Sam Kirk (http://iamsamkirk.com/) was born and raised on the south side of Chicago and spent most of her childhood jumping from neighborhood to neighborhood with her family. While she loved exploring new communities and cultures with each move, she was also grappling with her identity as a biracial, queer woman, especially attending religious school. So, she turned to art as a way of both expressing herself and also processing her struggles and awakenings. She eventually found her way into the world of advertising, where she’d rise up the ladder, before the call to paint and create would begin to call her back to the world of being a full-time artist. Now, established with her work in galleries, permanent collections and large-scale public murals around the country and world, Sam creates artwork to celebrate people and to inspire pride and recognition for underrepresented communities that celebrates a wide blend of culture, identity, and speaks to the politics and issues that define so much of the public discourse today. Part autobiographical, and part fairytale, her vibrant color palette reveals profound stories laced with optimism and endowed with the fullness and complexity and joy of all parts of who she is.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Like yesterday, selkirk was born and raised,
south side of chicago spent most of her childhood jumping from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, with her family and while she loved exploring new communities and cultures with each move
so really grappling with her identity as a by racial queer woman, especially while attending religious school
she turned to art as a way of both expressing herself and also processing her struggles and her awakenings. She eventually found her way into the world of advertising
after school, where she would rise up the ladder before the call to paint and create would begin to bring her back into the world of being a full time. Artist and now established with her working galleries, permanent collections and
large scale, public murals around the country and world sam creates artwork that celebrates people and inspires pride and recognition for under represented
communities that really celebrate a wide blend of culture and identity in and speaks to the politics and issues that define so much of the public discourse today. Part autobiographical part fairytale, her vibrant color palate and her art reveals profound stories laced with up to
some and endowed with a vote on this and complexity and joy of all parts of who she is so
to share this conversation with you. I'm Jonathan fields- and this is good life project
the girl. I brought
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How does a I even work where it is creativity come from? What's this
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I am a firm believer of the the idea that you can taste. Somebody has a heart in intention through the food chain,
they have less zero, usually a really rational person for somebody
then I have that the legislature I'm just expressed too many times. Oh yes, I agree with you on that
without a doubt, you can just tell how much joy somebody had in preparing a meal for you or in cooking the food and I'd say in
trip in morocco, the women in the homes that we visited definitely probably put a little bit more into it
they were watching us paint the sight of a building and,
we are the only women participating the first woman to ever do it. So I think there is a combination of them in
acting with us and engaging with us in a way that they hadn't with women really before and
is this curiosity and this interest
really getting to know each other, we were interested to talk to them. They were interested talk to us and to have a meal together was like one of the best ways to do that. Yeah, that's amazing! What do you think part of the interest was, and the fact that you are, I mean you are you do
incredible thing, but also the fact that you were women doing that in that culture. Absolutely yeah because
my partner and I were the first woman to ever participate in producing.
in their annual street art festival ends
had never been done, and there
were any merely by women in casablanca at all, and we are on a fifty foot. Scissor left the operating it around.
so just to see women in a way that they never saw women.
Operating a machine that was, you know, typically operated by men and only
rounded, by men. I think there is definitely fascination there for that reason, and then-
just trying to understand. I mean some of the questions that came up was like you know. How is this possible? How did this happen? What is it like? You know just the flood
of all the questions yeah, it's funny I mean our listeners can see, but you had the biggest smile come in your face when you just sort of talked about that part of it is, it seems like you're
aging with peoples are like indifferent. Communities is a big part of what why you do what you do
without a doubt I mean that's me
reason I continue to participate in public art. I think deafening putting the work out there and being the person to put the worker
there's one thing, but also by having the opportunity to talk to people while putting the work up,
get some of the most honest responses. We have the best conversations, people really. You know they go deep in general,
and why we're doing it or you know what the process is like and that's without a doubt, the fun part I mean my work is inspired completely by people and life experience and that engagement so to be able to do it for a career and just engage with people as I create, and even sometimes
in my work based on those conversations essay one, the best positions as an artist there I love
So let's take a step back in time. Ticks have kind of jumped into the year just recently and more will come full circle backer because there's still more elena explore around the idea of public art, but you grow up in a society chicago.
has an elegant, but it sounds like you balanced around a lot as a kid yeah. We
around a lot. My parents were both working class worked in restaurants and for warehouses. You know forklift driver retail stock clerk, so we moved whenever
you know paychecks were increased or there is a better opportunity to live somewhere else. I think my parents were always trying to get us and said
your neighborhood, so that we were,
in a position to go to schools that were better for us, for our future is gorgeous and surrounding where there is more resources, more opportunity growing
by this house at chicago and still living there? It's very easy to see
neighborhoods are neglected. So in growing up, my parents were always china in a fine spaces where there were parks that were taken care of
they have to worry so much about us. You know being out on the street doing things kids do writing by explaining
they're. So we moved around quite a bit and that really sparked my interest in culture
cargo being as segregated as it is. You kind of have to navigate the city and be open to exploring the city,
in order to understand just how much culture exists there, because if you always,
and the outside you'll never discover the cultures that on our side side and are very different than what this outside has so it it sparked my injured
just being able to move around a lot, and I am grateful that we had to do that in many ways
and this would have been like like early nineties- is to have his eighties areas, ok,
yeah. I was born in eighty one got it so yeah, so I mean it's interesting because you know south side of chicago sort of legendary, especially through different windows of time and totally very
from the outside. Looking in the story, that's told is not a great story. It's a story of a a lot of violence. A lot of her breath-
and under representation, and certainly in politics these days, if people, certain blast
I do the area regularly
Where were you aware of that type of perception
you're a kid growing up. There was that sort of just like the way the people from the outside sometimes spoke about what was going on.
