Arts Help is thrilled to announce ICONS in partnership with W1 Curates! This new, exciting, and dynamic series will highlight artists igniting social change and raising global consciousness. These artists will be carefully selected by our Creative Team to represent a global community of artists and visionaries that resonates with current global movements. In addition to a published in-depth article on the Arts Help editorial, their work will be materialized on state-of-the-art larger than life digital billboards in global city centres and all of our social media accounts.
For the inaugural installment of Arts Help's ICONS series, we are proud to feature esteemed painter, Harmonia Rosales. Rosales' work focuses on capturing the diversity of the African diaspora, the beauty and complexities of black female empowerment in western culture, and reimagine classical paintings through her own background. Arts Help Editorial Coordinator Hannah Chew interviewed Rosales to discuss her creative process and aspirations.
How did you get into artmaking?
It's been a part of my life since I've come into this world, watching my mother and watching her paint, which has inspired me to create art.
What are the primary focus and goals of your work?
My focus has always been on women, they were the main focus. As I got older, and I had more knowledge of my cultural background with the Lucimi religion, which I'm not practicing, the elements and beliefs have always been a part of my life through my grandmother and father. In doing so, in making sure I honoured that in my work that is a part of me, I pay homage to my African heritage and religious background.
How does your personal background influence your work?
I grew up around my grandmother on my father's side, my father was a huge influence, especially his beliefs and traditions… As I got into having children and wanted them to learn our cultural background, I did it through painting and pictures rather than verbal, and I wanted to show my daughters that they are gods. When they were younger, I took them to museums, and I was trying to get her into paintings I loved, like the Birth of Venus by Boticelli. She was not really interested because there were no works that resembled her at all. I noticed she was right and told her there are African gods and goddesses. And as I looked into that, trying to get her into art, I realized as I was teaching my daughter, I learned myself.
Your work takes a lot of Eurocentric classics and reimagines them, why start there?
It has to relate to us, people from the African diaspora. When I looked at those original images in museums, I related back to myself regardless of what the original image was. But eventually, I realized that we are not included in a lot of these stories, even though, as people, we had the exact same stories. In making my works, I hope it will bring us together by showing us how similar our stories are and create more inclusion.
What has been your favourite or most meaningful project thus far?
It's always whatever my latest project is, what I feel inspired by, in this case, Miss Education.
Can you tell me about your upcoming work Miss Education?
It was only shown publicly for a day, before the COVID-19 lockdown, and it plays upon having a religion that is the foundation of America and elsewhere. There is a very strong foundation, even if we aren't Christian, our religion is still settled in. We still have issues and the problems with same-sex marriage and the role of marriage, but we as people also make up the foundations of this country. I want to take what we were forced to ingest and include the African diaspora history.
Looking at my picture, Stigmata, our's aren't the wounds on the hands or anything else, our stigmatas are the lashes on our backs, our ancestors, and what they endured for us to be here today. One of my other works tells a story of Eve, who represents women and everyone, and it's her journey through America that shows people how we are perceived.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists right now?
A lot of artists depend on galleries because we are so creative, and our mind is focused on the next project, we don't focus on the business side and rely on galleries. We can't survive without galleries because we don't have the collectors. But we are now seeing a shift, galleries are scared and worried about social media, where artists can post and get reposted, and people see them. Artists of colour are also getting more eyes and more reposts.
How have you used social media? What are the benefits and challenges for artists?
I think you can reach a vast amount of people. That is a plus, art floats around, and people repost and post alongside their own poetry. On the other hand, it's hard, you're going to have all that criticism, mostly non-constructive criticism. They're going to vocalize all that, because many people do not educate themselves on certain topics, and they don't like their certain views being disrupted. As an artist, we can't buy into those messages just because you're more accessible. It can stop you because they are very critical, but once you get over it, nothing can stop you.
What does your creative process look like?
I look at a blank canvas. I'll put it into my living room, I can't have my art away from me, it's the energy, I'm big on energy. Just living life, sometimes I have questions, I have research, I'm always reading. If someone says something so eloquently, I think, "why isn't this publicized?" or "why isn't that everywhere?" In an age where people don't wanna take time, visually, I can show them those messages. I take impactful things and create a piece of art.
When I have an idea, I'll start to paint, and the image will morph into how it should be. If I start a face, the rest will come. I'll wait, I'll sit there for a week or two, and I'll know exactly what I'm missing. It develops on the canvas, I always work directly on the canvas. If I sketch, I'm married to the sketch. That energy I used to sketch out is used upon the drawing, to place it on the canvas it feels stiff, that's why I only paint directly on canvas.
How can art lovers use art to empower?
I think if we talk about individual artists, we should speak about purchasing their works. Paying for their work gives artists the confidence to keep utilizing their craft. Please support this way if you can, especially artists who are not with a gallery. If you can't, reposting their work is a great way, it shows their art to a new audience and gets the artist's name out there.
Any final words for our readers?
I would say to artists- I find that artists are often like, "I wanna be as good as you!" My personal opinion is that I don't wanna see another cookie-cutter artist, everyone has a unique style, and they need to follow it. You may try to paint a certain way, but your natural style will say completely different and make your art less stiff. Go with it! People and collectors will see that, if you don't stay true to your style, they will see you trying to be something else.
Who you are as an artist, develop that more, you don't need to emulate something else that doesn't feel natural. When I started, people were into Alec Monopoly, and they told me my art was too old-fashioned and wouldn't sell. I tried to make my art more cartoon/childlike, but I struggled, and it wasn't working for me. When I finally did more old school Renaissance type work I wanted to do, it took a while because it was a different path, but I found more success in that because I wasn't trying to be something else. And I'm happier.
More information on Harmonia Rosales' work may be found at https://www.harmoniarosales.com/