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Rising Stars: Meet Deitra Charles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Deitra Charles.

Hi Deitra, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
The path that I took to arrive at my current place as an artist was a bit of a labyrinth. Meandering my way through careers, I was afraid to consider myself an artist as I felt that I might not be good enough and that pursuing a “sensible” career was more respectable. These were self-imposed barriers that paralyzed me as an artist and kept me from doing what I love. Graduating from Loyola Marymount University with a BA in Fine Arts / Communications was rewarding but upon graduation, I realized that I was ill-prepared to pursue a career in art. My concentration was in costume design and I did not know how to insert myself into that field. Having a natural affinity for helping people, I worked in the field of customer service for several years after graduating from LMU. However, sewing and drawing were constantly gnawing at me. My mother taught me to sew at about the age of seven and since then, I have always enjoyed designing clothes and working with fabric. During the years after earning my BA, I designed costumes for my nieces and took drawing and painting courses on weekends and afterwork to stay active in the art field. Twenty years after working for an automotive company in customer service and global market research, I decided to pursue my MFA when the company I worked for moved out of state. Starting out on this new path made me feel alive again and this time, there was no fear as I was tired of being afraid.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Self-doubt has been my greatest obstacle. My family and friends have always been supportive and encouraging, yet I allowed my own thoughts of not being good enough to surface. This was creatively debilitating. Freeing my mind of what others might think about my work was cathartic and necessary in order for me to move forward. Another major challenge, that I have yet to overcome, is navigaging the art world to attain gallery representation. My goal is to have my work seen by many and hopefully make a positive impact on the lives of others.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
Painting is my primary discipline. Working with oil paint and also with powdered graphite, I create paintings of varying scales and scope. The subjects of my paintings are often family members, friends, and animals. Using the ordinary and the everyday my work focuses on at least a few themes: family, community, and peace while stripping away racial stereotypes. Additionally, I like using anthropormorphism as a way for me to deliver messages of cohabitation with nature while adding elements of humor and self-awareness. Above all, calm and peace resonate from my paintings. Oil painting is meditative and most enjoyable. The slow drying time makes it a very forgiving medium. Often, I return to a painting while it is still wet to add to it or make changes. Using powdered graphite to paint is a challenging technique that I have developed over the years. Controlling the graphite as one would watercolor, I apply the medium in a painterly fashion on cotton or linen canvases or on paper. This manner of painting is what I tend to use when creating works that travel in history to showcase someone or something from my culture that resonates with me as a Black woman. It might be an eight-foot black gardenia that reminds me of the strength of my mother and grandmother; a portrait of a Black man with an afro symbolic of Black pride; or a portrait of a world-famous soprano who was subjected to segregation. I’m most proud of my ability to push myself to try different things and not get settled in what is comfortable. The familiar will always be there and if I don’t like something new, I can always go back to what I feel that I do really well until I’m ready to take on the next challenge.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
As a pretty conservative person, I do not consider myself a risk-taker. I do believe that it is important to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Committing to life as an artist when I was 47 might have been considered risky, but for me, it was a chance to rebrand and reinvent myself. Although going to graduate school meant racking up loans and going into debt once again, it also meant doing what I love and this is a decision that I have not regretted.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

André David Charles, C-Level Media Group

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