I was definitely aware of their a combination
because some of the neighborhoods we lived in there is no tough times there was
Fifthly, gangs that were around in there is definitely drugs that were being trafficked and different,
the violence that were happening. My parents, I'm also by racial. So my parents, being mixed and looking completely different from each other, that brought up different issues and different,
Was of discrimination commentary that was made towards us pretty pretty regularly so as it is a topic that was pretty much brought up, often throughout mine.
Your life, but I think my mother did a really good job, helping us to prepare for that and
making sure that we attended schools that were filled with a majority, but more so
We were we weren't the majority. We were the minority.
truly so that we were put in a position where we are
to learn about. Others then had to learn about the backgrounds of others, and I think that really helped us. You know to just kind of see more of a bigger picture in Chicago yeah. I mean it's, it's interesting that that you're
mr, like so proactive and really I mean when you are really at conversations round the dinner table and in the house was or like now
getting different worlds. Apart of conversation, it was with
mother, not so much with my father, I think my father,
I really enjoyed being
his comfort zone and my mother,
never really was ever in a comfort zone. You know she's a
let me now- and she grew up in bridgeport and growing up in bridge for exports and neighbourhood in chicago, and
in the sixtys and seventys is predominantly italian. Irish, mostly pretty pretty much white
nation and she's one of like two of her siblings, that travel fairly dark, complex
and so I think she was also very comfortable with being uncomfortable often, and she tried to prepare us for that as much as she could
their when when for you like wendy,
starting to get the bug for creativity and are as a kid I was. I was totally that kid was
I haven't heard in drawing on this,
I my homework and everything- and you know- thankfully, I went to school- there was for-
beside the humanities and I dont get in trouble for their home
So it was, it was actually encouraged but yeah. Since I was a kid.
And my father used to draw quite a bit and there's artists on both sides of my family. In puerto rico. We have some artists that folk that do more of like sculpture and work
clean. My father was always drawing so there was
something that I naturally gravitate towards as its
major it became a channel for me. There
it was something that I used really to try to figure out. How am I going to talk about some of these difficult things that are experiencing, and in my junior year my junior year, I started to paint about what I was feeling about my identity in being queer,
and I still have let's get book. I looked back at it and there are so many sketches that are really dark, somewhat disturbing sketches, because I was in a private high school catholic high school
and the combination of what was being told to us with religion, along with
what I was feeling about. Myself wishes clashing and it was coming out in these drawings, and I did I had no one to talk to about it:
I didn't know how to approach the topic with my family.
Because there is no one around like being gay
Never even came up
So I had no idea, you know how to even bring up that topic, and I became the source to explore that.
and to really try to figure out what is this that I'm feeling, especially
senegal sky man wanted us to go to the school,
so that there was no distraction from boys and it was like no. This is the opposite for a little bit, just a little bit
it was rizzo I mean for you. It was. I mean it was something that each candidate all the time, but then it sounds like once you hit that window. It really became a way for you just process. A lot of I don't know if you'd call it struggle, but just like really quest,
name and exploring like you like who am I in, and how I figure this this thing out totally. It definitely became something for me to process in it. It continues through to today it's the me
Some people right they journal, you know they write about their experience. I would just draw. I would try to sketch out what I was feeling through
my relationships, you know- and I was having struggles with girls- are heartbreak and destroying too.
You're out how I was gonna manage my emotions.
I would always become that's the source, that's that's where I'm gonna go to try to get through whatever shall I was dealing with the when you flew back to that journal now. Does it and bring you right back there or or are already feel like, oh well, that was a bartley I can. I can relate to that. That was a part of my past, but
It's such a different space. Now it's sort of like he can create a race or separation yeah. You know when I look back at it now. I realize how much I suppressed and over the years more than anything,
there. It truly is a journal in many ways.
As there are references to people who were in my life at that time, who may be weren't the kindest people more, who possibly didn't really help me and figuring out this part of my identity and there's almost like comic, like stories about what that experience was for me and I still have relationships with a lot of these.
people today and clearly have forgiven them, but I didn't realize how much I suppressed or put to the side and really chose to forget about that was very
in the beginning stages of figuring out who I was- and I think
I really enjoy looking back and being able to look at that book, but then also looking through a lot of my our over the years, because it shares my history with me.
It lets me know some of the obstacles that I've overcome and really where it. What my perspective was then- and you know how I approach things- then verses- how I do it now, some
I am grateful that I've been able to keep those things and not in a distant discard them.
thinking, other east have how far back you have this. I have work
from his earliest thirteen awhile, which is surprising because the
The artist that I am now, ah I tried to donate, is much of my inventory is possible if you like,
I have too many things and I'm not going.
Or my style has changed. Then I have a couple different nonprofits that I Donnie work too and
Some of my friends and even my wife or sale, there's something things you
saint, just hold onto the one donate donated all yeah, so
Thankfully, are I have been able to keep a few things over the years there?
were these journals, a blend of of writing and and are, or was it really just primarily visual, mostly visual? But there is definitely a good amount. Writing as well a lot of
just writing about my emotions and you can even seen in the writing the confusion that I had and just like. This search for clarity
wanting to understand who I was and what I was feeling and a need for some.
someone to be there with me in that journey, but yeah, mostly visual, definite combination. The cycle
my first early, close friends now was airtime, where especially the
you're, not from around that time in high school, where you felt compelled to share those with either friend,
and I like siblings or your parents know I tried to
them more than anything, because I felt lake huh
I was so wrong deftly the combination of the you know having religion
my life every day in high school. I just really felt like who I was was wrong and.
