Tuere (she/her) is a painter based in Madrid creating a wondrous world of color. Her practice focuses on the performative aspects of femininity and the playfulness that comes along with exploring sexuality. She recently shifted her focus to contribute to the Black Lives Matter movement by creating posters for the first BLM protest in Madrid, and has since started to auction these posters to raise money for organizations that support Black lives. Her work commemorates the lives lost due to violence, emphasizing cis women and trans victims. What stands out about Tuere’s work is how she infuses joy and hope into moments seeped with pain— ”I try to make them [victims] as bright and beautiful as possible, and I try to bring out what I see in them and honor them as much as possible.”
What medium(s) do you work in?
I mainly work in traditional 2-D art mediums, so I use acrylic paints, oil paints, colored pencils, and pens.
What are the main themes you explore through your practice?
I identify as a cis-gendered female, so I like to explore femininity, what that means to me, and how it can be very performative. I have a lot of works that are oddly sexual or don’t make sense, and these are recent colored pencil drawings that I’ve done that are playful and have a circusy feel. I guess that’s how I relate to my femininity and my sexuality to a certain extent—it’s just performative. It’s kind of a costume that I like to put on, and it fits me, but it’s still a little bit of a costume. More recently, I’ve been focused on what’s been going on in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, so I’ve shifted my focus to something that was more self-involved to something outward that relates to other people’s experiences.
Although you’re living in Spain, many of your recent pieces have shed light on Black people in the United States who have lost their lives due to police violence and violence inflicted by their own communities. You’ve been auctioning these paintings and donating the proceeds to organizations that support black life. Can you tell me more about how this project came about?
A lot of people were asking for prints of the posters that I made, and I’m not selling originals because I put so much love and care into each piece that I painted, that selling the original thing would be taking away a lot of my energy. I saw a lot of interest in my prints, and I was thinking of a way for people to spend their money, give them posters, but also give something back. Recently, I’ve been very fortunate to profit off of these works, and even though I want to grow and earn money as an artist, I don’t think that I should focus on myself and my earnings at this time. I’ve seen people doing auctions on Instagram, and one night I offhandedly posted that I would be holding an auction, and as soon as I posted I thought of all the work I had to do! Plus, I didn’t even know how to have an auction. I talked to a friend in Chicago who has a Black-owned plant shop, and he raised $14,000 the other month! He gave me a lot of information that was super helpful, and the auction did as well as it could have with my experience, but hopefully I’ll be able to raise more money later on.
What has your experience been like as a Black woman artist living in Madrid, especially during the Black Lives Matter movement?
The beginning was the most difficult for me because I want to be in New York right now. I want to be in my home with my friends marching against the police, and I felt a bit powerless when everything started and got the most media coverage surrounding George Floyd’s death. I remember sitting in my room, and I saw the video, which I make a point not to because it’s too intense to watch someone die on camera—which is crazy because the news never really posts videos where white bodies are being destroyed. After seeing that video, I completely broke down, felt super isolated, and I wanted to make the most noise, and take the most action as I could from here. The community here has been supportive, and the reason why I started to make the posters was because I was a part of the very first BLM protest in Madrid. It was fairly small, but it kicked off a really big one that came two weeks later.
I was in charge of making the posters, and I remember saying that I didn’t want to make any more posters that said “I Can’t Breathe,” because I don’t think George Floyd should be remembered that way. I want to remember him with light and love. I want my posters to be able to give us breath and not remind us of the moments where our breath may be taken away; because now we have it, and now we’re definitely going to use it to turn some shit around!
How long have you been painting and how did you get started?
I started painting in college, so around six years ago. I had a lot of trouble trying to merge the images I wanted to create with things I knew how to create. It’s taken a while for me to find my voice within painting.
What inspires your practice?
I’ve always been in awe of an image that makes you feel something. I’ve always wanted to create more images of Black people and Black joy because after taking so many Art History classes and going to so many museums, I don’t see nearly enough Black people experiencing Black joy. There are whole rooms and wings dedicated to Black Americans during the Jim Crow South—ok we get it! We know that we’ve gone through some dark times, but I want to feel joy when looking at images of Black people.
Going to Packer and Skidmore, I was inundated with many images of Black pain, and it’s unfair to represent our culture in that one-dimensional way. I do think it’s important for us to remember the pain that we’ve experienced, and that shouldn’t be erased. However, I would hope that one day I can see more Black artists as big as Kehinde Wiley and Mickalene Thomas, who depict Black people in different ways. I wouldn’t say everything they make is joyous, but it just feels different than Kara Walker’s work, for example, which many White professors like to default to.
I recently spoke with someone about this, specifically Kehinde Wiley, and the fact that he’s placing us in these narratives where Black people are seen as glorious, but we’re still connected to Eurocentricity. That’s my new revelation on his work, but overall, I want us to break free and see new futures in the arts as a whole.
