Featured photo: Delanie Leyden
The country, the world, is not doing well. Populations of people, workforces, in 213 countries are paralyzed by COVID-19. And to top that, racial tension is at its highest fever pitch as protesters and rioters wage war against police departments in all 50 states. The horrific death of George Floyd, a black U.S. citizen at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer is a global tragedy of unconscionable wrongdoing, and we’re all asking ourselves, collectively, where do we go from here?
Now is the time to mobilize your resources. Now is the time to ask your black friends, co-workers, neighbors, what you can do to help. We do not tolerate racism here at The Word Is Bond. As allies in the fight, we are a platform for black voices to be heard. We support black business owners, entertainers, artists, and advocates, regardless of what stage of their career they’re in, fighting for social justice and criminal justice reform.
Here, we use a space to highlight some of the black-owned businesses on the internet that are warding off the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic. Jenna Clayburn is a visual artist from NYC who is self-employed but determined to make it work. We are here supporting her. Inspired by DJ sets on Soundcloud, Jenna creates abstract art and has hosted several pop-up and group exhibits in her neighborhood. Below, she shares with us her philosophy on honing the art world as a businesswoman, spreading her wings after exiting an abusive relationship, and the black women and art she is inspired by.
I got into visual art via theatre arts, my childhood included a long journey through the arts. As a teen I studied theatre arts for a year, working as a costume designer and prop manager in different student theatre productions, both inside and outside of my high-school all in my freshman year. These were some of the best days of childhood and I realized that I loved to be working on the visual aspects of a project especially in order to translate a larger story or picture.
How do you like to best work? Do you work from home, in a studio?
I always like to work with music. I have been making music playlists on my youtube channel for years now but I also enjoy Soundcloud DJ sets. This helps me stay focused and set the mood. When creating art I focus a lot on preparation similarly to how people get ready for sleep is how I create. I need to feel comfortable making lots of movement which is the key to producing abstract art. While I am creating I am constantly trying to find the most comfortable position and angle while always staying open for adjustments tailoring movements on what feels right in the present moment. I always use a yoga mat under my feet for support as well, this helps my feet during long periods of standing, squatting, and/or sitting as well as encouraging myself to stretch and do yoga while I create to get the creative juices flowing.
For me working from home is the best place to work rather than traveling to a separate studio because my artwork is very close to my heart so I love to have it in my home so I can have a more relaxed visualization. As a visionary, my artwork has often reflected my manifestation in my environment and life. With all of this in mind, I’m also aware that my business and I are still very young and change is inevitable to be successful and to grow. Most artists and business owners as they become busier they gravitate to less attachment and emotional involvement to their creations separating their business and its pleasure. Right now in my progression, I have been focused on branding and business opportunities which are usually done at home before I’m willing to branch out and share my ideas. So I look forward to working in a separate studio outside my home that helps in involving more people and other businesses into your process and to maximize exposure to my vision with influencers and legends in the industry.
In what ways do you promote your art? What processes and tools work best for you?
With unlimited possibility especially in the era of instant gratification we reside in I tend to be more cautious in the way I promote myself and my business. I naturally have a wild and raw personality, therefore it is important that my art and business remain humble and separate from the modern urge for mass or cheap validation. For me, this consists of building loyal fans by removing facades and stereotypes in black art, contemporary artists, and millennials trends, straying away from what is expected of me as an artist based on labels and demographics.
As a designer and an artist constantly experimenting with my studies of the arts, I believe promotion is an art of itself. As a unique expression of your creations, promotions should reflect the values and aesthetics presented in your art while also presenting open interpretations, to allow fans to form different perspectives on its purpose. I promote my art in order for others to begin truly connecting to the larger consciousness of the universe. One thing I have been doing recently is practicing getting out of my comfort zone in order to promote my visions, as a business skill. This includes taking a lot of risks and monetizing my different artistic abilities to promote all my skills in a unified fashion.
I’ve also been working to learn the language of art more. This includes writing proposals and applications for grants, awards, publishing, residencies, and other art business opportunities available. I’m interested in these models of opportunities because it is a way of making money with my art without sacrificing anything such as the integrity of artwork while adding to my professionalism as a businesswoman and a visual artist. I’m also just intrigued by the industry of fine art, visual rhetoric, and collaborating with studious individuals such as myself. Some of my biggest inspirations such as Frida Kahlo, Nina Simone, Basquiat, and Banksy inspire me because of the timeless messages in their artwork that resonate with people all over the world.
