Interview by Annie Poslusny
When did you begin creating art?
I’m a third-generation artist. I began creating art as a child. My grandfather, Albert Huie, was a painter and printmaker, and considered the father of Jamaican painting. I used to watch him painting as a child. He painted landscapes and portraits at well. I was so fascinated by his process. My father was also an artist, but he passed away when I was a baby, so I didn’t know him very well. He was a graphic designer. But I had always just loved creating and putting things together in fun ways with different materials. My mom made jewelry when I was a kid and I used to watch and help her. I was fascinated by that process as well. I just kept going and creating and putting different things together in creative ways.
Can you describe your work as an artist?
I would say that it’s a multi-vocal, multidisciplinary practice and process. I’m really interested in assemblage and collage, and I’m working on more three-dimensional pieces, while still focusing on painting. I’m interested in texture, and the conversations that happen when the texture builds up. I like fragmenting the pieces in some way and storytelling with fragmenting the materials that I use. I cut up fabric and cardboard and layer them on top of each other on the canvas. I like using all these different elements to tell stories.
You like assemblage but you also like fragmenting things as well.
Yes! I like both processes. I also love working on the floor. I work large-scale and I enjoy that process.
How do you and Simone (your daughter) work together?
Simone is so into everything that’s going on in the studio. I work a lot of home, too, and I involve her as much as possible in my process by having materials out that she can use. We create a lot together. We do a lot of fun projects together that I also do with other toddler students. It’s a lot of fun. I let her do with it what she wants to do with it. She’s so creative. And I think it’s good for her to watch me creating. Sometimes we’re each working on our own thing and sometimes we work together. The other day we made prints with apples. I cut an apple in half and we made shapes out of them. She had such a great time. I try to give her materials that she might not get to work with in a regular art class for toddlers. She loves working with crayons and markers and I give her these really big markers, the fabric markers, or bingo markers, and she likes using those. She loves when I give her a variety of brushes to use. Just different things for her to explore using.
Are there any things that she [Simone] does that surprise you sometimes?
All the time! She has such a free spirit. It’s inspiring to me, and it helps me when I’m locked into things. She helps me to loosen up a little bit. The things she comes up with are totally amazing. She’s a very mechanical human being, she likes building things and putting things together. She’s into the texture stuff too, which I wasn’t expecting. I’m impressed with how much texture she’s able to build on a flat surface. She loves painting! And she loves mixing texture and painting together. She loves cutting things. She’s only two and a half and she likes using scissors. I was surprised by that. She’s very particular about how she uses the scissors and places them. It’s amazing to watch.
Has your work changed since becoming a mother?
I think it’s deepened. My understanding of time has completely warped. I think I didn’t appreciate time before having her. I didn’t realize how much freedom I had. It’s hard. I wasted a lot of it. Not that I wasn’t focused, but it was a different sensibility around it. I understood after I had her that I had to carve out moments to create. It surprised me that culturally mothering artists in particular, are so discouraged from creating. I didn’t expect that, because it’s such a creative process, being a mom. It boggles my mind that society doesn’t support that. For me, it’s a necessary outlet to be able to create. You have to work when your child is sleeping, or incorporate her into your practice. I did a residency when Simone was ten months old in New Orleans and thankfully I had family there so I was able to go and have support, but that’s not always the case for people. Sometimes you wouldn’t be allowed to bring the baby with you and I think that’s really detrimental to have that happening in the art world. You’re missing out on so many wonderful artists and people who are part of our community but get excluded from it. It’s seen as a burden, as a problem, rather than as an inspiration. I’m trying to raise awareness about it by making her [Simone] visible in my life. My work has always had a feminist, I call it Womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker, it’s like Black feminist perspective and having Simone has deepened that as well as increasing my appreciation for the relationships in my life. Being a mother has deepened my purpose for storytelling. It also helped me to see the value in my work as well. For a long time, I had a lot of conflict about how I create. I’m abstract-expressionist but I’m also creating these portraits that look like whom I’m depicting. I didn’t think I could have those two things going on, but I just accepted that’s who I am and there’s no reason for me to not be able to do both. It made me appreciate my practice so much more. I’ve become more intentional with time. It’s also helped me think about my political beliefs and my spiritual beliefs, and helped me to see more clearly. It’s a journey, and I’m always learning, but it really helped to ground me. I don’t have all the answers, and it’s okay that I don’t. My acceptance of the unknown has come up a lot since having Simone. It’s been amazing, and I’m so grateful for her.
You’ve described you work as multi-vocal. Can you explain what that means?
It’s multidisciplinary. I’m primarily painting, but I also do documentary film, I do a lot of writing and poetry, and poster/flyer design for social justice events. It’s a mixture of things from multiple places. I have work that’s very abstract and work that’s very representational as well.
You’ve talked about finding inspiration from African diaspora, NYC, and the essence of the island of Jamaica. What is the essence of Jamaica, for you, and how is it expressed in your work?
Very peaceful. There is just this air about it that’s very calming. Knowing that my ancestors are there makes me feel good. The Jamaican people have this wit about them, and this sense of humor that I just find so inspiring. Their sense of spirit fills my soul up. They’re such a dynamic, resilient people. It’s called the land of wood and water and that resonates with me too, the nature there. It’s beautiful. I love it. A lot of my titles are in Patois, the Jamaican dialect.
