Become acquainted with perhaps a few unknown dimensions – thoughts, ambitions, wisdoms, life changing moments – of this inspiring artist.
When it comes to your art/writing, explain what you do in 100 words.
I am a multidisciplinary artist. I examine the importance of gender representation IN art as an approach to finding identity THROUGH art. Using a mixture of contemporary and traditional decorative methods on ceramics and non-traditional artistic methods in (instant) photography, I try to expose content that is explicit and sincere without discouraging rarity, abnormality, vulnerability, absence, etc. Specifically, The Gender Veil and Seeking Self depict abstract fragments of an array of identities displaying them in contemporary and non-conforming manners.
What project are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on my Ph.D. in Art Production, which allows me to dig deep into the investigation. I’m currently working on multiple projects, but most notably Seeking Self, which is an instant photography project I have been working since April of 2018. The project is ongoing as I am travelling to different countries to gain insight into the cultural norms and, more importantly for me, anomalies. The atypical is usually what I find not only to be more interesting but which also resonates. People find their kinks, their pasts, their aspirations, and hopefully, their identities, or fractions of them in this series. Seeking Self has such a range of subjects that it’s not difficult to find yourself and piece it together, retracing major moments in your life that has constructed you. This project has subjects from all around the world and continues to expand. So far, I have collected subjects from three continents and more than ten countries, expanding every month. It’s a lot of work to find something artistic in the mundane, but it gives me a lot of joy being able to be an advocate for voices overlooked or unheard everywhere.
Why do you do what you do?
I work in many different art mediums, so luckily, I have a variety of forms to speak through. I like to let others speak through my work; to tell their stories. I don’t like being a filter for their voice. I’m also aware of the privilege I have and want to be a tool for others to see themselves represented, as I have always seen representation and supporters of people like me. As a person and an artist, supporting others and advocating for under-represented groups is the least I can do.
How has your practice changed over time?
In the past, much of my work revolved around telling stories of my subjects, like mini-biographies. That’s still true today, but in a more general sense. Over the years I have come to meet so many people from around the world with different experiences. My intention isn’t to generalize their stories, but to amplify them in a way that speaks for many, and allowing their story to be adapted to reflect a greater body of voices.
What is your strongest childhood memory?
My strongest childhood memory is probably a series of memories of when we were the poorest, or the poorest I can remember. They were the happiest times I can remember, and the simplest. My only worries were my crayons breaking and making it all the way down the hill on the back of the Tonka truck without falling. My goals were drawing the BEST horse and spelling all the words correctly for my self-published and self-illustrated book about unicorns while asking my mom how to spell each and every word in it. I aspired to be like one of my daycare teachers, because she taught me so many art lessons at the age of five, including that it was OK if it wasn’t perfect every time, which I had to ignore as a little perfectionist.
What is your scariest experience?
The scariest experience I’ve ever been through was not about me at all, but rather, about my mother. Watching my mother take her last breaths in front of me, while I held her hand, sobbing as I told her continuously how much I loved her in hopes she could still hear me and know. That was the scariest moment in my life. It all happened so fast. While I watched her slowly go, I sensed her fear, I felt her pain and confusion, and I understood her urge to hold on. It was terrifying knowing that in just moments I was about to lose the strongest woman I’ve ever known, my biggest supporter, my closest ally, my first love, my mom. It was prettifying knowing the world would never again hear her boisterous laugh, or hear any of her hilariously lame jokes. That I would never exchange another phone call, political conversation, or hug. I would never see her face light up when she picked me up from the airport year after year of living abroad. We would never have another “First Friday” art out together, a tradition we kept every visit I had home. This was the scariest experience of my life, never seeing my mom again and having to watch her leave this mortal coil.
Describe a real-life experience that inspired you.
Inspiration, for me, is derived from others and their amazingness. I am often inspired visually by the things around me, textures, sounds, etc. But real inspiration is born out of suffering, pain, strife, and uncomfortable situations. It’s not to say I have experienced that of which has inspired me, but certainly, it has shaped my thoughts and opinions about what suffering is. Through this, I tend to find interesting subjects, and they are usually those who have grown from a painful experience and had the courage to continue. I admire many of my subjects for this. They often have complex heritage, backgrounds, or intriguing connections. As an artist, and very much an empath, I often sense the need to advocate for them, and since I’m no real social justice leader, as an artist I do what I can in a way that best exhibits and calls attention to the cause at hand.
What superpower would you like to have and why?
If I could have a superpower, I would love to have the power of flight. It is such a liberating feeling. For a few years, while living in South Korea, I got my paragliding pilot’s license. It’s not flying technically, but it was as close as I could get. Though that experience was beautiful, and a bit reckless, I would do always do it again. Having the power of flight, to be able to fly over the world, see new places and be completely independent of others would be an amazing gift to have.
What is your pet peeve about the art world?
One of my biggest pet peeves in the art world is the gallery connection and representation craze. Would it be lovely to be represented by a gallery, absolutely, but the means of getting there can be quite exhaustive. It’s not only about your work, but about who you know. There are a lot of amazing artists that are over-looked by galleries because of their experience, while some hellacious work is being sold at incredibly inflated prices.
What is your dream creative project?
As I have slowly begun moving into installation work in the last four years, I think much more about expanding and creating projects on a greater scale. I do not have any particular project in mind, specifically. However, if I was given limitless possibilities I would create a massive installation with all of the smaller projects I have been working on over the past two years to tell a greater story.
Which place in the world do you find to be the most inspiring?
There is no one place that I find the most inspiring because it very much depends on where I am at the moment mentally, physically and emotionally. Being in a massive city for some would be overwhelming or overstimulating, but sometimes I just need to people watch for a while to become inspired while letting my thoughts run. Being in nature can be a relief and very stimulating and inspiring, but depending on your state of mind could mean too much silence, seclusion, or too habitual or mundane. I find that travelling is incredibly inspiring. You don’t have to go far, but when you can get out of your routine, it changes your perspective.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Some of the best advice I’ve collected over the years is literally the most basic advice:
- Don’t let rejection hold you back or stop you from moving forward.
- Don’t get discouraged if your work is criticized, not everyone is going to like your work, but someone will. It’s about finding your people.
Creatively, where do you see yourself in the next five years?
In the next five years, I do hope I am working on complex, profound projects with depth. I want to work on a larger scale, so I hope to be expanding little by little over the next few years. My experiences with people greatly influence my work, so continuing to travel and work on telling personal stories is my objective.
Theresa Wilshusen is currently based in Barcelona, Spain.