A Painting of a Fiery Being From a Parallel Universe

In each installment of The Artists, T highlights a recent or little-seen work by a Black artist, along with a few words from that artist putting the work in context. This week, we’re looking at a painting by Naudline Pierre, whose work will be featured at Prospect.5, the fifth edition of New Orleans’s citywide triennial, in October, and who will have a solo exhibition at New York’s James Cohan gallery in April 2022.

Name: Naudline Pierre

Age: 32

Based in: Brooklyn

Originally from: Leominster, Mass.

Where and when did you make this work? I’d intended to start it in March 2020, and I put some marks down last year, but then it just sat there. I got back into it in spring and finished it last month. I did the majority of the work at my studio in Greenpoint. It’s a live-work space with really high ceilings and a couple of skylights. I have a crystal in the window that refracts light so there are rainbows at a certain time of day.

Can you describe what is going on in the work? The central character is held by two winged figures. She’s conducting energy from within a circle of wings. She’s in a dark, womb-like space and is learning to harness her power. She’s a bearer of light, but she’s beginning to understand her darkness and what she can do with it — the light that she can emanate from within. She’s illuminating herself with the flame that is coming from her hand. She’s bending rules and energy, and she’s setting things on fire, but in a way that’s cleansing and transformative. There’s a lot of darkness in the work, but it’s an intentional darkness. It’s a darkness in which she can be safe and understand and move forward. I feel close to that narrative myself, even though this is a character that’s outside of me.

What inspired you to make it? I think this piece is the beginning of me processing the last year of my life. And as I’m growing and understanding myself, I’m understanding this character I’ve created. She appears in a lot of different colors, she contains multitudes and she can be whatever and however she needs to be. She bears a likeness to me but she’s her own person. I think she exists in some parallel universe and we connect on the canvas, then go on living our lives separately.

This piece is a little bit different from what I’ve done in the past. It’s on linen, which I haven’t used in a while. It has a darker palette and lots of dry brushing. I started the work in black and white and then added some color afterward. I wanted to feel some boundaries, some control, and then burst past those self-inflicted confines and reconnect with color on the canvas.

What’s the work of art in any medium that changed your life? I went to the Prado in Madrid a few years ago and am still processing and connecting to several El Greco works I saw there. The trip felt like a pilgrimage to see these very large paintings that I had only experienced online or in books. I love El Greco so much — the way that the work is painted, all the dry brushing and stretched figures. It’s just so dramatic. To see them in person, early in the morning at the museum and alone, was really special. I feel I’ll be buzzing from that moment for the rest of my life.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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