Rooted - Fall 21
Artist currently based in Houston, Texas
Roots, Rooted, Rooting
My grandmother turned 80 years old on May 2, 2021. I am writing this from her dining room table, post birthday song and chocolate cake. She has lived through a few U.S. wars, Jim Crow Segregation, three children, a husband, life and loss.
Rooted = Permanence (thoughts from Georgia Adams)
I asked my grandmother about being rooted. And she said the following:
Everything has a root, but very few things are permanent. I used to think the love a family has for each other is permanent, it usually is but not always true. Or maybe the love a parent has for a child.... So I’m left to consider the sun, moon and stars as things that are permanent. They have always been here and we have come and gone. Maybe permanence is the lie.
Roots = Systems
I once heard someone ask an artist “Who is your Mama and who is your Daddy?” They further elaborated, that they did not mean biologically. They wanted to know about this person’s artistic roots. In other words, which artists operating in the field do you see yourself in conversation with or have mentored you to become the artist you are today? The artist answered, listing names we’ve all read about. Some alive, some dead.
Per the dictionary, Roots are a fibrous underground system that provide nourishment to the main body of a plant.
Most are underground yet some are close to the surface, not too far beneath the soil.
Others can go so deep, that they can burrow through the people made systems of cement foundations, pipes, electrical lines, etc.
If I am to apply the question and definition to myself, I can only think of my family.
I won’t bore you with tales of an unstable childhood and how art saved the day. Who gives a shit? I’d rather tell you about the copious amount of art supplies my family purchased for me over the years.
The books on “How to Draw Faces” and the lessons my father and grandfather (both draftsmen in their own right) would give me at the dining room table or on the porch.
I’d rather tell you about how my father has saved every drawing I’ve ever made and has fished them out of the trash when I try to throw them away.
Or how he has helped me pack art, build stretchers and move studios from state to state.
Or how my mother called me about an artist named Kara Walker that she saw on a “PBS special”.
She later asked, “Do you know her?” And once she called me about Beverly McIver, also seen on a PBS special.
And now my 8 year old nephew has the drawing bug.
He calls me and asks “Auntie Carris, how do I draw Sponge Bob?” And now, like my grandfather and father, I sit with him and have drawing lessons.
And this statement is broad and perhaps abrupt. But maybe another time, we can argue about the ways in which some white artists get to navigate the artworld and the subsequent success, not too dissimilar from how they navigate their day to day, with utmost confidence in their ideas and mediocrity. But I guess I can’t hate the player.
Rooting = Place & Stability
I have moved, moved again and moved some more. I learned early on to think of relocation as an adventure, just as much as it is an inconvenience. A new chapter in a book, until my book is complete. As long as I can make my work where I am, rooting is a temporary process, bound to end.
Although we have all been limited in our movements and space over the last few years, I have recognized that my fibrous system, is a group of people (related and non-related) who have nourished me through all my seasons. Even if they did not understand this art thing. They are my place of stability. They ground me, prepare me, inspire me, move me into action and relax me. Some are artists and some are not. Some are educators and some work in corporate. None are tethered to a place and understand that everything is temporary or negotiable. They all can have critical and honest conversations about race, space, sites and language.
I recently relocated to the Houston area. In many ways, I was returning to an old stomping ground. A place I always loved and often visited when I lived in Dallas and Austin. But this time, I returned as an artist, educator and administrator. I made the decision to leave Chicago because it simply wasn’t working any more. I saw the writing on the wall. I could stay and hustle for another few years but at what cost? The cost of the work? The cost of my mind and body? All of which costs too much. So, I left. I moved to a city where maybe 3.5 people know me and nobody knows the work. Is this scary? Yes. But I had to make a chess move. In other words, I chose to think about what happens after what happens next and bet on myself and the system of people that have carried me this far.
“ I'm the finalist, shinin like a rugged amethyst / And at your music conference, I'm the panelist / Listen close to my poetry, I examine this / like an analyst, to see if you can handle this.”