Amanda Verwey’s ART Monday #2: Grace Rosario Perkins!
This week I’m excited to present an interview with Grace Rosario Perkins!!! I’ve been among the many Grace admirers for years and am so pleased to be able to share a small segment of this Oakland artist’s vast body of work.
Verwey: GRACE! Can you talk a little about your background and how it informs your art? What fundamental things define your outlook?
Rosario Perkins: I lived in the southwest for a large portion of my life. I grew up in Santa Fe and also spent time living with my mother or my father, both of whom live on two Indian reservations. My mother’s side of the family is Dine (Navajo) and the landscape where she lives is pretty desolate with lots of red dirt and pine trees. She lives in Northern Arizona. My father on the other hand is Akimel O’odham (Pima) and lives in a very dry desert with saguaros and rattlesnakes in Central Arizona– kind of the classic desert right outside Phoenix. These are intensely isolated places, not just physically but in other ways—socially and culturally. It can be a very hard place to be. I also lived in these places during critical “growing up” times so when I really started painting and drawing, I found myself using images as a way of communicating, almost like a diary. I really lived in my head in my late teens, early twenties, and while living with my father who is also an artist, I experienced a direct transference of his interests just by living in a room attached to his art studio. There I had access to the same resources he used for inspiration (books, music, materials) so I began to find things that inspired me. The text that sometimes appears in my work may be emotionally evocative and at times vague, but for me it is probably more situated in specific behaviors or memories from this past—and some of these attitudes I carried over to the present.
Verwey: Tell me about the Black Salt Collective and its mission?
Rosario Perkins: Black Salt is fairly new but promising art collective. It consists of Adee Roberson, Fanciulla Gentile, and myself. We are all artists who really are driven by a desire to create and actually discussed how self-marketing at times was difficult on an individual basis and how we also all felt a little out of place in terms of art scenes. We all make things that are inherently us and are more or less intuitive. We have a mission statement that describes our work as embodying our individual cultural narratives. I think for all of us, being women of color, that people often associate “cultural” art as being something anthropological, but Black Salt is more about how our cultures and experiences are contributing to something new but rooted in identity.
Verwey: You’ve worked at Creativity Explored as a Visual Arts Instructor for a while now- how has that experience been? Has working there impacted your creative work?
Rosario Perkins: I’ve actually been at Creativity Explored for a little over a year now but I’ve worked at four art centers in the Bay total. Overall, I feel like working with adults with disabilities on art projects is rewarding. There’s a lot of experimentation that occurs… often times I get a lot of ideas– just in terms of working with new materials. There are a lot of surprises and then obviously there’s a lot of heart, a lot of individuality. I spend all day making art with people and creating significant relationships that are sustained by creativity. The artists there are very inventive and it inspires me. Also while working on video projects with artists at Creativity Explored, I’ve finally picked up my desire to make films once again and am currently working on a short animation. I feel like if I wasn’t in an environment in which people got to create art projects with such enthusiasm, I sadly wouldn’t be capable of mustering up the same motivation.
Verwey: I love your drawings/paintings- they’re so stylized and distinctly yours. When did some of your reoccurring images surface.
Rosario Perkins: I dropped out of high school when I was about 16 and had to take a GED class before taking my test. I took this class at a homeless shelter in Santa Fe, which was right next door to an independent comic bookstore. Anyway– my head drawings sort of started out as a very appropriative thing. I would buy comics before class and I would try and draw people over and over. Eventually my drawings really started to morph and become more stylized, even grotesque and I stopped drawing anything below the neck.. I probably realized I was only drawing the same face around age nineteen and as I said, being pretty isolated I was just slapping fleeting thoughts along with the images I drew. It was a little after that I began to draw the mountains… but those primarily came out of a homesickness I had when I got to Oakland later. When I got to Oakland, my father (who paints landscapes) was still my mentor at that time and thinking about the desert would give me really complex feelings. I’ve just drawn these things over and over and I’m pretty methodical in the way I do it… starting with the same lines each time.
Verwey: Where can I get my hands on one of your killer zines, TURNER DOWN?
Rosario Perkins: I actually only have two of these left. They’re available through the Black Salt etsy but I am actually planning to revamp them and have a “Turner Down v.2” for sale with a little more editing and better construction. I wanna marble the covers and make them look nicer. It was made pretty quickly because I had never really finished a zine and when I did, I realized, “That was easy.” These will be re-released soon and available through the same sources. I guess if people want one, they can just reserve one ahead of time… that might give me an impetus to get them done sooner.
