Black Faces, Black Bodies, Black Stories - 10 Questions with Visual Artist, Graphic Designer, and Event Stylist Erin Kendrick
Erin Kendrick is a visual artist, graphic designer, and event stylist. Since 2009 Kendrick has operated E. Street Design Co., the company through which she plans, develops, and executes visual and design concepts for private, public, and non-profit events. Kendrick also teaches art appreciation as an adjunct professor at Columbia College - Jacksonville.
A native of Jacksonville, Kendrick received her Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in studio art from Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. After completing her undergraduate degree, Kendrick left the state of Florida and continued her formal education at George State University in Atlanta, GA. There Kendrick received her Master's of Fine Arts degree in drawing and painting.
Kendrick creates using vivid colors, often applying layers of ink stains to her pieces before they are complete. Through her work, Kendrick seeks to inspire a dialogue about contemporary spectatorship, perceptions, and the power of language. Kendrick creates pieces that celebrate black womanhood and a lineage of survival. Kendrick draws inspiration from the notion of "oppositional gaze," a term coined in 1992 by feminist, scholar, and social activist bell hooks, who asserts "there is power in looking."
In February Kendrick participated in a discussion panel titled "Black Identity and the Arts." The evening was presented by Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) and hosted at the Jesse Ball duPont Center. The discussion was facilitated by Suzanna Pickett and Kendrick joined six other black artists on stage, three females and three males. The group discussed what it meant to them to be black and pursuing careers in the arts. Kendrick expressed that she loves being a black woman, and she celebrates it in her work. But, equally important, her celebration of her heritage and womanhood does limit her ability to accept and embrace other cultures and identities.
Kendrick's work is currently on display at the Jax Makerspace in the Jacksonville Public Library's Main Library as part of the exhibit Kesha: A Black Female Experience of Identity and Race. The exhibition opened on February 1, 2017 to a near capacity audience and is open to the general public until April 23, 2017.
10 Questions with Erin Kendrick
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when starting a new project?
I sometimes put more thought into what I don’t want the work to say than what I do want the work to say. I want to develop a visual narrative through my body of work. I try to be mindful of how the work will be interpreted from one piece to the next.
After I’ve thought about way too much, I begin by creating contour line drawings with a black sharpie. The line drawings are like the roots. Then I start to drop the paint - one color at a time, one section at a time. Water first, then the ink.
I paint in stains. That’s how I think our identities have been formed, by a series of stains built up throughout time. I don’t really know what will happen between the time when I drop the ink and when it completely dries (it takes 6-8 hours to dry). Sometimes it moves to a new place in the work. Sometimes it’s a completely different color. I’ve learned to control the process to a certain degree, but there’s always a bit of chance involved. It takes about 3 weeks to add all of the layers in a painting.
What have you learned about yourself through your career in the arts?
That I’m fearless. I was taught that artists solve problems - that we see the end first and figure out how to get there. That perspective has enabled me to try any and everything. I’d describe myself as a cliff-jumper. Sometimes you just have to figure out how to fly on the way down.
How do you define success in what you do?
Joy. If I can find joy in doing something, no matter what it is, then it’s worth it. I reconnected with that sense of joy when I found my way back to art making.
How has your arts background benefited you in your roles as an event coordinator stylist and graphic designer?
I think it’s given me an edge, creatively. I understand design from both an emotional and a technical point of view. I also try to be keenly aware of the each guest’s/client’s individual experience with the work, much like the experience I’d want someone to have with my art. The work, whether it is a table setting, an invitation, or a work of art, should communicate a specific message. Great design helps to craft that message.
You were one of fourteen women who contributed work to the exhibit "Kesha: A Black Female Experience of Identity and Race." What does it mean to you to be part of that exhibit?
It’s a homecoming, literally, figuratively, and spiritually. Black faces, black bodies, black stories on the walls, and this time we get to be the storytellers. It was (is) beautiful. It was an opportunity to intercept perceptions and assumptions, to change the narrative, and to show you why we still smile, laugh, and love in spite of the nonsense that we survived. It’s one of the most important things that I’ve ever been a part of.
What has working on "The Adventures of Moxie McGriff" taught you about empowerment and minority representation in the arts?
Oh man, this is my passion project. I wish there were more hours in the day to pour into it. I think Natalie McGriff and her mother, Angie Nixon, are GIANTS and Moxie McGriff is a voice and persona that is so necessary right now. Black girls learn at a very early age that adapting, adjusting, and hiding who they really are is necessary for success and survival. The Adventures of Moxie McGriff disrupts that notion. That’s why minority representation in the arts is so important. Seeing is believing. I’m grateful to be a part of the Moxie Team.
Your work has been on display in non-traditional gallery spaces such as Moon River Pizza, Three Layers Cafe, and No Lye Style & Beauty Boutique. How would you describe the benefits non-traditional galleries provide to Jacksonville artists and the community at large?
It makes it accessible, simple as that. Non-traditional galleries give artists access to the community at large and open the door to the traditional museum/gallery experience. I teach adult learners, whose ages typically range from mid 20’s to 50’s. I’m always surprised by how many of them have never been in a museum or gallery.
What about Jacksonville's arts and culture sector do you feel deserves to be celebrated? By contrast, what still requires improvement?
There is a sense of community among the arts and culture crowd that I truly appreciate. It’s great to see and experience how we rally together, whether it is an art opening, a political cause, or the loss of a loved one. This community shows up.
In terms of improvement, I think the city could definitely create more opportunities for artists. I do see those opportunities popping up a lot more though.
How do you feel art can be used to open up communication and create dialogs amongst individuals regarding topics that may otherwise be challenging to discuss?
I think art creates a safe space for dialogue. Artists are the record keepers. We create a visual record of the world around us through our personal stories or by reflecting on what we see and experience.
How we interpret art relies heavily on our personal opinions and assumptions, which are informed by our histories, prejudices, and knowledge base. Discussing art often reveals truths about us to others and sometimes even ourselves. If we are always willing to have open and honest conversations then art will continue to be a great unifier.
You have a studio space at Mixon Studios. Does working in a community environment enrich your artistic process?
Right now, I would have to say no. I don’t get to spend as much time in my studio as I’d like, so I often work alone. In spite of that, I do believe working in a community environment does enrich the artistic process. It would be great to have critiques with other artists and have more conversations about the content of the work as well as the technical side of creating. That’s a goal of mine that I need to put into action.