How does your aesthetic work into the NY art scene?
I mostly only paint black women of different ethnicities because I know where the original idea of beauty comes from and that is where the true inspiration of art collaborates with spirituality for me. I’ve been told that I have a very traditional style of making art. I’m very much inspired by some of the most famous artists in abstractions such as Basquiat, Pollock, Sam Gilliam, Leon Golub, and Picasso. A lot of my artwork differs from most today because of my personal perspective and goals to revolutionize modern art with ancient African abstraction.
As a fan of all forms of art, I believe collectively most people have the feeling that at a certain point of time in history innovation or evolution has stopped in terms of art and has become more of a rare occurrence as compared to the past generations. As a society, it seems that we gave up at some point on the belief that true innovation is possible and we continue to settle for different variations of counterfeited arts and aesthetics. This also reflects our modern society which has become comfortable in submission and conformity usually by ignoring issues in an effort to create normalizations for average and uninspiring efforts. I refuse to get caught up in the hype era of calling things innovative or exciting just because as humans we all want to feel a part of something. That’s why I’m always working on perfecting my authentic myself and using my strengths as a black woman, as a New Yorker, and as a Muslim to make my artistry shine brighter so the later generations can be just as inspired and provoked to grow their own unique visions.
With the planet in crisis, how have you been handling the current pandemic? How has it impacted your work and business?
Honestly, I think I’ve been handling it well considerably. It has definitely put my plans on hold but it’s also been a blessing in disguise reminding myself of the important things in life. I’ve always been the person who is constantly preparing, studying, and overthinking most of the time especially concerning contemplating decisions, my goals, and my position in life. So during this pandemic, I have changed a lot about my day to day activities while encouraging myself not to focus so hard especially on the things that I can not change. Living in the present moment is the best I can do right now and know that if I lead with my intuition everything else will follow.
During this time in my life, I’ve been more focused on healing after leaving an overall abusive relationship in a toxic environment where multiple people benefited from my misfortune. And I am lucky to be alive and that fact takes a lot of adjustment on my part and self-reflection. This mixed with the quarantine has impacted my life and also delayed my ability to constantly produce and stay focused on things outside of my healing. At this point in my career, I’ve been improving my skills in doing business and building my knowledge and practicing the things which scare or intimidate me like a boss. I’ve been very grateful for my uphill mobility in my business and finances finally reflecting the two years I’ve been working on planning, producing, and organizing my products and services. I have realized that you have to demand an honest payout if you do honest work.
What are you currently working on?
My newest fine art collection, “We Are The Fucked,” has become more relevant in dealing with this pandemic. It is about the moment between the end of the world and the beginning of life or way of life. And as we are seeing now the universe lives in many different layers and perspectives even during one event or moment. My collection was inspired by the Buddhist theory concerning the apocalypse or the end of days. The universe is constantly being destroyed at every moment whether we realize it or not and this is because it is also constantly expanding and growing. What we in the first world take for granted and highly fear is the reality of our own guilt and the problems we unconsciously cause or indirectly support. What the privileged complain about is what most people deal with such as quarantine every day. With this in mind, I have been more interested in reaching out, extending my hand, and researching better means and opportunities for my company because my goals reach far beyond my own benefits and beliefs.
How is quarantine treating you? How are you spending your time?
It has been a wild new journey for me. It’s like a rush of constantly freaking out mixed with not feeling anything at all and just getting lost in the present moment. I’ve been blessed even in these hard times to be healthy both mind, body, and soul more than I had in a long time because, like most of us, we have taken it for granted. I do believe all this downtime is preparing me to make bigger leaps in the future and not to shy away from risk. I’ve been really learning the deeper meaning of “treat yourself.” With that in mind, I’ve made a bucket list to look forward to while spending time optimizing my goals and direction for myself. My business “TEETH”, which I started five years ago focuses on my art and design and I’ve been working on my official website for my company and learning more about how I can be involved in my community. I’ve also started a media company last year called “Painted Thoughts”, which is a fanzine displaying my painting process and advertising my artistry and design blueprints.
What fuels your art?