Verwey: You’re selling prints like this now:
What type of prints are they and where are they sold?
Rosario Perkins:I’ve been making xerox transfers. It’s where you take a xeroxed image and by using gum arabic and water, you are able to roll ink onto the image, which will adhere to the inked parts of the xerox, which is then transferrable to paper. It is simple in terms of process but actually making sure the water ratio is just right is kind of tough so sometimes you make a successful clean print and other times, not so much. I take all the images from my sketchbook, so they aren’t really planned too far ahead. My printmaking is pretty spontaneous.
These prints are available through the Black Salt’s etsy. I just did a new batch of about four or so source images and I also did some chine colle prints which are xerox transfers done on smaller bits of rice paper pressed into larger sheets of printing paper.
I also have an older batch of xerox transfers from August 2012 available at Accident and Artifact in their flat files on Valencia. They’re the last of that set.
Verwey: You describe yourself as a self-taught painter, but I noticed you graduated in Intermedia Arts from Mills College. What was your art practice like there?
Rosario Perkins: At Mills I focused primarily on video. I studied with Samara Halperin who was great. I also took some sound classes with James Fei and learned things like basic circuitbuilding. I don’t know if I ever really wanted to be a videomaker-videomaker but when I was at Mills I was able to explore a lot of ideas. I made a few videos I still enjoy… at that time, though, I strongly referenced more pop cultural things which maybe had to do with wanting to be less vulnerable… I did things like take the dialogue from Taxi Driver, all of Travis Bickle’s diary entries and read them myself in the saddest most quiet murmur I could and juxtaposed it with found footage… where it was no longer aggressive but more tender. I also recreated a Black Flag performance using an all female cast who had to lip-synch to “Rise Above” and drink shitty beer and fake “play” real instruments for like 4 hours. I also took sculpture and worked with installation ideas. Samara really nurtured me while I was there and I am thankful for that. I was drawing a lot at this point but I didn’t really show my drawings or paintings to anyone beyond my friends. Video was my focus. I enjoy video in a lot of ways but when I graduated I also didn’t really have the resources to do it. I also had that pretty commonplace post-school thing where I thought “Video… I don’t want to do that for a while” but now I’d like to utilize it in more of my art practice. There is a real immediacy to videowork that I want to experiment with.
Verwey: What are you working on now?
Rosario Perkins: I am currently working on a set of paintings based on my father’s landscapes for a small zine or book with maybe some writing. It is going to be called “Pi Mac,” which is where one of my tribe’s name came from. I guess prior to the 17th century, the O’odham were not known as Pima. Pima was a mishearing or miscommunication. The settlers heard the O’odham saying “Pi Ani Mac” which means “I don’t know.” So, “I don’t know” is the basis of the name of this group of people. It’s crazy. I just learned this. Anyway… there’s that, which should be done by summer. I also have been making t-shirts. I just learned to screenprint and am working on a 2nd shirt design. I’ll just pump those out as the year passes, while also doing custom shirts for people that I usually handpaint. I am also working on my components of an upcoming window installation at Artists Television Access and this includes some sculpture and animation components.
Verwey: Who are some of your favorite artists that should be more famous than they are?
Rosario Perkins: Favorite artists… Arstanda Billy White from NIAD Art Center, he’s a real storyteller. Thornton Dial… I also like Austin English and I just found this painter Tschabalala Self who I like a lot. There’s probably other people. My favorite artist is Philip Guston though and he’s pretty famous.
Rosario Perkins: There will be a Black Salt Collective launch at Artists Television Access in mid-March. We will have a window installation as well as a takeover of wall space. There will be a big opening reception with reception-y things and music by Mother Popcorn or Jeepneys, two of my favorite groups, the former being a two piece including Adee Roberson… the latter being Anna Luisa Petrisko who is hands down one of my favorite musicians from the Bay (she’s now in LA). During this run, we will also utilize the space as a residency in which Black Salt members will give tarot readings on a sliding scale basis on a set schedule. It will be nice to be there because I’ve been part of the ATA family for years.
And with my other work, meaning Creativity Explored, I am going to be co-curating my first show there called “Space,” which opens in May. Space will be a very unique show because it is primarily installation work that utilizes recycled objects and sculpture with elements of sound, light, and video. The prompt for the artists was to think of creating an environment that is entirely their own. The artists are also encouraged to help be a crucial part of the art install process, which is exciting.