Caylee Davis and Kiana Long interviewing Lauren “Venoris” Carter
November 29th, 2016
(Elder, 3.5’x4’) (Crow1,Crow 2,Crow 3, 18”x18”) (Young Mother, 4’x4’) (Tar Baby, 3.5’x4’)
Venoris is a Texas State student from Lockhart, TX graduating with her BFA in drawing. Her work, alongside that of her fellow classmates, is part of a final exhibition of senior student work in the Texas State Galleries. She chooses to work in the medium of tar on poplar wooden panels, using imagery that relates to her own cultural past as well as socio-political issues. Issues of race, stereotypes, and the historical past of African-Americans are shown in forms of symbolism and silhouette on these six panels of various sizes. Her work embraces black culture and how much it means to be black and love that. Some of her prime influences include artists such as Kara Walker and William Kentridge. A poem titled, “Strange Fruit” is printed onto small individual cards on a podium next to her work, encouraging viewers to take the message with them. Venoris ends her own artist statement by addressing the point of her work, “Overall if nothing else, I want my work to spark conversations and provoke dialogue in a meaningful way.”
Kiana: I am really excited to see your work, especially now I feel like work like this needs to be done, do you feel that way as well?
Venoris: Yeah it’s necessary. And then also too like it is kind of interesting cause prior to like Donald Trump and all the stuff that came with him like I was already doing this so it has nothing to do with that. It is just in response to everything else that happened prior to it. I don’t know about y’all but whenever I go on Facebook and I look at a video or read an article about something somewhat controversial, or something bad happening and it’s usually a racial thing, the comment section is like where I live cause that is the best place, because I want to see what people are thinking and how they are responding. Because sometimes people will surprise you, but most of the time they surprise you in the negative. But a lot of times it is frustrating like even during the election people that you know well or have known all your life they come out of the woodworks saying stuff you would not expect. It took all the strength in me to not delete them. It’s difficult because everyone is entitled to think and say what they want but at the same time I feel like there is a line because somethings aren’t just, I guess you could say, black and white. If you don’t understand someone else you probably shouldn’t make an opinion about them, you should inform yourself, just because Fox or Tommy Lauren said something.
I get inspiration from different things like two semesters ago prior I was more focused on police killings, that was a big part of my work and black hair was another one, that was one of my favorite ones.
K: How come?
V:For example if you talk about cultural appropriation and I am going to be real honest so please don’t be offended.
Caylee: Go for it.
V: okay so this is in a case whenever I was a child going back to like Boderick, she is famous for I think it was in the 60s, she was running on a beach in a bathing suit and she is wearing braids with beads on the end and she is running throwing her hair around. Appropriation has a lot to do with that.
(She discusses how Martin Lawrence references this in the movie Big Momma’s House 2)
When I was a child we were not allowed to appreciate this.
(Venoris points to her hair in regards)
I was told this was ugly, but it is not because of our own culture hating it to begin with it was not that. It was because of slavery and then to fit in more you do things to it because one you were told it isn’t socially acceptable by another culture and then you also pass that down and then you create this self-hate. So this is me accepting who I am completely without any regret what so ever. Black hair is all different things. I don’t have a problem with weave or straight but that you should understand that we have so any options, it is very versatile, it is wonderful, it is great. I just want people to have more understanding about these types of things and why.
I feel like black people as a whole, our culture influences everybody, across the world even in japan people are getting their hair done in corn rows or make their hair kinky…I have seen it and it is gross. It is wrong and even our clothes. The funny thing about appropriation is that it is okay for everyone else to look like us except us, there is negative associations when we do it. Kim Kardashian can do black women hairstyles and it’s a trend but when we do it’s not. The frustration that comes with this is very annoying.
C: What was your medium with your former works?
V: I did some with ceramics, tar for the hair works, videos, expanded media about police brutality. I also did charcoal drawings on narratives of black culture.
C: So do you prefer working with tar rather than the other mediums?
V: Yes, right now I am in love with it because it is really a powerful medium. It’s unconventional within itself, very few people actually work with tar or more so very few work with it the way I do, they usually dip stuff in it or paint with it but it doesn’t have any associations other than the fact that its tar. With me when I use it, the context immediately changes with it because I am black. The imagery is what matters too, if I was painting flowers with it, it may not hold that same context.
K: Do you find tar difficult to work with? What is its consistency when you use it?
V: In the beginning, it was. I took the short cut route.
(she shows us a work that she painted with it)
I could give a 3-dimensional aspect to the hair. So for the shortcut, they have this stuff that they use to repair roofs and it comes in different colors and it works just like tar, so I use a cocking gun to apply the hair. That work was the first time I had used it. I squeeze it and spread it with this spatula like thing almost like a pallet knife. I have learned since then and since my skills have upgraded.
