Desiree (she/her) is an oil painter challenging the traditions of Southern aesthetics. With a color palette that can be the panacea for even the dullest of days, Desiree seeks to depict her subjects in a jovial light. The gestures, glances, and props she expresses onto the canvas indicate her subject’s sexualities. When looking at Desiree’s paintings, I can’t help but notice the delicate brushstrokes and pronounced facial features she brings onto the canvas. I wish I could reach out and physically touch each surface, fabric, and strand of hair she creates in her whimsical yet mystifying world.
Oil on canvas
What medium(s) do you work in?
My work is created using oil paints.
What are the main themes you explore?
The main themes I explore are sexuality and race. My work has a whimsical approach where I depict minorities in a jovial light.
“Living in the South, specifically the bible belt, makes it hard to be recognized for the type of work that I create. The main art scene here consists of traditional depictions indicative of the South, such as still lifes, landscapes, and bible quotes. This brings a set of challenges for someone whose aesthetic doesn’t align with that.”
How long have you been painting and how did you get started?
I’m actually new to oil paint and have only been painting for the last few years. I got introduced to oil painting through my job, where I’m surrounded by professional artists that gave me the push to explore the medium.
At first glance your work doesn’t appear to be overtly sexual; how do you represent this theme within your paintings?
I represent these themes through glances, props, postures and symbolism. My work is nuanced nowadays because I want the audience to dissect the paintings themselves and create their own meanings.
Out of curiosity I googled “jism” and surprisingly found that it’s a slang term for semen! Knowing this gives me a new understanding of your “Jism” painting, especially juxtaposed with the cracked eggs—with eggs being an image I connect with fertility. I’d like to know your thought process behind this painting and what it means to you?
I never come up with the names till after, but usually, I don’t want the name to be in your face. I’ve used eggs a few times in other paintings, but I wanted to comment on fertility and women. I don’t think too much about the meanings of every single piece.
Oil on canvas
What inspires your practice?
I can find inspiration anywhere, be it photography, people, or conversations. I know that I may come off to others as stoic and serious, but my work and personality are contrary to that. My paintings allow me to share my vulnerable side which isn’t often seen or shown to many. I admit that my work can be provocative at times and make people uncomfortable, but I feel like that uncomfortable feeling pushes for deeper conversation.
“Nowadays, I don’t want my work to only showcase my struggles or experiences with white people, but instead, I want to create a safe space for myself and others to be seen.”
The fact that your paintings are made to show a delicate, vulnerable side of yourself, something that black women are often denied, is powerful and self-affirming in its own way. It’s inevitable that anyone’s background will permeate into their craft, but it’s common that black artists are expected to create work about their traumas and negative experiences surrounding race. Lately, I’ve been thinking of how often black pain is made into a spectacle—which has especially been seen these last few weeks. By virtue of our identity, and this can go for many marginalized groups, there’s definitely an unsaid criteria of what we should & shouldn’t discuss through our art.
My big thing in college was not to be pigeonholed and placed in this niche of being a black artist that was expected to make work about trauma or what’s in the news. I never wanted to be placed in a box. I do have work from college that is definitely about race, and you can’t look past it. I used a lot of symbolism as well, whether it be Quaker Oats or some other brand. Nowadays, I don’t want my work to only showcase my struggles or experiences with white people, but instead, I want to create a safe space for myself and others to be seen.”
Where are you based and what do you think of the creative scene there?
I am based in Charlotte, North Carolina and am not associated with any particular art scene. The art scene here is very small, close-knit, and can feel very isolating to outsiders. Luckily for me, I am privileged to work in an environment that gives me access to professional fine artists.
Has COVID-19 changed your artistic process in any way? Have you gotten any additional support as an artist?
I was supposed to be in an exhibition in April, but due to the pandemic, it got postponed until September. During this time, I’ve had a lot more time to explore and develop my ideas for the show. It also gave me the freedom to experiment in refining my style since there haven’t been any time restrictions.
Oil on canvas
Your color palette is soft, refreshing, and reminiscent of a spring day. How do you go about selecting colors for your portraits?
That’s so sweet! I actually don’t preselect my colors instead I pick them as I paint. I can trace this palette back to the portrait titled Indigo where I captured the likeness of Tamia Blue; a social media influencer. The soft color palette made me happy and I wanted to recreate that feeling in my future pieces.
“I know that I may come off to others as stoic and serious, but my work and personality are contrary to that. My paintings allow me to share my vulnerable side which isn’t often seen or shown to many.”
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Visually, I can’t pinpoint just one particular artist that I admire. Instead, there are elements from other artists that I like, be it their technique, style, color palette, or subject.
Who are those other artists?
Most of the artists are young people like ourselves. With the job I have now, I have to dissect paintings, figure out the techniques behind them, and teach that to students. That’s really what I look for when painting someone or looking at someone’s art. Someone I definitely looked at when I first started was Chloe Wise—I enjoyed looking at how in-depth she got with her color palettes and her technique used with hair.Basically, with any part of a painting I need help on, I’ll look at how another artist has approached it. For example, if I need help painting eyes, I’ll see how another artist has approached eyes in their portrait. I rather observe an artist’s process and approach instead of their end piece.
What support systems do you wish were in place for black artists?
This question is very nuanced. The art world is very competitive, so most artists are reluctant to share information. I wish more people were open to sharing the inner workings of being a professional artist. As a result, I had to research or learn on my own through trial and error.
Have you encountered any obstacles as an artist?
The only obstacle that I can think of is the lack of opportunities. Living in the South, specifically the bible belt, makes it hard to be recognized for the type of work that I create. The main art scene here consists of traditional depictions indicative of the South, such as still lifes, landscapes, and bible quotes. This brings a set of challenges for someone whose aesthetic doesn’t align with that.
“I wish more people were open to sharing the inner workings of being a professional artist. As a result, a lot of the information that I know I’ve had to research or learn on my own through trial and error.”
It’s so easy to go along with the status quo in a place as conservative as the bible belt due to fear or backlash. How did you manage to stay true to yourself and continue to explore provocative themes even though they’re not “acceptable” to the average Southerner?
It’s something that I’ve always done, so it’s not foreign to me. My work is a commentary on subjects or ideas that I’m passionate about, and without that drive, I wouldn’t produce work. My exploration with provocative themes started in 2015 in preparation for my senior show. The amount of positive reception that I received gave me even more confidence to continue producing work that inspires and motivates me. For me, being “acceptable” isn’t important; I rather focus on continuously improving my techniques and vision as an artist.
Oil on canvas
Where do you see yourself and your practice in the future?
Eventually, I would like to show in galleries internationally and financially sustain myself with my work. In the coming months I plan to introduce prints on my website, but in the meantime, I will continue to sell original pieces and commissions.
Provide a few tips that may be helpful for young artists today
Study other artist’s techniques and their approach to painting. Practice the craft and be patient in the process. Make sure you have a clear vision for where you want to go and don’t compare yourself to other artists. Always seek out opportunities in your area and remember why art is your chosen path.