i am not a painter (devolving studio notes)

i paint, but i’m not a painter. i was trained in theater and performance, acting, directing. i turned to performance art when i found out about performance studies back in undergrad. it’s a thick mud i can’t get off my feet. this is why i study and study professionally. finishing my phd in the thing i’ve studied how to do has been a journey of stretching. i’ve been writing recently about certain performance artists who no longer identify as performance artists, no longer do performance. Lorraine O’Grady had written an entire performance statement in 1983, stating she was tired of the weight of performance. Adrian Piper had pulled her art from institutions and denied them access to show it. Vaginal Creme Davis had recently admitted to leaving performance behind to do more painting. Jacolby Satterwhite had gone back to his academic history of painting and liquidated his baroque performance into oiled array.

why had they left behind the thing i had only just found? it made me think that who we are (as an ontology, as a static way of being) is in no way connected to what we do (as a choreography, as a set of actions, prearranged or anarranged). i paint because there’s a set of questions i have about how painting performs. how does painting do something, cause something to be riled up? my time as a teaching fellow and artist at new museum of contemporary art in new york had me me reconsider the fine arts and the divide between them and my homies, the performing arts. we were more alike than we thought. art history would have us think they were opposed, instead of apposed. that one could be mastered.

black trans (femme) life isn’t about mastery. isn’t about straight lines. black trans (femme) life is about approximation and experimentation, estimation and condensation. black trans (femme) life is illusory and illustrative. an illuminating opacity. i had to resist the urge to take things out of imbalance. had to learn how to sit with the discomfort of being (un)seen undone. Ashley emerges here as a swamp witch queen. connecting the swamps i inhabited in New Orleans to the swampy way of life here in Newark. did you know New Jersey was once connected to the African Landmass, before the creation of the Atlantic Ocean? (Newark Museum will tell you so!) so i’ve been thinking of connection and diaspora and topologies and geographies and femme queens and the men who love them but are too shy or too scared and the police state and legal systems that constantly vanished them away. for now, painting and assemblage and installation and video help me gather these objects into one place. helps me work out what they can even do together.

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