What art do you most identify with?
I would say folk art, or some people call it outsider art. I identify with it because it’s so free. It’s not bound up with the ideas of what art’s supposed to look like. I identify a lot with street art and murals. I love African Art and art from the Caribbean – they have a lot of storytelling elements. I appreciate women deities. Jazz, reggae, hip-hop as well, and social justice movements.
What’s your favorite art work?
I love Carrie Mae Weems’s photography. She puts text with photography and tells stories in such an amazing way. I love the spirituality of Cuban art as well.
What would you say is integral to the work of an artist?
I think just continuing to make art, even if it’s not something you like. A large part of creating is reflection. You’re not always physically making something, but you’re always thinking about it. You should record your ideas. Before I had Simone, I used to journal, but since she’s been born I do a lot of voice recording, because I don’t have as much time to write. I wanted to get my thoughts down, or the story down. It’s critical to be able to see where you were a year ago or three years ago. It’s so important to document and inventory your work. You’d be surprised how much gets lost over time if you’re not keeping track. Document your process and your pieces. Don’t get locked into your own work. Go out and share your work with other artists and see what they’re doing.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I think from Nina (Angela Mercer), she’s always talking about the journey. We each have our own past and we should trust the journey. Don’t try to overpredict everything, leave room for your journey and your work to thrive. It’s not as important for other people to understand it, it’s important for you to understand it, your work and yourself. Speak up for yourself, speak your truth, even if you’re afraid to, because you never know who it might affect. When you speak your truth it’s like a weight being lifted off you. I’m shy, and I don’t like confrontation, and I try to avoid it. But after speaking to Nina about this, I realized I can learn a lot from sharing the truth.
Do you have a favorite or most inspirational place?
I went to a place this past summer in New Hampshire and it was a nature campground. I went kayaking and rowing, and it was incredibly peaceful, and I hadn’t felt that in a long time. At night you could see the stars, and there were these trees that look like ancestors looking down, and I remember feeling this intense, overwhelming experience of beauty.
Is the artistic life lonely?
I think it is isolating in a lot of ways. Each artist has their own thing. It’s necessary to be alone a lot, when you’re working. As a mom, I’m not able to do as much socializing. But I do feel that I learn a lot from the solitude. I try to work with those emotions.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
I mostly remember negative responses. Once I had a professor who didn’t get my work, and was like, ‘so, is this supposed to be voodoo, or what?’ and I found it offensive, and she didn’t know that she was being offensive. Critiques are part of being an artist, but I remember the painful moments. I may not remember everything that was said, but I remember the feeling. I remember another student was completely shot down, and speaking up and getting other students to advocate for the student.
What is an artistic outlook on life?
I think life is just naturally art. Appreciating life, and the fact that it is temporary. This experience is a gift to be alive. I see life as a weaving, as creating. Being appreciative of existence, and of the unknown, and how small we are in comparison to it all.
What is the biggest challenge you face professionally?
I definitely think that acceptance of self has been the biggest challenge. But I think I’ve recently overcome that, and that’s why this exhibition is so important to me. “Path to Liberation” is a testimony to where I am right now, and that transition from being so afraid to acceptance of myself and my art. I’ve always felt like I’m an outcast in whatever community I’ve been in due to my shyness. My shyness has been a challenge for me. I’m not super-outspoken, but I’ve been pushing myself to break out of that. You don’t have to keep things in. Commissioned artwork is challenging. It’s challenging to state your creative element while making the buyer happy at the same time. Artists are not as valued as you would think. They’re admired for what they can make, but they’re not as valued for being an artist. People don’t recognize how much of an impact artists have in our society, not just visual artist, but all artists. I hope that changes.
For you, what is the best thing about being an artist?
The worst? Creative freedom. The worst thing is judgment. Fear of judgment is the worst. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what other people think. A lot of artists struggle with that. If you’re able to break out of that, it means you’re successful. You need to measure success for yourself, not based on comparison.
Many of your pieces are large scale. What is it about working in a large scale that appeals to you?
I like the physical movement. I like to move my body with the work. I like that you can see it from a distance. I like making that kind of statement with a large piece. I like working on the floor.
How do you know when a series is finished?
I just continue to make them, and use reflection as a part of the process. I think about if I would feel good about it being in the world, and being shown. I work on pieces simultaneously. I can’t work on just one series at a time because each series involves the other. I don’t really know when they’re finished, it’s more of a feeling.
What do you hope for viewers to take away from viewing your exhibition?
I would like for them to take the energy of the pieces with them. I would like for them to really think about the context of the pieces. It’s about womanhood, life, and lifting up voices that are unheard. It’s also about celebration, celebrating life. Looking at life in a different way then you normally do. Those are my hopes. I hope it would inspire action of some sort, whether it’s to create something, or to try working in a different style that they wouldn’t normally try, of it might help to change perspective on a certain issue like Say Her Name or Black Lives Matter.
How would you like to be remembered?
Someone who’s fearless. Not that I don’t have fear, but someone who has courage. Someone who, in spite of fear, goes forth, even when you don’t have the answers. Someone who inspires other, who is kind, gentle, and a person who loves people.
Any final thoughts?
Keep expressing yourself, keep creating.
Interview at Huie's exhibition Path to Liberation-saint, sawdust, soul at Meredith College October 2017