Interview: Maya Freelon Asante on Being an Artist, Family Inspirations, and Working Outdoors

12:00 pm

Past Tense Present, 2015, 8.5”x18", tissue ink mono/photo print

*All images are courtesy of Morton Fine Art.*

Today's interview is with the incredibly talented creator Maya Freelon Asante, who creates bright, colourful, and complex artworks, sometimes combining printwork with photography. She dedicates her artwork to her grandmother, which you'll find out a little more about in our interview, and comes from a family with its roots in the African American Impressionist movement. I love the colourful nature of her art, my favourites being 'Dark Matter' and 'Divided/Whole'. Please read on to find out more about her story. Thank you for Morton Fine Art for providing images of her spectacular work to share with you today!

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Magic & Musings:
For any readers who don't know your background, do you want to tell me a bit about yourself and where you are today?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I'm an artist, a creator, a risk taker, and entrepreneur. I'm a Black woman; I always reiterate those two facts because I'm proud of them.

Magic & Musings:
If you describe your art style in three words, what would they be?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Bright, brilliant, kinetic.

Magic & Musings:
When did you first get into art? What first drew you to the field? Did you study it formally or come across it as a hobby?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I've always loved art since I was a little kid. It's something that brought me peace and I could sit and draw for hours starting at about age five. 

In middle school I had a teacher who saw my talent and really encouraged me by offering assignments that were challenging. I attended North Carolina Governor's School and started painting, drawing, and sculpture in high school. I also discovered the artistic roots of own my family in high school. My great grandfather was a African American Impressionist painter named Allan Freelon and he worked during the Harlem Renaissance. I also apprenticed with a Black female artist, Beverly McIver.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2013, 62"x30, tissue ink monoprint & collage

Magic & Musings:
Did you have to find yourself overcoming any hurdles regarding your confidence when you first started displaying your art?

Maya Freelon Asante:
When I first started exhibiting my art I applied to lots of different exhibitions and got lots of rejections. I also got a few acceptances, which always led to other projects. I went straight from undergrad at Lafayette College to graduate school at Tufts School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I had a fast paced, accelerated journey through schooling so by the time I finished and I went straight into teaching at the college level. It was like I never left school. After two years I decided I wanted to try to make art full-time. I found art residencies, art grants, and living in a city that supports the arts are crucial to surviving as an artist. The three places I've lived in the last decade are Durham, North Carolina which has a great State Arts Council, Baltimore, Maryland which has MICA, and public art funds, and Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts offer really great opportunities for the emerging artist. I met Deborah Willis at Harvard, through the CCA conference. All of these opportunities helped build my artistic career.

Magic & Musings:
Of all of your work, what are you proudest of and why?

Maya Freelon Asante:
All of my artwork is dedicated to my grandmother, Queen Mother Frances J. Pierce and it's either about living with her, remembering her as a child, using the tissue paper which I found tucked away in her basement, water damaged. She really had a huge impact in my creative life. And I'm proud of her life and legacy. Her sacrifices allowed me to be the artist I am today.

Handmade, 2013, 36"x37", tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I'm really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you work or find yourself most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or particular album of music you listen to?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I typically like to work outdoors, or in a place that can accept a lot of water because my creative process can get really wet. I also like to work in studio spaces that are outside of the home, but I recently moved into a place where my studio is in my home and I need a space that's away from my living areas. I like to listen to Spotify and the station that I'm really feeling is Janelle Monae, Phony People and No Name and The Internet.

Magic & Musings:
What do you do if you find yourself stuck in a rut creatively?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Space to think and being quiet are super important when your are a creative person. That's when I get my inspiration. If I'm stuck in a rut sometimes I write my journal or I'll sit and meditate and be quiet and just let the creative process come through.

Inception, 2012, 90"x36", tissue ink monoprint
Magic & Musings:
What are some things you like to do in your spare time when you aren't working?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I love being outdoors, I love the water I like going on a nature walks and going to the ocean and going to the lake. I also love yoga and to go horseback riding.

Magic & Musings:
Have you ever explored working in another medium?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I started out doing drawing, painting, sculpture, and photography, and now merge all my media together. The two things that I'm still interested in learning are glassblowing and metal work.

Lost, 2015, 26.75”x17", tissue ink monoprint
Magic & Musings:
What would you say your relationship is like between your business and the internet/social media? Would you say this has helped you greatly in your success, or not?

Maya Freelon Asante:
When I came up in college and graduate school, Facebook was just starting. So social media hadn't popped off yet. I just started Instagram this year and it's been interesting the amount of followers I've gotten in such a short amount of time. 

Divided/Whole, 2015, 25.5”x19”, spinning tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
If there was one thing you could want to say to the world if you knew everyone was listening, what would it be and why?

Maya Freelon Asante:
The one thing I want to say to the world is there needs to be more love and peace for everybody. Be honest, forgive, and accept everybody for just where they are. I think we would have a much sweeter and loving place for everyone if we could do those things. Also we need to share our resources. There's an abundance and just a few people are utilizing them. If we shared equally it would be a lot better for everybody.

Dark Matter,  2015, 55”x44”, spinning tissue ink monoprint

Magic & Musings:
What tools do you use to keep yourself organized?

Maya Freelon Asante:
Some may say I'm not organized at all, but I say there's a method to my madness. What method you say? I'm not sure, I have to find it.

Magic & Musings:
What one thing do you wish someone told you when you were first starting out working in the field?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I wish somebody told me that I could do whatever I want if I just focus on my energy on it. That it's going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of self-confidence. I started out teaching thinking that I needed to teach in order to be an artist and that's not necessarily true. If you take your business skills, you take your creative skills, and then you take your entrepreneurial skills, and if you can merge all those three together you will have ability to be great at whatever you do.

Letter to my Great­ Great ­Grandmother, 2015, 8"x21", tissue ink mono/photo print
Magic & Musings:
Onto a fun question! Can you recommend everyone read a book you have enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song?

Maya Freelon Asante:
The books you should read are The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran and Love, Freedom and Aloneness by Osho. Those are totally personal books that have nothing to do with art. The art books you should read are anything by Deborah Willis, Ways of Seeing by John Berger, and A Natural History of the Senses. A film I would recommend is Beasts of the Southern Wild. An album I would recommend is Lauryn Hill's Unplugged - I know that album is old, but every single time I listen to it I feel totally renewed in my life purpose.

Magic & Musings:
Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? How can people find out more about you and your work?

Maya Freelon Asante:
I would say to all Black female artists who are wondering - should they do it? Could they do it? Just go for it! You don't have to be the best artist, you don't have to be the most well-known, you just have to speak with the voice that God gave you and let it come out in whatever form. Come share your gifts with the world because we are waiting!

See You Soon, 2015, 42"x30", spinning tissue ink mono photo print

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