There was such an outlet, for me, just said to get rid of what I was
failing in a way,
there is a lasting? I wanted anyone to fine didn't
how to come out and in it
Oh, how to you know even approach that topic with my mother, and it was weird because I didn't grow up with religion, weeding grow up going to church. My parents had different views on religion, so they decided that they would. Let us decide what we're going to do and it s
as if we were to make a choice to practise a religion. The only reason we really want to a catholic high school was because my mother was concerned about has grown a public school. It was something that would provide more discipline and more focus and structure. So
that was the main decision, so it was
as soon as I got enticing. I had all of this feeling and kind of fear about religion when that head.
really been in my life at all growing up, so that the very quick you know turn for me that one two years right
it's like the the reason that she went in the first place had nothing to do with that being a part of it. It was sort of like a different reason. Have you talked to your parents or to your mom sort of like about
was going on then in more recently and tried to talk to my mom, my mom's, a tough one
I don't know a shade.
Very quiet and doesn't give away.
too much information society. I still have some digging to do for sure. I do know, though, when
the time came. So when I was fifteen, my mother approached me and told me that she knew about identity, and I remember it crystal clear. I thought I got
able for something else, goes a little bit or wild teenager. But she
it's the kitchen and just told me, you know Sammy, no, we'll talk about it later wasn't the time
eventually, she just told me that I was gonna have to have some thick skin and that she wanted to talk to me about how people, in this way,
tree others who are different from them and I think when she recognise
She said she recognized something similar in me that she experience as a child just dealing with being different. You know, and growing
having to deal with you. No discrimination can constantly surrounding her sewing and we eventually had that conversation.
yeah, it sounds like she was coming out more from the place of concern flow you
the ability tend to be safe to flourish, to feel like a sense of belonging and love. Yes, she was definitely concern. She was afraid of what I would experience.
out in the world, and if harm would come my way, which it did several times
and I think she was worried that I was prepared enough for that because up to that point,
Yes, we experienced some discrimination, for you know, being mixed kids and having parents that look different than some of our peers, but
wasn't too the degree, whereas I think she would have a reason to feel truly fear for her child
so you you go from this place to sort of having a. It sounds like kind of like a quote understanding with rome and her also just being concerned about. You
What was Emmy was hour shift in you once she approached you and like from that moment,
howard, was era, sense of relief or
I'm gonna be ok, or was it the opposite because he was kind of sir lake telegraphing, the opposite here,
was a sense of a little bit of relief because I felt like my family at the very least I can come home.
And within the doors of my home I was accepted. I definitely felt more free to explore because in high school every year you look at my your book
have a completely different, and I had no idea what I was supposed to look like, because I think I was looking up.
Different images or china. Fine images of what being queer looked like were being a lesbian. Look like
and there are all these photographs of vienna women inch with short,
they addressing more manly, and I haven't felt like I needed to do that at the time, but I was like will what mould am I supposed to fit?
and her acceptance allowed me to feel comfortable with doing that. She didn't always approve what I do
junior rider welcome today, like being a high school? No matter, I think
new year, I went to the hair salon and I could I shaved,
my hair off and my hair was partly down to the middle of my back, and she was like. Why have
and she did not approve of that, but because
is she approved of who I was? I was:
worried about her saying? Oh you
like a boy or you look like this or you look like that and- and I felt like I could explore a little bit into that. Yeah did your eye. If you look back in your in your journals and your drawing,
Do you have any sense for whether the art that your creating changed after that.
It became a little bit more colorful, yes, it I had actually did I stop drawing and I started painting between their. My paintings became much
more about revealing. My identity and there
a rainbow flags included and portraits of myself before I cut my hair with short hair, so it is exploring the different ways that my identity could look or what I could. What I would look like
and there were also paintings,
our society and be,
very open about how I felt in society and being isolated, indifferent and not beings.
Tat are being a part of it and before then I wasn't, there was no. I was gonna pay about that and publicly put it up pino at the school and
I face and challenges with that as well, because my work, I think, because I felt so vulnerable. My work had a lot of nudity in it
and it was nudity as like a self portrait. There was never anything sexually explicit, but because I was in a catholic school
a lot of the nuns thought you know anything with nudity or anything with you know any kind of just five.
Reform being shown in that way that wasn't very realistic or very in a traditional, was wrong. So
definitely face. Then I had a high school teacher who really stood up for me.
And really helped me to get through that period and help me right, some artist statements and things to explain my work and allow a kind of a fight for its stay up when they wanted to take it down and it stayed up. You know the whole time, but there has to be a statement next to my work. Nobody else is work required statement. My work had to have a statement next to it and it was frustrating at the time and I felt like it wasn't fair at the time, but it seemed a strange how things preparing for your future, and I was really grateful that I had to do.
at at at a young age, then, to help to explain some of the work that I started doing a couple of years. Afterwards, yeah I mean it's interesting. Also at that age I sort of had the experience of okay. So
theory? This is like big picture not allowed in this culture, but you know if I fight for it it'll be allowed.
