Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty. Click here for the full collection.
I would like to say that since turning thirty, my work has become more efficient, that I have learned how to say more with less. Unfortunately, the reality is quite the opposite. Conceptually, formally, and in its processes, my work has become more complex in every way.
When I was thirty, I was making painterly portraits of my grandmother, Hallie Beatrice Carpenter, otherwise known as Big Momma, at her house in Fort Worth. I was using various techniques, most notably impasto, to explore the traditional portrait—and image-making itself. Over the years, these casual paintings lead to an entire series called Big Momma’s House. Some of the paintings took up multiple canvases, and many were framed with rustic wood, reminiscent of her old wood-framed house. After Big Momma died, I continued to make works that referenced her. My next exhibition, Everyday Glory, had paintings of the empty rooms of her house and of all of her children. It also included drawings, lithographs, paint sculptures, and a large charcoal drawing of Big Momma in her youth. Art-making can become a blossoming variety of things.
The paintings of the empty rooms and of her children led to the work I’m pursuing now: the entire house is becoming a creative project space. The first project there will be an exhibition about loss and rejuvenation. I am working on paintings of many of Big Momma’s descendants—children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren—that will adorn the walls. The paintings are meant to be a way of discussing the most pressing issues in the black community, but from a personal vantage point. The full project will involve conversations, interviews, and actions that lead rejuvenation and restoration.
After the initial exhibition, Big Momma’s house will also host the work of other project-oriented artists. It will continue to play a part in communal life, helping to bring cultural and physical acts of beauty and transformation to the surrounding area.
So, I can only say that my work since thirty has become more complex. I am no longer just a painter; I am also an activist, project-oriented artist, draftsman, sculptor, printmaker, a person who is interested in collaborations and promoting other artists. You could say that when I was younger I was interested in addition, and now I am interested in multiplication. Now, rather than having a less-is-more aesthetic, I have a more-is-more aesthetic.