I actually bought it in a bucket, it comes in the same size as a paint can. So I take the spatula and just apply it to the wood and smear it where I want. It’s better because my hand doesn’t get tired, plus the tubes slowed me down and the can lasts me for several months. I still use the tubes so that I can get texture because it is more controlled, I can also control it by cutting the tip differently for either thinner or thicker. I can still have control with the can but I can control the tar in a different way. I came across the tubes on accident at my parents because my dad is a carpenter so I thought hey I am going to try that and it worked! I knew it would but there were different variables with the medium that I was still learning, like drying time and the smell. I wish the smell stayed when the work was finished but the smell fades, it kind of sucks. I want that smell because it implies something, it would elevate it, I want to evoke your senses, not just visually, if I could get that smell that would be it. Maybe if I used hot tar?
K: Have you considered using hot tar or tried it?
V: It is really messy and I wouldn’t have the same sense of control, I would have to work at a certain pace because it hardens quicker. It would limit me wanting to work with it, it is just too much. Maybe one day. Even then though, if I mess up on something I cannot really fix it. Whereas with the tar in the can, if I mess up I can fix it with some mineral spirits, it’s similar to acetone but not as bad for you.
K: Did growing up in Lockhart, TX influence your work or the experiences you had there?
V: It’s a small town, racism was definitely prevalent when I was a child but it is not the same because well, a lot of those people are dying and a whole bunch of new people are moving in. There is a lot of people I don’t know. I have to ask now.
K: Was there anything that happened to you that spurred the idea to make your works?
V: No, I had sports as an outlet when I was younger but I did experience a lot of racism through sports. I had a coach that was black but the rest of them were white, one of them was racist. She ended up getting fired years later. I was nominated athlete of the year and the only coach who did not want me to get it was her, the girl she did want happened to be white and the sports she did play she did not get much playing time. I experienced most of my racism when I was younger. She would harass me every day and get the other students to go against me as well. You learn to deal with it because you get used to it.
K: When do you think, you started to embrace being a black woman?
V: I would say high school, or maybe earlier I just did not care so much anymore. It was when I started to see dark skinned black people in high positions. It makes a difference when you see people that look like you doing things in a big way. Hair became the defining thing that completed the circle.
C: Were you doing art throughout growing up in school?
V: I have been drawing since I was 8 years old but I never considered myself an artist. I did not consider myself an artist until last semester. Starting out I was I biology major and then I switched, after seeing The Cosby Show when I was a kid, I always wanted to be a doctor. I did not think about being an artist until Dreamworks came out, I thought about being an animator. I originally wanted to be a plastic surgeon. I switched my junior year, I realized you can have a life being an artist and being a doctor you cannot.
C: Now with your work do you use a stencil or freehand it?
V: No I don’t freehand it, I have tried it but I do not prefer it. I use a projector and then I outline that and then I fill it in with tar. It comes out precise.
K: Is there any particular artist that influenced your recent and past works?
V: Kara Walker, she is an African American artist and uses silhouettes in her work. I learned about her in one of my drawing classes, I went up to my teacher to ask more about her and I saw her work and thought, “yes”. She uses white chalk to free hand her silhouettes then cuts them out and pastes them on the wall. Another is William Kentridge, he is from South Africa and he draws images with charcoal and erases it, but before he erases it, he films it and he does this over and over. At the end, you can see all of the stages that he goes through. I was actually able to see his work in Rome.
K: Did he influence just your charcoal works?
V: Not just my charcoal, I think I am influenced by the overall mood he creates in his work. Stylistically I would say Kara Walkers, we both use silhouette’s and narratives, but my narrative are not necessarily a storyline like hers.
K: Where would you say your work is head more, recently?
V: It is probably still going to be cultural, it is going to most likely stay like that for a while. One because there is so much I can use to make art just from that, I do not really think I need to make it about anything else unless I want to take a break and make my art about things I do not really care about. I feel like it is an ongoing topic and there is a never ending well of inspiration, all I got to do is flip on the news or on Facebook.
C: Do you feel like there is still so much for you to say with your art?
C: For your art, do you want to stay local?
V: I do want to stay local, but I do not think that is necessarily going to happen because of the recent opportunities I have been getting. I want to be a work artist but I think that may cause me to travel.
C&K: Well it was very nice talking to you and we cannot wait to see your work at the Thesis Exhibition. Thank you.
V: Thank you.
In conclusion, our interview with Venoris was a blast but also very enlightening. We not only discussed her art but the issues her art stems from, sharing one another’s personal experiences and thought. Although, it was an interview it was very conversational and a collaborative experience. It was great to hear from a young artist who is making art about past and present cultural and racial issues that were and are still relevant, ongoing and personal to her. Her work carries a strong message but is at the same time very refreshing. We cannot wait for what her future works will be about and where Venoris will be as an artist in the upcoming years.
“Strange Fruit” by Lewis Allan
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.