Keisha Prioleau-Martin

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I am from Far Rockaway, Queens, New York and I live in Ridgewood, Queens New York.
What’s your favorite part of living in Ridgewood?
My favorite part of living in Ridgewood is its centralized location and the young art community. I have been traveling by bicycle for two years now and when you use a bike, getting around from Ridgewood makes the city feel really small. Artists studio and galleries are within walking distance.
When did you begin your current practice?
I started moving towards a body of work that addresses experiencing joy and mental health after I left undergrad. I spent all summer in the studio, unemployed, filled with uncertainty. When I was invited out to dance for my friend’s birthday I started thinking about dancing as a vehicle to talk about mood, and venue as abstract spaces that reflected the inner emotions.
Where do you get the source imagery for these works?
I draw from life whenever I can and in the last three years I have been incorporating drawings from memory and inventing the form to emphasize emotion. I thought about the experience of a young artist drawing from life: at first, they aren’t looking at the model enough and make assumptions about what the model looks like. Suddenly, their eyes are bigger, their hips are perfect curves. Their subconscious takes over the drawing and it becomes about how the young artist feels about the body instead of learning what they see. I thought to myself, I should combine the two: Observational and Memory/Imaginary.
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Some of the themes that reoccur in my work are celebration, joy, and humor. There’s dancing and playing and lounging and bathing and biking.
Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?
I was seven years old, a pro with photocopied coloring book pages. My mother took me to The Old Country Buffet in Long Island where the dining room was decorated with prints of the same artist. The earliest work of art to capture my attention was a Norman Rockwell illustration in the Sunday Post. I spent a long time on the way to the bathroom looking at them with all such fascination. My friend heard me talking about it and gave me an old calendar full of his illustrations and I hung them over my desk. I’m definitely over them now, but as a child I saw his ability to paint the warmth and love in a utopian room. I was inspired to do the same.
How much planning goes into your work?
A lot of planning goes into my work. I make lots of drawings in my sketchbook or on small pieces of paper. That initial drawing will lead to a series of drawings where I consider altering composition, values, and types of marks I would like to use. After iterations of these drawings have been made in graphite, pen, and India ink, I feel confident enough to paint it. Because I have spent so much time with the drawings, the washes help me become excited about the image again, it guarantees that the painting will feel new to me. It also provides a challenge and I like solving puzzles.
It feels like I am solving a puzzle. Artists are very good problem solvers. — Keisha Prioleau-Martin
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
A part of the way I begin a painting is to create a background of washes. I will sometimes just play around with the paint as a way to freely investigate particular techniques or color relationships. Afterwards, I start the painting on top of that keeping in mind the partly unplayed layer. I make a lot of decisions about how these layers will inform one another.
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
Putting in the finishing touches of a painting is the most difficult, because the painting is a few elements from being done at this point in the painting. It feels like I am solving a puzzle. Artists are very good problem solvers.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
Canvas or paper, soft synthetic paint brushes, tools to scrape paint away with (silicone spatulas, pallet knives, old metrocards). Sometimes I will turn on music or a podcast, I prefer speakers or wireless headphones in the studio.
Describe a typical day in the studio for you.
The first thing I do when I get in the studio is make coffee and read the notes I made myself the day before. I open the curtains if it is a sunny day. I spend time looking at pieces I am working on or drawings I am working from. I draw to warm up and then start a painting. I play music in the studio sometimes. At the end of the day I look at what I made and make notes about what I want to do and write comments about the paintings.
Did you go to art school?
I am formally trained, I went to SUNY Purchase School Art and Design. I feel as though many people have mentored me. I took many classes with Matt Bollinger, Judy Glantzman was my thesis advisor, and Hilary Doyle taught my last seminar which covered all professional practices for artists. Tom Burckhardt gave thoughtful answers to all of my questions. Sharon Horvath always reminded me to ask lots of questions and keep an open mind. I could mention so many names, everyone plays a role in my education.
Do you admire or draw inspiration from any of your peers who are also working now?
I admire so many of my peers. Here are just a few painters working right now that I love to look at: Kyle Staver, Rebeca Morgan, Sarah Slappey, Madeline Donahue, Rebecca Ness, Carlo D’Anselmi, Nicole Dyer, Mark Zubrovich, and Doron Langberg. It is fun to have a community of artists to have visual conversations with. My art-making process is very solitary apart from drawing figures from life.

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