I agree. I think my art wasn’t working when I was younger because I was trying to fit the images I wanted to see into images I’ve already seen. For instance, I wanted to replace all of the characters in famous realist paintings with Black people, and it felt inauthentic and empty when I tried to do it. It’s taken a long time to have the courage to try something different, and make my own world of color.
I love that our community is filled with color, unapologetic, and unafraid. I’m happy that I’ve been able to let go of that Western canon and that European tightness and strictness. I don’t think it has to be like that at all. Now I’ve been looking to Ghanian sign painters who paint signs and movie posters—they’re so hilarious! It will be a movie poster for Jaws, but the images will be completely unrelated. It’s just very silly, but there’s a lot to learn from not being afraid to be silly and show joy in interesting ways.
Although much of your recent work centers around loss in the Black community, your bright color palette, graffiti-like text, and fluttering strokes paint a picture of hopefulness. It’s like you’re placing these individuals into the utopias they deserve to see in another life. What is your process when it comes to these paintings?
I have a list of their [victim] names, and try to focus on female and trans victims because the “Say Their Name” trend tends to latch onto Black men. They deserve justice just as much, but I really want to push those feminine victims forward. I look through photos, I choose one where I can make something fun and dynamic, I sketch them out, and then I improvise. I treat them like my little children, and I asked: what color would you like to be Toyin? She gives me this energy that’s bright, fresh, and strong, so I chose a green for her. I leave the words for last, so I think about their stories, and maybe I’ll choose a phrase that has to do with their story and also what they’ve come to represent within the movement. I try to make them as bright and beautiful as possible, and I try to bring out what I see in them and honor them as much as possible.
I love that because a lot of work we see can really let us down and remind us of the negative things that have happened surrounding these deaths. It’s important to commemorate these victims and remember what they were like in their waking lives. That’s what attracted me to your posters! I notice that you’ve been exploring the erotic in your practice, but you do so in a campy way by placing clown makeup on your subjects, tying balloons to nipples, and decorating phallic forms.There’s an element of playfulness in your work, and I also see this with the tattoo designs you create on grapefruits. Can you speak about that side of your practice?
That side of my work ties into my exploration of what it means to identify as feminine; and the performative aspect that I mentioned before. In terms of how I depict penises and things like that, I think it’s so fun to depict things that are seen as grotesque and less beautiful. It’s funny to make things that aren’t so beautiful into things that are suddenly cute, and you want to put it in your little pocket and keep it with you. I fluctuate between being hyper-femme and regular-femme because I can have so much fun with it, and when I project that onto other things, it’s a nice twist. I want to bring all of my images into my candy, colorful world, and that’s where the colored pencil drawings come from.
I practice my tattoos on the grapefruits because I would love to turn those colored pencil drawings into tattoos. I’m slowly practicing, and hopefully soon, I’ll be able to do some tattoos with color!
Who are some of your favorite artists?
I love Deana Lawson’s photographs because they have this balance between complexity and simplicity that’s hard to achieve—she’s a genius. I love Mickalene Thomas, Brianna Rose Brooks, Janiva Ellis, and Aya Brown.
What support systems do you wish were in place for Black artists?
I wish there were more initiatives for people in college and college graduates. I wish there were more residencies specifically for Black artists, especially Black female artists. I wish there were a more pronounced network of Black galleries because they’re hard to find. More Black art teachers for sure because I’ve never had one. I don’t think I’ve ever met a Black art professor! It’s very isolating, and it can be difficult when your professor is making you defend your work and says: “I don’t really see where you’re coming from.” Well, obviously you’re not going to see where I’m coming from! Having them say that what you’re trying to communicate through your work doesn’t matter, or isn’t relevant sucks.
Also, exactly what you’re doing! Having magazines where we can showcase Black artists in whatever medium is just amazing. That’s the kind of stuff that I want to see. When I was reading magazines as a young woman, I just wanted to see someone who was doing what I was trying to do, who looked like me, and was not some obscure white girl from a rich family—there’s so many of them, and I don’t need to see more of that! I need to see more of us!
“Strawberry Shortcake” (2019), Colored pencil ; “Enterthefunhouse” (2020), Acrylic and colored pencil
Where do you see yourself and your practice in the future?
I see myself being able to create more works with Black cis and trans women at the center. I would also love to see my posters and images of Black joy all over the place—that’s my dream! I want to be able to splash the world with color.
Provide a few tips that may be helpful for young artists
The first tip is practice every day, even if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes. Try to practice and develop your ideas every day because you’ll see faster results. The day where you’re super frustrated, nothings going right, and you still try to create is the day you’ll explore something new.
My second piece of advice is to have faith in your vision. If other people aren’t vibing with what your work just believe in it, because one day someone will vibe with it. As hard as it may seem in the beginning, you need to have confidence in your vision.
Lastly, try as hard as you can to make contacts in your community. I don’t mean to reach out to someone super well known, but if you have a friend who is also a Black artist or you know a friend of a friend who creates, try to befriend and support them. The only way we can turn over the art industry is if we support each other instead of waiting for these people with all of the money to support us. That’s a super important thing to do!