Energy, visions, and experiments fuel my artwork and my business. In my art, I focus on looking at the bigger picture of the world while tapping into abstract consciousness. This helps me at predicting trends and changes in values. I am inspired by things greater than myself such as African diaspora, spirituality, and life experiences. Every collection of art I make I’m fueled by what I have learned recently. That’s why I always read one or more books which I relate to where I am in my life and in my art process. Some of my favorite books that I have read recently are “The Joy of Living”, “The Tipping Point”, “The Tree of Yoga”, “Alice Adventures in Wonderland”, and “Easy Journey to Other Planets.” For three years I’ve traveled a lot to places such as Hawaii, Colorado, California, and other states in between. So naturally, I have found a new perspective on culture and am inspired by the arts and social-economic differences in cultures as compared to growing up in NYC.
Visually, what kind of art are you attracted to? What are some of your favorite places to go (exhibits, museums, etc) to see art?
Visually I’m attracted to layers and textures. One of the things that have sparked my love for abstract art is industrial paint peels, splatters, and lettering usually found in urban and construction areas. I am also a big fan of loud repeating patterns that include cutouts, depth, and the fantasy of surrealism especially when it features themes in African or tribal art. Some of my favorite artists are Yayoi Kusama, Frida Kahlo, Basquiat, Joseph Pollock, Salvador Dali, Leon Golub, and Sam Gilliam.
Some of my favorite places to view art and go are in nature such as gardens and mountains. But one of my favorite galleries in New York is Hauser and Wirth, which I discovered when I was in high school and had the pleasure to see their locations in Los Angeles and all over NYC. One day as a teenager I was a bit bored and my mom told me something her father would always say, which was that there is never a reason to ever be bored in NYC. So I looked up new exhibitions happening in Manhattan and saw a new Leon Golub collection and I was so intrigued with the selection of work that I made a small collection of fashion design illustrations inspired by the artwork soon after. I also love visiting The New Museum in LES which is located in one of my favorite areas to hang out in as a teen in NYC growing up.
More importantly, it’s one of the galleries that I know of that is all-inclusive for LGBT, POC, Women, and other minority groups. Even before Bushwick, Brooklyn became famous as an upcoming and artistic neighborhood. It has always had a quirky vision to stand out from the crowd and remove the stuffy standards of viewing and displaying art. I’ve been blessed to be a part of their group exhibitions and I can truly say that I’m impressed by the fellow artist’s work alongside mine.
But lastly, one of my favorite places in the world to visit hands down is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The energy at the MET feels like home to my artistic soul, even before I knew I was an artist. Growing up, I would go back and forth to the MET (free admission for students) and I would get dressed up in my favorite thrift clothes. My peers would make fun of me and say I looked like I just came out of the 1940’s costume party. I would go just to study and immerse myself with the art there.
Similarly to Basquiat, it has also fueled my interest in learning more about black people’s constant contribution to the arts. Some of my favorite parts of the MET are The Temple of Dendur because of the energy you instantly feel, especially being connected to your ancestors, and the ancient empires goldsmithing exhibits because it displays human divinity and power, and the oceanic sculptures which show that modern art is a traditional art in tribal communities because it connects us with the organic world.
What artists are you following on Instagram?
I’m not great at keeping up appearances. I honestly live in my own world. I am proud to say I have a very dignified Instagram news feed of strictly an artists, designers, curators, poets, dancers, and all forms of artists. Some of my favorites on Instagram right now are:
@irisvanharpen @africaboutik @selfcommissioned @trejostienda @artsy @Mocada_museum @retiredanarchist @raani_lifeonpointe @artnewafrica @algomeanz @cassandremilard_art and @marilynl992002.
What plans do you have for your visual art moving forward?
Moving forward, I’ve been looking forward to including and sharing my ideas more often and more effectively within the industry of business and of fine art. After a year of perfecting my templates for my product organization for my business, I’m looking forward to diving into studying, residency, grants, fellowship, murals, group shows, marketing, and other programs or opportunities available to me to advance my professionalism. Sky’s the limit is how I feel every day when I think about my art, my passion for business, getting in touch with my own untouched or reserved potential within the industry, eCommerce placement and learning new art technology which is constantly evolving to help people like me. I have been working on some collaborations with online platforms around the world while also developing my own online store and website. I have also been studying ways to better plan and execute my personal marketing.
Visit Jenna’s Etsy here.
For a full list of black-owned Etsy shops to support during the pandemic, visit this link (published via The Mad Mommy).