By FRANCESCA IACONO
Who are you?
I would say I’m a visual artist--I don’t like to put so many titles on myself because I am still trying to figure out who I am exactly, but at this moment, I know that I am a creative and a visual artist who is discovering my own identity, because in the past I have always had labels put on me, so I am just trying to get away from those labels and figure out who I am.
How did you get into visual arts? Was there a specific cause or moment that brought you to it, or was it always there for you?
As a kid I was always making things, whether it was drawing or making arts and crafts, but in high school, I got into this really depressive mode because everyone in school was bullying me and telling me that I wasn’t black when I was, and things like that really got to me. I tried to reflect on that through drawing, and then I started out with just drawing faces without picking up the pen, and it would create one line illustrations--from there I was like “this turned out pretty cool” and I started doing that, and eventually it caught attention and I still create from that.
What are your favorite materials or mediums to use?
I’ve always been obsessed with pens, because as a kid I was always afraid of pencil stains that come from your hand touching the writing on the page and smudging it--it always freaked me out--I think it’s a phobia--but I really like pens and acrylic. Everything I do is black and white, and I am starting to transition into color now, because I think that phase is over.
What inspires your work the most? I know that you used it to reflect on your identity based off of what other people were putting onto you, so is your current work still involved in that?
Yes, very much. I think a lot of things that inspire me come from things I learned in lectures, whether it be in a history class and learning about black people in America, or even capitalism. I take a lot of inspiration from what I’m taught in school, which is really a privilege for me. I love learning historical things, whether it relates to my people, because growing up I was never exposed to being black and so learning about all of the pain that my father’s side has gone through has helped me reflect and understand who I am and where I come from even more.
Who inspires you?
I honestly don’t think that I can pinpoint specific people or an artist, to be honest, I am not very knowledgeable about a lot of artists, but I think that what inspires me is having real conversations with people and learning about what they think and how they feel, and seeing if I can relate to anything they’re feeling, and if something resonates with me, I reflect on what they’re saying and create on it.
Where do you prefer to work?
This corner of my room is my safe space--I really like working on the floor, so any floor is fine, but I really want to have my own studio eventually and have a bigger space to create and just fill up all of my walls.
What’s it like being a Design student at a school that is mainly focused on STEM fields and agriculture and sciences, even though [UC Davis] is the only school in the University of California system with a Design program? Do you think that this setting has affected your work?
I feel that as a Design student in such a big school that is so focused on professions like veterinary work and anything medical, is comforting in a way, because everyone in the Design department knows each other, as it’s so small, and it’s really a community. Everyone in the department likes to help us and bring us to where we need to be. I think that because it is a fairly new program, there are some things that need to be worked on, like class sizes and stuff like that. I sometimes question what it would be like if I were to go to a school that has a larger arts or creative department--I don’t know if it really has affected me, but I just find comfort in all of the people around me because I love my professors and I love the other creatives that I’m with.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests other than art and design? I know that you’re a black belt in karate, which has to do with the other half of your identity, as you’re Japanese.
I also like photography--I haven’t picked it up in a while but I am starting to do that again--I really like capturing the historical backgrounds of where I find my inspiration in my drawings, so I like to photograph things from Japan or from my dad’s side in Arkansas, and see and visually understand myself and where I come from through an image.
I feel like you kind of already answered this question in the beginning, but I’ll ask again: You have a very distinct and unique style involving line work and faces--how did you develop this style?
In high school I just went through a breakup and was just dealing with so much rejection from my peers--one day I just found this really nice pen and began to draw and I only did single-handed strokes and would continue the line and never pick up the pen until I created something that was messy, but I resonated with that because inside I felt a combination of things. I feel like my drawings really illustrate a mixture of emotions, all of the time, because that’s how I feel and I like to really think about how I feel inside, and how chaotic my mind is, and put that onto paper and see if people connect with it. I think my style has developed because I stay true to myself and I never like to plan anything that’s done on paper--I just go with what I’m feeling and just go straight with the pen.
Yeah, I’ve seen that with some of your work-in-progress Instagram stories where you just go straight into drawing with a pen or paint and don’t have a plan or penciled outline down beforehand.
Yeah I try not to force anything--there are phases where I am not in creative moods or I don’t have any ideas, so I like to capture in the moment right when I am feeling something and it just happens fluidly, and I think that that’s something that comes with practice as well. I sometimes had to force myself to get ideas out, and then doing that also helped me to get things done faster and more efficiently.
Where do you see yourself, or would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I really want to get into exhibition design--I think it would be cool to curate exhibitions based on African diaspora and Asian American studies, that would be really cool. But I also really think that I want to develop myself as an artist, and I see myself expanding in furniture, fashion and creating other spaces for people to be creative in.
Do you have any last words or things you would like people to know about you? Any advice for other women or femme artists?
I think it is important to educate yourself and where you come from, and understanding the struggles that come from your background, whether that’s communicating with your parents or other family members. Like for me, growing up I never had such a strong communicative relationship with my father, even though he was always present, and I think when I got into college and I first got into encounters with other black students, I started to learn that there’s not always a box for things, and that it’s important to reach out to people. So I started to talk to my dad a little bit more about where he grew up and about what struggles he faced growing up as a kid, and I felt a deeper connection between us. I think that finding places where you can connect yourself to other people around you is a really important foundation.
Follow Meeka’s work here.