vital and contemplative artworks including her piece in reaction to the unjust execution of Nathanial Woods.
ERICA IT'S WONDERFUL TO SPEAK TO YOU ABOUT YOUR WORK! FOR THOSE WHO MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR STORY, PLEASE TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ARTISTIC JOURNEY SO FAR?
Art has always been a part of my life. At the age of four I can remember winning coloring contests every week and receiving prizes. I come from generations of creators, and people who believe in working with your hands. My mom always taught me that it’s not the tool in your hands, it’s the hands that hold the tools that create the magic. All through grade school I took art classes and did pretty well, but I told myself that I did not want to be an artist in the traditional sense of the word “artist”. People would ask me often am I an artist and I would answer no, because if they were asking me am I an artist because I can draw or paint the answer will always be no, but if they are asking me because of my lifestyle the answer is yes. Because being an artist is a lifestyle, not just a talent. It’s the way you think, move and breathe through life that makes you a creator. As a child I dreamed of being a fashion designer and a lawyer, but I honestly had no clue. My life was slightly unstable and I could hardly see past my adversity as a child, so I decided I would just go with the flow.
Someone once told me if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan for your life, so I didn't plan, I just knew that I wanted to exist in the realm of art, and art degrees were expensive.
I attended Aveda Institute Atlanta immediately after highschool to study cosmetology, became a master cosmetologist, worked all through college and studied hard. I worked in the Atlanta Airport inside XpresSpa as a Cosmetologist and met so many people that helped me open my mind to the possibilities of life and I made a decision, after doing a facial on one of Treyvon Martin’s Lawyers. But to answer your question, I’ve always been an artist, I just had to submit to my true nature of being. Now I am an artist and the Creative Placemaking Specialist Fellow for the Historical 4th Ave Business District and Civil Rights District of Birmingham, AL, and I paint in sacred places.
FANTASTIC THANK YOU ERICA. IT'S WONDERFUL TO HEAR MORE ABOUT YOU. I NEVER ASKED - WHERE ARE YOU ANSWERING THESE QUESTIONS FROM?
My home art studio.
AND What is your studio like?
My studio is dark. It blows my mind each day. It is located inside the garage of my home. There are lights but not many, and if I crave sunshine I open the garage doors. Space is very important. For many years I didn’t create while I learned. I yearned for more art knowledge to perfect my craft, but I didn't have the space before college I used to create on my bedroom floor inside a lower level apartment in Decatur, GA. Then I was homeless and I had no space to create, and then I entered an abusive relationship that deterred me from creating. So space is important. I learned how important space was when I entered the studio of Pamela Longabardi. The first day I entered her studio I decided that I needed space, and immediately filled an amazon cart with everything I would need for a studio space. I like to create inside my studio and outside in public spaces in the form of murals. To create art I don't need much, I’ve learned the art of making things stretch and using what you have. I love colors so the primary colors are a must if I'm painting.
EVEN THOUGH YOU DON'T NEED A LOT, DO YOU NEED NOISE? WHAT DO YOU LISTEN TO?
Erykah Badu is my first choice. I love her. If you come into my studio right now you’ll hear 90’s R&B. The music changes throughout the day. I’ll go from the Neo- Soul sounds of Jill Scott and others, to 90’s hip hop/rap, to today’s rap, gospel, and alternative music artists such as Nao, Mereba, Tobe Nwigwe, Masego, Snoh Alegra. It honestly depends on how I feel and what I am painting. Often when I paint the dead I am listening to gospel music. & if you enter my studio more than likely I am singing and working.
BRILLIANT. ERICA, What does an average working day look like to you?
An average work day for me... I wake you around 7;:30 am EST and I’m in my studio by 8am, painting or working on other projects. I take a break around noon for a couple of hours and come back, but mostly I’ll do about 12hrs in the studio if I am in a process. But I also travel between Georgia and Alabama as a creative placemaking specialist of the Historic 4th Ave Business District and Civil Rights District of Birmingham, AL. Those work days look different from studio days, and mural days are different as well. I also engage in art activism field research.
RIGHT. LET'S DISCUSS YOUR WORK. Tell me a bit about your process, and how each work comes to life?
I am inspired by portraits, and life events. Most of the portraits I paint are of people I have met or have some sort of connection to. I am inspired by the people and beauty around me. While I am painting I am reflecting and journaling, often I write down my thoughts and what I’ve learned as I’ve painted. I believe that art lessons can be applied to life. The series I am working on right now, which is my first series as an art professional is about transitioning and becoming and what it takes to evolve into a truer version of who you are. I kind of let the flowers come to me and the color of the flower compliments the decorative paper.
AND How do you know when a work is finished?
For this series I have developed steps until completion. I’ve learned that if there is not a clear ending, then the ending never comes. So sometimes, I have to tell myself to just sign it, and seal it, but not for this series. In my life I have strived for some form of structure so I have found solace in knowing I have a finished once I am satisfied and painting the lips.
Listen first and speak last.
You work with mixed media. Tell me a bit about your other materials in your work and how you use them?
The materials I use have been a part of my art form for many years, and now I have learned a way to use it all scarcely. I use twine in the hair, decorative paper, tissue paper sometimes, crack paste or glass beads, it just depends on what’s laying around and what’s the message. The materials used are representational of adverse experiences or imperfect experiences.
Could you please pick a piece of your work, and tell me a bit about it?
I have one piece called “Redemption” . It's a painting of Nathanial Woods. He was an inmate on death row in Alabama for the murder of three police officers, but he did not murder the police officers. The man that pulled the trigger is still on death row.
When I was 9 I was jumping on the bed and dancing and I looked out the window and there were snipers pointing up at me, and the SWAT team inside the trees. The police believed we were hiding the shooters inside our home, even though we were nowhere near the crime scene. They raided our home and that was my first encounter with police brutality. I painted Nate Woods after the governor of Alabama misled us to believe that she had put a stay on his execution and executed him anyway. I painted Nate in the grayscale, with a Cardinal on his shoulder, blue roses and black and white striped paper.
INCREDIBLY POWERFUL. WHAT A SHOCKING THING TO GO THROUGH ERICA. WHAT AN AMAZING TRIBUTE TO NATE.
If you could be a single colour, what would you be?
Orange, I love this question because this is a question I ask. Colors are personalities. I believe I’m orange because I can blend in or stand out it just depends on the circumstance. And orange is bold, I am bold. It is also a mixture of red and yellow.
THAT'S AN AMAZING ANSWER. AND, WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN?
I travel. I love to visit new places. I also love to visit nature, and put my toes in the grass, or in a river. I love yoga, and hosting my friends for small gatherings to discuss life events and laugh. I love to laugh. It’s not something that I believe I do often enough.
IF YOU COULD HAVE A MEAL WITH ANY ARTIST FROM ANY TIME, WHAT WOULD THE MEAL BE AND WHO WOULD IT BE WITH?
Jean Michel Basquiat, and probably a peanut butter sandwich.
Favourite historical female artist?
Favourite current practicing female artists and their Instagram Handles?
Amy Sherald- @asherald
Marraym Moma- @lecollagedart
Antonesha Harper- @ashaythemove
Ebony Black- @ebonyblack