I, but also understanding that, at least in this context, and maybe in other parts of life, there will have to be some sort of explanation or leak, there's an educational burden that goes along with it, which you know not fair at all.
But just to have this awareness that, like theirs, is kinda weird middle.
round type. The thing going on rum in preparation for serve like stepping out of that environment and then moving on
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from there you went on where'd you go to collate to undergrad. I went to columbia, okay, I had started at a technical school and thought I wanted to go into interior design, where they're from I've always had a fascination with architecture, and I think growing up my mother always said: go for business or go for technology or something and architecture felt like a little
of business and other me- and I like, I- have always enjoyed building things in getting my hands or do so. I had a very good
idea of come what, until it
It would be for me,
strangely, I ended up doing it anyway in a lot of ways, but I
to a technical school. But then I went to colombia college in chicago for marketing and once I finished up that degree, I worked in advertising for almost ten years. What what was the? What made you flirt?
Marketing was it? Was it a genuine interest, or just of this would be useful to everything so my senior year, once I was in
in design. I was presenting
a room of architects and they loved my work, and I may I pay. I graduated with a four point, all with honors, but they said my workers too expensive. No one would ever build it. It's beautifully conceptually, but to try to get that bill. The budgets would be too high and I had zero interests and create.
Boxes like once. They, you know, started to present some of the work that they were doing. I thought I do not want to do it like you're, not going to be drafting complex, a h back systems right, think some people love that great awesome for them. It's not your thing yeah one of my peers. When we-
Class together, when I was presenting she had said, I love looking at you for plants because they look like paintings does because then the number of curves
There is not always just straight walls, you know and different
cereals? The way that I was mixing them and using them? I thought yes, this is you know I want to create work that gives people that feeling by it
I was my twin sister and I have an identical transistor were both both the first to go to college. So
somebody gives you that feedback and says you know what you ve been working towards for four years is impossible and you have no one to go to and say what do you think
This then individually, you said you think my. What do I
With this now lies spent on
time and money to do this, and it's not something that these professional c is feasible. I don't wanna, you know, do with their doing so then I'll
figure out something also. Advertising was always a backup plan,
He was always kind of him,
back my mind is something that I could do so. I decided to
the school. I got the degree and decided to go to spectre: schooling, say marketing the sudan. When you come out from markdale, he said.
Then you step into the ad industry- and you spend ten years in that
but we ve actually what we doing so
I started off doing entertainment marketing, so it was a combination of sports sponsorship and entertainment marketing, so events red carpet events, different events for brands, like some things you see at like food, festivals, music, festivals, setting up the full production for that working with different brands to figure out how they could.
Answer events and what their role can be within it. Helping them come up with those ideas, but then I will
went into a rotation program for two years, where I basically learned. Every discipline possible
in marketing and became a integrated marketing specialist. After that I wanted to new business,
so I jumped around a lot within the same age, an agency, but really gotta good, feel for all of the different types of marketing and advertising that were offered there were I mean with? Did you feel it was scratching, at any rate the creative which that you had in any meaningful way? Definitely when I was
in entertainment, marketing and sports on sports sponsorship. There was so much so much of the work that was hands on that required me to travel and to get out there and build things essentially like. I would build him with the creative team in the office, but then I would physically go out there with a crew and
to life. So that part was great once I got into television and prince and some of the digital marketing now
immediately. I knew I and I spent almost two years doing that, and I thought this is not for me. It was to business. There's too much paperwork, I wasn't being creative. So when I left that that's why one into new business, because it still allowed me to develop the concepts and gave me a different challenge than what I had already done
in the earlier part of my career yeah, it's so interesting to us. I think a lot of um I get this as a lot of people are a really strongly drawn to particular truly forms of creative, expressed
Neither really physical and manual you like in the way that you actually do things or where some people research
digital oriented in a non textile. For me, I simply
really, why are very similar, like I love the physical tat, our process of creation, like I'd like to feel it in my body in Hell, I love. I would
other work with the word or paint. Yes, then like work,
well on the screen, even though I know how to do both alright and it does, it seems like it does. It does something different to you. I always feel like the physical process of creation
affect me differently, this an out and out every time I get it
syrian I love one. I have data that I don't have to look at his it's like it's almost like meditation for me
I just get to be there and play with the matter
it was, even though, at this point I know exactly what I'm doing, and you know how I'm going to execute it. There's still this sense of wonder that always comes up.
And my I know my imagination drifts and, like maybe I'll, try this this time were there just
allow more room for play and yeah
I enjoy them. So during this time,
window where you also were you doing your own thing on the side at all like? Were you painting and developing other stuff just on your own, or was the the the work kind of all consuming, so I stopped painting for about seven years wow.
Between finishing up my second degree in college and working in advertising, and I picked a back up again because I found myself very stressed,
And I was working really long hours and I didn't know what to do with kind of the build up of you know, distress and energy that didn't feel very positive to me. Exercise wasn't working, and so I thought you know I used to paint. Let me try that again.
I picked up the brush again and was really fresher the first couple years. I see you know you lose the skills, but once I got back into it,.
I started to.
Paint more and then our eventually was promoted several times got an office put some work up in my office and from there that's when the organic growth of where I met today kind of began, Michael workers started to ask where'd you get this painting
and I'd say I paint I painted them so then, eventually, I set up a needle in my office in
tweet or no eggs? I would start painting and I would paint paintings for some michael workers
I thought this is going well, so I spoke to the office manager at.
