“My art practice incorporates painting with installation, sculpture, and new media. Considering painting in an expanded field, I allow for a concept to drive which media a project may utilize. In the past two years I have maintained a focus on figurative painting of black women influencers and entertainers through the eyes of social media. These black women are mediated through the technologies of the LCD laptop, phone, and television screens through which we interact with and fetishize them.”
Q&A Intro by Chenée Daley: Caitlin Cherry is a sculptor and painter that render her subjects big, bold, embellished and beautiful. Common thematic concerns of her work orbit around female subjectivity and the Black woman’s experience. “Not everyday women,” Cherry views her subjects through the lens of technology where they become beautifully superhuman, glossy, misunderstood and disfigured. Cherry, self-described as shy and quiet, is lionized by the mammoth-size characters in her work. She communicates with a sense of restraint and calm, revealing a powerful sense of interiority that draws a listener in. In our chat, the artist talks about Black female subjectivity, new rituals she’s found through her work, and the woes of grant applying.
CD: Let's start from the beginning. How did you first get into doing art?
CC: I'm very fortunate because I found the thing that I wanted to do pretty early on. Back in my preteen years I knew I wanted to be an artist. It was the one thing I was really great at and was just like the thing that I felt like it was the only way I could express myself. I became attached to art because, especially in those preteen and teenage years, I had difficulty expressing myself, but felt like it was much easier to package it into a thing outside myself. So that's how it began and it really flourished for me in college.
CD: You described yourself as quiet and shy. People who make things are usually translating their thoughts into what they make. But your subjects are loud; they are often within the gaze and exposé of female subjectivity, the minor but deeply influential characters in our world. Can you speak more about those specific choices for you?
CC: Once you start learning about the history of art or what the world imagines art to be, you start to realize that your own body is not represented much in that. Then there’s always kind of like this error message for me where it's just like, if I can represent anything, then why have I not been represented? My art has always been a task of trying to imagine my own place and my own image in the world. You just want to do things that you and your friends, your family, and the folks around you, you know, the people who look like you, can celebrate. That’s the reason why I was interested in the Black female body and representing us like people, our contemporary culture which is often co-opted, stolen and abused. And I just wanted to do it myself.
CD: We’ve all gone through our own personal transformations, finding new truths and preoccupied by different themes. What are you thinking about right now? What are you making?
CC: I think there's always this need for me, within the last few years but especially now, that my work become a kind of escapism from a lot of the horrors of what's going on. For me, making art is a form of escapism to celebrate Black women in the moments where they're glamorous, have money, and are proud. That's something that we can't really do right now. So it feels good.
The overtone is about my identity but the undertones are always filtered through technology, the way we see through laptop screens and phones. So I'm honing in a bit more on the way that we can link our idea of race and femininity through what’s viewed on screen. I am trying to figure out links between the way our technology is built and how we view gender and race, which is socially constructed. I'm very interested in finding these points of connection between us and the devices that we're so attached to.
CD: What does winning the Colene Brown Art Prize mean for you?
CC: I am really grateful to receive the prize because I feel like my work has matured and that the subject matter is just as valid. Not that I need outside validation to do what I do, but that in all the ways to represent our culture, mine is not necessarily the most respectable form. I know the woes of grant applying so it's good to feel validated.
Interviews have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Interviews were conducted by Chenée Daley; a Jamaican-born, New York-based multi-genre writer, whose work encompasses poetry, prose, and song. Grounded in the tender narratives of personal histories where place and memory connect, her work has won the first place writing prize from the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Small Axe writing prize, the Denis Diderot [A-I-R] fellowship from Chateau Orquevaux in Ardenne, France and was recently shortlisted for the Eddie Baugh poet laureate of Jamaica prize. Her work appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Jamaica Observer, Small Axe Journal, The Cordite Review, American Chordata, and BOMB magazine. She has an MFA in writing from Columbia University.