Growing up in Oxford, Mississippi during the civil rights movement instilled in me issues of race and social justice, which has driven content through my work — painting AND politics. I sat on the front steps of my home and watched the tanks roll into “Oxford town” to assure that James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi. The father of one of my close friends was almost killed in the riot. The army camped on our school playground. In short, we were under siege. Throughout that memorable year, my public school teacher often shared her creationist beliefs. We covered all the bases! As religious as she was, she tolerated the objections some of her fifth graders raised to her opinions. In retrospect, I suspect she was driven more by her desire to stimulate our minds than to impose her views. She may have introduced me to the fundamental paradox of human nature that has informed, what may seem to be the antithetical nature of my work: although I am inspired by the political, I eschew single-minded “political art” to pursue a more compendious, nuanced painting.
In addition to my politically-charged, large-scale installations such as America Selfie, (which was commissioned by that same institution that refused to recognize the rights of James Meredith), I have developed the self-portrait-as into a distinct genre of figure painting that embraces the complexities of contemporary life. My self-portraits-as First Ladies, which I have been making for over 20 years, are, perhaps, the best known. By dangling between the images of First Ladies and my own reflection, an inherently performative act of painting, I explore the American riddle. I subsequently have added other personae to my self-portrait-as portfolio including Christine Blasey Ford, Frida Kahlo, and Kamala Harris. Through these self-portraits-as, I explore hot-button topics such as social justice, handguns, and abuse of power. I embraced the persona of Greta Thunberg to explore global warming during a residency in Seaside, Florida just before the pandemic tightened its grip. A selection of these plein air self-portraits-as, along with earlier work, was featured in the recent exhibition HEROINEITY: Laura Elkins, Karen Finley, Katya Grokhovsky, Cindy Sherman, Martha Wilson, Suzanne Lacy and Andrea Bowers, curated by Yulia Tikhonova. Coping with COVID (Self-portrait with Hands Tied), a response to the tolls of the pandemic, is included in Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize exhition that opened in London September 29 and after November will tour the Uk.
Check out the blog Blovid to see the very latest work, where I explore new portrait ideas inspired by the pandemic.