The agency and asked about possibly doing an art show and shoes. I can
that's a great idea. Let's do it. We love to showcase our employees. Talents put up a bunch of my work sold several paintings and I thought
or maybe I'll show in a gallery, so in two thousand
I showed in the gallery so way, because that it sort of way
You know that in in the world of art, showing in a gallery is this massive aspiration. You know tons of people will go and get degrees and they study and they become and and and like the aspirants as one day like
Don't aren't get representation or I'm gonna show in a gallery somewhere and tons of people want it and very few people get it there,
So how did you just like
and then they showed me nobody deal. How does actually happened. Was it a very organic,
you process, where you area organic, easy process of free
of mine, who I had grown up with no interest in art happen to know somebody who decided she was gonna open, a gallery downtown chicago,
and she was looking for artists to show their work, so he showed her my portfolio. She decides. It include my work in the group show for the launch of her new gallery. So it was a new gallery
nothing that was established. Looking for very entry level, emerging artists- and I thought you know this- is a good opportunity for me to see what this is like
so she accepted my work. I sold several pieces during the opening show where you surprised by that, or did you expected? I didn't expect to sell as much as I did, but I did
spectre. So I think I just always go into different opportunities. More optimistic, I don't walk in, I don't feel like walking and within them.
If I go, if I don't sell, oh well, you know, like I always think,
I bring in an energy, that's positive and is hopeful for a good outcome. Then, like that's the likelihood is that it will happen. So I did go in thinking. I was
you and at this time also, you still have like you're you're, full time gig. I still have my full time
another curiosity of mine. Do you
sense for whether, knowing that you had yourself covered financially with his other thing,
allowed you serve that the psychological freedom, so that, when you actually like stood in front of me,
and this will I ever you'd you're working on you felt like you- could be completely unbridled and and
free and chewed who you are without reference to whether this was cooked, commercially viable work because you didn't need you didn't need it to be
without a doubt? Yes, I noticed things and I think about that. Often, actually, I think about the freedom that I used to have one I painted earlier in my art, career versus now. Now I find myself often thinking about the viewer or where this work is gonna go, and I try to sell myself, don't you, but it's just
it's natural. I mean I I'm completely sustained by my art career now, so I have to think about some of those things as well, but yeah back then. I definitely had a lot more freedom to just paint, and you know if people liked it they did. If, if they didn't, then I wasn't.
I worried about it, I was also in a position.
where I was happy to keep some of my work because I Didn'T- I was still fairly
new at painting again and if it didn't so, I was happy
Put it up by my own. Was there to painting
much for you as for anyone else, so maybe more for you, and yet they want us. Yes, repainting, then,
I was painting a lot of work about my own culture and different characters and figures. That celebrated who I was yet is really focusing on different cultural elements and painting pieces about about that. What happens that leads you to make the decision to say? Okay, you know what
after ten years of doing my full time thing being promoted having my own office, it's time for me to actually closed that door, anger
one hundred per cent into the the art side, so in in two thousand and ten I was offered to commission projects outside of my average.
In career, and one came from a woman who had been working with for the last six years I did, and going into some interior design
In addition to my advertising career, I continued to do side projects and I designed this woman's home for her her main home, a vacation home a restaurant side. Did these small sum
I'll, say projects, but she asked me to design to homes for her from the ground up. They would be
but beyond their own acres of land. She don't want to buy something that was existing. She wanted. It is
and from the ground up, and she wanted me to design the concept for what her house would look and feel like she would hire an architect
and engineers and everybody to follow my lead, which was rare, rang and that's almost exactly what everybody told you. They ll impossible
And a smile ass, I told you so yes and
at the same time a music venue that was opening outside of Chicago commissioned me to create fifteen very large scale original pieces of work for the space that would be permanently in the space. So that was my really my first introduction into kind of public art. It was a private space or a public space where people would would go, but it was indoor.
So fifteen original pieces and the smallest was forefeet by feet. Ass is a big piece. These are very pieces. Yes,
and there is no way I could do both of those while keep my job,
and while I loved my job in my career and advertising, I was just that apply
I wasn't really challenged anymore social needs.
started to play a role and myself
with some of my peers
doing more reverse mentorship and just mentorship directly and
it didn't seem like anything was gonna change right away, so I thought you know I can leave advertising and give this a shot, both his projects with politics.
A year year and a half, I can see where they go and if anything else pops up, and I could always go back to advertising if I want to like I've, built a strong resume. So I left my career in advertising and
for this. The project with a woman for the house ended up. Turning into a three year project, the house's guts
and so she decided she wanted to move to the city. So I ended up redesigning three story penthouse for her.
and custom designing some really cool things, and
italy, custom elevator that I drew from scratch and she had built issues. You know it's like the dream
projects, somebody who has enough money to spend on things where she's like I want to live in a space that feels like your paintings,
is literally what you said. The opposite arrive at the architects for saying to me at the time, so that turned into a three year project the music Van
You finish that within a year, but then I started to get other commissions and other requests, and
in two thousand twelve. I really dived into public art. So
was still working on her home and also taking some of these smaller painting commissions. I started to get involved in miracles and mostly because I felt,
and when I did two shows and galleries the people that I wanted to communicate with weren't, who was showing up and the topics that I started to address in my work shirt once I decided to go, you know full time into art, then I thought about well. What am I going to create like I started to get worried if I would have enough content, and I had to take a look at myself and think you know what could I could create
Why won't get tired and I feel good, creating about this work and it really came down to people and social justice issues
I love the things that I was facing either myself or my my family was and figuring out how I could communicate about these things differently and public art really became kind of like the billboard. For that like it was the space where I felt like. I could put this mural up almost as an advertisement and try to get people to talk about this topic in a way that I am not able to do, or I don't see happening in a gallery space.
