Artist Spotlight: A Conversation with Muzae Sesay
Our Temne House
Acrylic, oil, oil pastel, and graphite on canvas
60" x 72" diptych
1. What draws you to painting as your main medium?
A lot of things draw me to painting. The tradition of painting. The idea of still being able to add something unique to this extremely old art form and tradition. Also, just the physical aspect of moving paint on a surface with a brush is pleasurable. In some of my more recent work, I’ve been moving away from the ultra-flat planes of color In those pieces I get a lot of pleasure from getting the edges as straight as possible with my hand, but still finding these small micro-imperfections, which I consider painterly. I’ve actually been moving away from that recently, experimenting with textures using oils and oil pastels and really focusing on mark-making. Looking at works as a collection of marks and marks that the artist has deliberately made.
2. Do you prefer to work on canvas or on murals/ larger scale commissions?
Canvas, 100%. I do like going up in scale but the ability to work on a canvas and to work in the studio is a more interpersonal relationship. Whereas murals or public art are really great, but I am also very conscious of the audience it is for and that goes into art making, so it is not necessarily for me at that point. Whereas, studio work is more for me, and I can really experiment and let myself go. You don’t really want to be experimenting with a mural. Some people do but that is not necessarily the place to try something drastically new.
3. You use the term “skewed” to describe your work what does this mean to you?
To me that basically means deviating from the “normal” in a way or deviating from the reality where there are figurative aspects to the painting, but it becomes abstract because it is so skewed. You are looking at a collection of planes of color and interchanging them. Skewed for me is deviating from reality.
4. How much personal material do you draw on for your work?
It is specific to the work, but in general, I think I end up discovering how it is auto-biographical later on. When I revisit the piece, I realize why I did that. There is a whole series which is about my father’s homeland in Sierra Leone and the city of Freetown, and exploring the way I’ve been taught to think about my own identity. Some people interpret my current obsession with homes and interior/exteriors as having to do with issues in my own life, but that isn’t necessarily conscious.
5. Walk me through the use of color in your paintings?
It just comes from innate balance. The use of colors is very based on their visual weight within the composition. The colors themselves stem from trying to curate a harmony with these really uplifting colors in the sense that they are vibrant.
It has had many iterations and adaptations but it started off with the project of recreating the colors of the houses in San Francisco. I was gifted this awesome color palette from a hardware store, and those colors made me think of aspects of childhood like child playthings and plastic toys. The actual color palette as a whole represents the playfulness of the composition even if it dealt with darker themes. Recently, I’ve realized how the addition of certain colors can really turn the emotional effect of the painting. All of the work that is based on Sierra Leone has olive greens and browns. These earth tones mixed-in with pastels can settle the tone of the painting. It comes to remind me of a landscape at dusk, which is something I enjoy.
6. What are your goals for 2018?
In 2018 I want to continue what I’m doing and paint more in the studio and be more selective with the murals that I am taking on. Continue to keep refining my style and keep moving forward with ideas and making better and better work.
7. What project would you do if there were no limits?
Creating an interactive space but on a more intimate scale or doing really large-scale paintings and having a reason to do that. I also want to collect more art. I really like the idea of re-investing into artists and the community. Then it’s kind of like trading work.
8. How do you feel your work has evolved over the past year?
It actually evolved more slowly than it has in the past. I’m getting too comfortable in one-style, and I want to start breaking out of it. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again, but I do really like working an idea fully out and then having it evolve naturally.
9. What music are you listening to right now?
Pacific Yew was playing in our whole conversation, and that’s a friend of ours here in Oakland. I listen to a lot of local artists. I like to think of it the same way I think of painting, and I try to buy physical media from artists. I collect cassettes and records. I’ve also been listening to a lot of House which has been fun. I used to listen to a lot of electronic music growing up, which I got away from, but now I’m back into it.
10. What other artists are inspiring you?
Again, its been hyper-local. My friend’s. Everyone in the Blackmail Collective. Olivia* who is painting behind me is an inspiration. My studiomates Brett* and Cannon*. Jeremy from Pacific Yew also does visual art that is also super inspirational. Kerry James Marshall, Danny Fox to look at looseness, Joan Brown, Philip Guston. Those are the people that are pushing me to look at mark-making and focusing on it as the sign of an artist’s hand. It is interesting to be doing really precise paintings and then want to completely deviate from that.