Artist’s Name: Kristen Woollery

Artist’s Age: 40

Artform: Abstract Paintings

Why do you do what you do? When did you realize a passion for what you do? 

I paint as a form of therapy, joy, and self-love and to visually tell the stories of my Trinidadian heritage, African Ancestry, and Christian faith.

I’ve always had a flair for the creative [arts] but first started to articulate my artistic desires when I was in high school. During that time, I enjoyed the opportunity of exploring and developing many skills in graphic arts, photography, and creative writing. Ultimately though, as an adult, I chose a more “practical” professional path as a social worker/therapist, which ironically led me back to art and solidified my passion for it. This was due in part to the realization that being creative was a vital part of my personhood and leading a life without it felt empty and laborious.  

Therefore, the reintroduction of painting and various creative art forms in my daily practice has called me back to my truest self. What started as my need to fill the empty parts of me, has grown into my desire to reflect the images of and tell the stories of the people of my community, but from my creative perspective. 

What is your educational background? 

I am a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park with a B.A. in English Literature with a concentration in African-American Literature. Additionally, I hold a Masters Degree in Social Work from New York University. 

Although based on my degrees, art doesn’t appear to be centered in my collegiate career, it was always present and underpinned my coursework during my tenure. It was through my English studies that I learned the art of storytelling, but more specifically telling stories of Black people, their unique experiences, culture, and beauty. In a similar vein, my Master’s studies in Social Work dug deeper into explaining the myriad psychosocial, socioeconomic, and environmental factors impacting Black people of the diaspora, but especially the Black people in America. So now as an artist, I seek to take all that I have experienced as a Black Trinidadian-American woman, along with what I have learned scholastically, and distill it into abstract paintings that highlight the beauty, strength, and joy of a people often forgotten and overlooked.  

What are some of the challenges that you have faced while trying to pursue your passion?

Firstly, my experiences as a creative entrepreneur and artist have been overwhelmingly positive, as my work has been well-received and amplified by my community and reputable publications. At the same time, I would say that the challenges I’ve faced are mainly related to filling many roles as the sole proprietor of my business, in addition to being the artist, marketer, and manager of my career. While I’ve enjoyed the growth of my artistic pursuits and have sharpened the secondary skills necessary to support the success of my business, I have done a lot of sweat equity that I hope pays dividends in my future. 

How do you work? What is the method to your ‘madness’ and how do you filter your creativity?

Painting for me is a practice that is both spiritual and therapeutic. As such, I typically start my day off in prayer as a way to get centered and connect with God who guides me. Some days I start painting with no particular direction or desired outcome, but I simply keep painting until I arrive at a result that feels right to me. Other times, I might start sketching on my tablet and end up creating an illustration that I’d prefer to be a painting. With the tablet, I can work out all of the elements of the artwork ahead of time and simply recreate it on canvas. Currently, though, I am working on a few concepts that I want to turn into a cohesive collection that I hope to display soon. 

What role do you believe “the artist” has in society? / How do you feel your art form has the power to benefit society?

The artist is impactful in many ways. In my opinion, art is a form of expression that the artist utilizes to interrogate and reconfigure what he/she sees in an attempt to challenge social norms and notions. The artist, through their work, can [be a mirror] to society… in an effort for society to examine and correct itself or the artist may choose to imagine what can be and the myriad possibilities in between. Either way, artists are indisputably invaluable, as they force us to think beyond the bounds that we are socially conditioned to operate in. 

For me, my art is about the revelation of Black people in a way that isn’t often seen in mainstream media- as one unified body. Through my work, I weave together my Caribbean heritage, African Ancestry, and American upbringing to highlight our oneness through shared history, vibrant cultures, resilience, and abounding beauty despite being scattered throughout the world. Ultimately, I believe that my work has the power to impact how we see ourselves and bring us even closer together as a community.

Out of all your work, which piece resonates the most with you?

I have a piece that I named “Reign” which is the complete embodiment of what I wish to translate to my audience when I paint. She is regal and bold. She is dark and beautiful. She dons closely cropped hair, as her beauty doesn’t lie in European standards. She is an amalgamation of all the women both near and far who inspired me. She is also decidedly dark because I wanted there to be no ambiguity about who my art seeks to represent. She is gorgeous in my eyes, just like all Black people are to me. 

Where do you see yourself going?

To the moon! I see myself climbing to greater heights with my art displayed on billboards and in magazines. I also wish to see my artwork on more products and in big box stores with the hopes of expanding into textiles, merchandising, and decor. 

By what terms do you measure success or perfection? When do you feel like you can say that your work is finished and ready to be experienced by others?

I try not to chase perfection because perfection is a moving target, but I define success as having the freedom to work full-time as an artist and share my work with the world! 

“The artist, through their work, can [be a mirror] to society… in an effort for society to examine and correct itself or the artist may choose to imagine what can be and the myriad possibilities in between.”

~ Kristen Woollery