So in two thousand and twelve I started playing with you know, producing murals and trying to learn that craft.
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What was the first thing that you did
we certainly on on the mere on the public outside. I did a piece on gentrification in person and made up
so person is it's a changing neighbourhood. It's gone from being checked polish to now,
Predominantly latino it's going through gentrification has been gone through justification for the last ten years, but right now so pretty d,
community, but one of the main arts communities in Chicago. Definitely the space you wanna go
if you're gonna find miracles, but ahead
history of murals being created there as part of one of the spaces on the south. I were murals started the pop up in the sun.
so the only space, but one of the main spaces and murals were welcome and.
Murals were often about community and the struggle and about the people's experience. I thought you know. This is a good space for me to explore this part of my creative
career and figure out. If this is something that I want to continue to do, and the first one was so hard. I had no idea what I was doing in I just said
she's in rollers in,
as familiar with the process? Most of my friends who had painted murals, usually use spray paint, and I didn't grow up
you know right doing anything. So it is a very different. More labour intensive process then
in spray painshill? Did you do it alone? Was it all you? I did most of it along the first one and my youngest sister, who
man. I don't even know how old she was at the time she was probably eleven at the time and she came out to help me system that salsa and she actually ended up assisting me for several years. That's amazing and now she's in college, so she's not anymore, but yeah when you finally did that it's like your first time.
there, two thousand twelve you're doing this big public thing outside on a wall where everybody can see it. It's the subject matter that you want to talk about, and it's a community who you want.
being conversation or adding them back. How did you feel knowing that you just put this up and looking at it and then
What was the conversation around it once it was up. I felt really good one type once I put it up by what I didn't expect was to feel the amount of pressure that I did.
The biggest difference in my studio and on canvas I can paint things had dont really impact people right. So in deciding to paint this me
all that hadn't really dawned on me until I was actually in it and completing it, and people were coming up to me and asking questions. I didn't realize how much people cared about having some of these pieces in their community and the importance of the engagement, and I was glad that I did the mural in person at that time, because there was so much community engagement that allowed me to realise that right away and from that point forward, then I continue to involve the community in the conversations former.
Else, but looking back at that peace, I was very happy with it, because the conversation that I wanted to spark was happening, but I felt a little intimidated because I
nice there was a lie. I needed to learn about the process
materials that I was using and
I suggest, asking the opinions of people around me before deciding oh. This is my idea. I'm going to go, create it, so it was a great. You know, learning lesson for me to really understand how to engage with community in the process of painting, murals yeah. I mean it's such an interesting process to write because there's you as an artist there's the thing that you want to say there's
the voice, the style of the craft, and you want to be true to that. Because that's what makes you happy that's what let you feel fully expressed as a creative person and it at the same time is part of what you're doing as an act of service,
hmm, you know, and and in service of this community, to a certain extent you know, and you want them to be a part of it and to feel like this is landing in some way, shape or form it's like to then invite them in not just to have the conversation about it afterwards, but to potentially be sir like to make it almost like a partially co. Creative process mean, on the one hand, it's
cool, but on the other hand, this this I would imagine this is really fine. Like there's a good dance tat ye do between wanting to be what you wanted to.
And also honouring the the curiosities and the input of the community for whom europe yellow your partially creating totally
Who's that at tougher you to navigate, I mean initial,
It was a little bit tough and I think part of the reason it was tough, especially with with admiral and actually almost all, of the murals in chicago, because.
I was talking about gentrification that miracle and some of the questions that I was asked was: oh, how long have you lived in the neighborhood
as a person who is moved around so much in Chicago I've never felt like Chicago. Wasn't my home or like I can claim chicago as my city, wherever I won,
the first experience I had where I realized, as an artist and as a public artist. People really care. If you are from that area, you can't just be from this outside of the city, so they just it was a wake up. Call for me to to really think
about how I can become involved before I just go into a neighborhood and create a piece.
And even though I am asked to do that quite often now as part of my process, I also try to figure out. You know
I'm not as familiar with an area or if it's in another city, how can I engage with the people that are there before? I just show up and start you know painting, and it stems from that first experience: yeah
It's interesting right, if you bring them into the conversation at a certain point or, like you said, engage with the community beforehand, but then I wonder if it's interesting to certainly do that in advance and then kind of just fold that into what you want to create.
but it's not so much like you're saying like along the way hey. What do you think of this? Where do you think of this great? I would imagine that would be kind of a brutal weight, and that would be.
Definitely a brutal wait to to try to make by committee. Basically is right now: it'll go left, go right, right, yeah, know exactly what you said. Folding meeting
first and then following the men in coming up with a concept, I usually tried to now create a concept and show.
That's a community members and get their feedback before we start painting
inevitable. Whenever we start painting, you know we're gonna, get opinions
unless there's something very strongly that you know comes up or an opinion that somebody has
and there's a majority that feel that way. We don't typically change,
now in the process, and so in the back.
and through all this also your now
getting and getting comfortable with your identity you're out in the world. Eventually, you fall in love. You get married
and I would imagine that this whole very personal, very private process, for you all,
She has got a really influence. Your creative process, your creative output and what you wanna say in how you gonna say it yeah.
Finally, you know for a long time I almost
my identity behind me and what actually I did. I did put my identity behind me,
eve because of the amount of times I've experienced, rejection and discrimination. I felt like the last thing I should do is included in my art
the four years at you. Have you wouldn't have seen anything about my identity in my work, I'm trying to think when it when it started to come back up. It was probably around two thousand and thirteen once I started working with some nonprofits
I think, was when identity and any conversation about the eligibility Q community started to come up.
And I remember working with some nonprofits
focusing on sharing their story through visual arts and figuring out how to communicate that and still not doing that myself? I was never clause
did they get. People asked me about my identity and who I was. I was very open with it, but if you want to go,
we show and saw my work, nothing in the work. Whenever give you a signal that you know that was who I was and
really had to you know, take a look at that and ask myself if I was being true to who I was and if I was going to explore culture and celebrate culture,
but not celebrate myself and my own identity, my own community, like what did I have to get past or what? What did I need to figure out in order to overcome that, because I felt like I was in just putting my best work out there and there is a part of me that was kind of blocked off. I mean when you see your westward,
meetings like more, like your truest work, yeah. My choice, work like I was in allowing myself to put all of my emotions into the work, and for me that that is the process of my art is just letting go and kind of letting the craft take me to whatever direction that it does, and if I was you know, keeping that door shut.
was what I was producing really true, too. You know something that,
experiencing in the messages that I was trying to put out there yes
an interesting and sagan
personal level, you're, actually living, yellow
if re open, true life, but on a profession
well, they're still, it sounds like what you are feeling was still a certain amount of hiding. Yes,.
was there something did something happened that kind of like maybe like it's time. I was just a gradual shift like. Let me just bring more and more of this to my work because just feels like it sitting
Do I decided in mid twenty thirteen twenty
What's more, I met my wife actually in twenty thirteen, I think. Without a doubt, she was part of that,
this is the first time I had experienced somebody personally in a relief,
ship who just one hundred percent had my back and where
I didn't walk into a relationship where I felt like I had to hide from their family
their world and anyway. So that was one but two.
I decided to spend more time in new york and moved here for a couple years and I think
living here- allowed me to just open it myself
I didn't know anyone. There were all of these memories of bad experiences that had happened, and you know why I deep
love chicago. There are a lot of things that have happened in the streets there that,
our vivid reminders of just
levels of discrimination that about experience throughout my life and in some cases, events where I'm lucky to be alive so coming here. Can you give me a clean slate
and in a funny way I was able to see people- and you know at this point I was thirty thirty one and I I felt like I was reinventing myself like I was able to see people who are living. You know there
their true selves and dressing in away where the clothing was their armour. The clothing was the representation through they were, and I didn't see that
really in the midwest. That often, and even though I came here quite a bit before moving here
I don't think I was really in the spaces physically or mentally, to take that in and in that year I was, I think part of it was because,
When I came here in twenty thirteen, I was working on a project for two months
company where it was all about exploring culture and celebrating culture. Sigh had immersed myself in the new york entertainment scene
and that alone will open you up. If you ve never done it, and I haven't done it to that degree
and then also meeting jan, my wife,
and experiencing who she was
in her life is just a combination of all these great things and the kind of proof
formula for me to be able to feel like, I could, you know, take off some of the layers that I was kind of hind, hiding underneath and explore a little bit more of myself and that completely opened that door and from there
I am not hiding anything. There was the reception once you start to share that side of yourself in your work and your art was a reception. What you, what you thought and hope to a b, I didn't really have an expectation for it
yeah? This is the thing I need to do now. Yeah, there's something I need to do, but
The reaction was huge. I received
so much love and appreciation from people who needed to see this kind of work
and who wanted to see it from another woman, a woman of color.
people in my own communities, who I didn't think about or don't even can,
sitter like they're, so many people in the neighborhood, where I've spent most of my life that
our living the same thing I'm living like a need to create this. For that reason, and it is completely turn
my world around in my work and really made me realize why I needed to create notches work that brought up top,
ics around social justice issues or around issues of discrimination or underrepresented communities, but more so crete to create work that celebrated these people in a positive way without all of the other attachments- and I mean that's that's where my work is today and it's extremely fulfilling to be able to do that, and I I mean. I can't believe that I hid it for as long as I did, or
like you know, pushed it puts it aside for as long as I did the it's amazing how we all do that then, with different ports of ourselves, and so often, especially if we have any sort of greed
inclination where they, the output of what we create, will be publicly scene and and judged
so much fear that so often wrapped around at that here we instead of stifling yet so much
we are not realizing that. It's that worrying that essence that quirkiness, that you'd think that makes you different. Sometimes that is the thing that so many other people would resonate with like. Would you be willing to actually share it yeah? So you know this is this kind of brings us pretty reason? And yet, when we started the conversation, we started with the eu and morocco during this big public, mural and and and being on it like a giant lift painting the side of a building.
Tells me you're also year. This has become. Your work has also become fairly international. Yes m morocco, the first international mural that I've done by
Oh I'm painting more nationally.
Starting to travel, a more to do, put public workin and also to do other projects in teaching workshops as well.
But more morocco was, I felt
It was wild test in some ways because and get it.
Point in my career were very open and comfortable with being open with my identity in my work and myself and everything, and then I get this project where one as there's never, there were
abandoning women who have ever done anything like it. There
and also its illegal, to be clear in morocco and.
Not only are we going to paint a mural there, but we're also going to volunteer to work with some community groups. For a week my wife teaches dance, and I taught some mural workshops.
that's important to us. Wherever we go to other places, we always wanna do some sort of a cultural exchange and give backs
we knew we were gonna, be there for an extended period of time, which turned into a month and
essentially in many ways and public had to go back into the closet. So I was really torn.
And am in money the moments being there. I remember walking down the street and having to physically fight with myself to not hold her hand and not break down from feeling like I had to put you know myself
Back in a close space again, especially after I had experienced just being able to be completely free and free in my work tonight,
be able to do that and know that there are other women and other people in this country
in the space that are dealing with the same thing and I think from
bearing also the power that art has in making people feel good about who they are, especially when you paint pieces or put public work
there that celebrates them in a way that they're not used to being celebrated to not be able
do that in any way in the work or
My son, who I am myself being us, was extremely difficult and I like it
asked, but it's it's something that I need to do in that I want to do, but it was very difficult to not be able to figure out some way to act,
an element of the attributes community to that peace and just have to hide every day.
Yeah. I can you imagine I mean I would imagine when you get the invitation to do something like this. It's probably pretty
mixed. Emotions like, on the one hand you like, while there are so many things about this culture that, like I don't agree with, but that at the same time like what a potentially incredible opportunity to step into it understand people,
In this life better and even in the smallest way. If there's some way, I can make a difference or contribute to balancing those. Two things must have been there.
extremely difficult. I mean morocco just as a space,
especially when you look at the arts and the creative industries there,
somebody who is interested in architecture as well like it's amazing. It's like a
dual Heaven for me, you know, and as someone who is also fascinated with other cultures and wanting to explore them like, I couldn't think of another place that I could have asked for my career or art to send me, but yet and then too
have to do that with my partner in denying who she is and deny who I am and conversations daily over and over again, it was it was
the difficult, but the main reason there I chose to do it was because, despite having to her
my identity, being able
be it a woman in the first woman to do something like that. There was enough to think this can change something
This is this is gonna change, some perspectives and some mindsets, and maybe that's a step in the right direction. It may not be a complete step, may know, but if it
one foot into the right direction, then I'm happy with that their baby steps here,
there were had near right now that you are also just recently in vermont. How is that?
So the other I dont do many workshops, but I was asked to teach a arts activism impact workshop too
It's an art camp at a school out in vermont anna.
Teaching for the last. Through three weeks I had sir class of six students. They all decided the different topics that they wanted to discuss and.
My role was basically to help them
understand how to research the socks properly and then also develop a creative concept around, wouldn't whatever tappitt they chose to discuss so little bit.
Little bit of a challenge, because I didn't know what they wanted to explore into our entire arrived. So it was.
great experience. Other students were teenagers very different experience, the campus that it was on
Very privileged, so I think from me the biggest difference was I've come from a place where people understand what their struggles arm with each struggles of others are because they knew
what it's like to be in that position. I'd never really been in a position where I was teaching students or it or working with even adult and students that did it ever really have to worry about anything.
and having to convince them or help them to see why they needed to care about other people or other things that were happening in the world and it was yeah, it was a very different experience for me yeah. I do feel
You got there with him with the students. I definitely didn't exactly the grown ups as all their rights as there they adults. Is it a totally different story, both students, I definitely did. I was really proud because at the end,
they ended up doing a final project on than violence, and they
an installation they put together an installation in the main cafeteria where they took
for a table and turned all of it.
Into headstones and basically set it up
a memorial around that
will they created their own caution, tape and caution? Tape was filled with statistics for different,
shootings and gun violence. That has happened within our schools in the united states over the last ten years and how that compares to other countries, and it was wild because that ended last week, saturday, and while this past saturday is when they ended and now are facing two more mass shootings in the united states and Chicago had one of the most violent weekend: weekends,
it has also has had all summer so just to be immersed in that with them and to understand what their fear is as young folks and and people who are growing up. Seeing this happen constantly and then to come out of it, and it's just seemed like its accounts,
Michael? But while it was something different that I don't usually do.
If they found the value in it and I'm thinking about
in other ways, then I might continue to do workshops like them. It's like a whole new part of the journey, potentially they're, stepping into the role as a teacher and then again like how does how do you? How do you teach? How do you teach really deep,
important concepts and social justice, oriented ideas to people of profoundly different background right now. You can just show up and be the same person
say the same thing and do the same thing in every group of people now in every single suda is different, and with these topics it's it's really if they don't have a personal attachment to it.
Trying to get them to see why they should or why it's important, and that was really different, very very different for me, something I told
then didn't expect. I think I had always thought up into that moment. Somebody deals with something you know whether it's mental illness or drug abuse, or even in a violence in some way
It was a shock, and maybe this is, as you know from me growing up in the way that I have. It was a shock to
meat. So many people who had an experience
you know one thing or another have experienced the multiple exit, my own life,
yeah. So as we sit here and coming full circle naming this is good life project. So you think about the journey that you've taken over the last few decades and if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up.
I'd say to to live a good life is to enjoy the company of others. That's what I enjoy the most in my life is being being able to spend time with people who make me laugh and have a good time with. Thank you,
Thank you so much for listening, and thanks also to our fantastic sponsored who helped make this possible. You can check them out in the links we have included in today, show notes and while you're at it, if you ve ever ask yourself what should I do with my life,
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Transcript generated on 2023-06-26.