Celebrating Juneteenth with Norfolk’s Finest at the Smartmouth Juneteenth Solstice Festival

Join the city of Norfolk’s finest for a day full of music, art, food, good people, and most importantly…good beer.

It’s safe to say that after the past year, people are yearning to get back together and celebrate life and all of the beautiful things that come along with it. Luckily, the good folks at Smartmouth Brewery have got us covered with this Saturday’s Juneteenth Solstice Festival.

In honor and celebration of Juneteenth, Smartmouth has teamed up with local NFK brands and organizations to throw a good-ole fashioned block party. The day’s festivities will consist of a black-owned art & vendor market, food market featuring black and POC-owned restaurants, chefs, and food trucks, and a diverse range of musical acts throughout the 757. The festival will be held at the Smartmouth NFK HQ from 12 PM – 10 PM, is free, and welcome to all ages.

Get up to speed with the day’s details below.

Utopia Feni Art Market | 12 – 6 PM

Nomarama Food Market | 3 – 9 PM

Music Lineup

Listen to our specially curated Popscure playlist while you get familiar with the stacked lineup below:

Well seasoned producer Gabe Niles is a household name in the city of Norfolk. When he’s not producing earworm tracks like Shelley FKA DRAM’s “Cha Cha”–or working with his partner-in-crime for experimental outfit, Sunny & Gabe–the producer is delivering larger-than-life mixes that are bound to whisk you away. 

Hot off her latest EP release, “All My Friends,” Koren Grace is more than ready to take on the masses and introduce them to her world. There’s no plane of emotion and existence the singer/songwriter can’t take you with a discography rich in colorful sounds.

Dariel Clark has a powerful, magnetic presence about him that amplifies when he cranks the amp up. Sparing no niceties, the Virginia Beach musician delivers a one-two combo through his weapons of choice—his guitar and voice.

Headed by the musical virtuoso Big Torrin himself, Big Torrin’s Fusion Groove is the sonic definition of the phrase “good vibes.” With tasteful flecks of jazz, r&b, house, hip-hop, and soul, Big Torrin’s Fusion Groove is sure to satisfy every groove nerve in your body.

Rapper/lyricist Cam Murdoch is known for his pensive, neo-soul inspired raps that focus on the ‘self’ as much as they do fictional characters. His latest single, “The Wave,” carries on this wave of introspection through an unlikely combo of soothing ukelele riffs and strong trap beats.

While fairly new, Kyere Laflare is not to be underestimated. Debut single, “How Does It Feel,” brings in a throwback r&b vibe that’s sure to remind you of simpler times.

If you go by 1pump and wear Scott Summers-esque visors, you better come with the heat and charisma. 1pump certainly doesn’t disappoint with a strong, bombastic release in Scott Summers II: The Light Within.

Known for her hypnotic but real delivery, Lex Lucent is ready to put you under a spell with a laidback flow and unique instrumentals. Her debut project, “Incase You Forgot,” solidifies the rapper as one to look out for.


Whose Streets? Our Streets!

Members of the Richmond-based photography collective, the Wild Bunch, answer our call to share their insights and experiences ahead of Norfolk exhibition.

Merriam-Webster defines the word movement in a number of ways, the most apt for our purpose being a series of organized activities working toward an objective, or an organized effort to promote or attain an end. There is much to draw from the definition as it pertains to the events that began to unfold around the country at the end of May, immediately following the barbaric killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis, MN police officers.* The status quo of unjust treatment towards Black people in the United States was coming into sharp focus in our streets and across our smartphones. The movement towards equality that had already been going on for a long time was suddenly energized in a way we’ve never seen before.

In Richmond, the capital city of Virginia and former capital of the confederacy, what started at the end of May and continues today is being documented in part by a photography collective who call themselves the Wild Bunch. Having witnessed the very good, the bad, and even the ugliest parts of the streets, the Wild Bunch’s exhibition titled “Our Streets” is one of the largest collections of movement photography ever assembled in the state of Virginia. There is much to read about the Wild Bunch and the upcoming “Our Streets” exhibition in this article in the Virginian-Pilot so we at Popscure decided to highlight a couple of their members to discuss the processes, motivations, and lessons learned from their practice. With a Q&A conducted by executive editor Tyler Warnalis, we introduce to you Keshia Eugene and MarQuise Crockett. Read on and be sure to check out “Our Streets” at the Slow Dive Gallery, opening this Friday October 30th. Spoiler alert: the movement is not over.

Keshia Eugene @chocolatekesh

Documenting the chorus of “enough”

Courtesy of Keshia Eugene
First off, could you please tell us about your artistic/photographic background?

I began technical shooting as teenager, with a film camera. Yet as a kid I loved disposable and Polaroid cameras and experienced genuine joy from seeing the photographic results. Since 10th grade having a camera in my purse was hobby that turned habit. So basically what you will see me photograph are reflections of my passions such as live music, candids of hang outs or communal events.

When the protests first started in Richmond, I’d imagine there was something in you that said, “I need to document this.” Could you tell us about that motivation and how you involved yourself? 

Due to science, I didn’t feel comfortable marching in masses, and I have spent many years protesting in different cities. The collections of photos you will see from me will be more of the unfamiliar forms of protest like the teach-ins and the transformation of reclaimed space of Marcus David-Peters Circle— this is important to show. There is such uniqueness to speak or express through art here in Richmond, the former tainted heart of the confederacy, and prominent slave drop-off; it was necessary to document our chorus of “enough”.

Courtesy of Keshia Eugene
While documenting crowds, engaging with people you may not know, and perhaps even putting yourself in tense situations, what sorts of things did you encounter that our readers may or may not have expected?

People are rude. Even if they may be on your side. I’ve seen a lot disrespect towards black women in general during Say Her Name demonstrations. In some cases it did spark some conversation but some people truly don’t seek to understand. Or performative protestors who are doing this for the first time and making it more of a social event and not focusing on the initiative; it’s mad irritating but this is my life and validation so I keep my head straight.

What do you think you learned in the process of photographing the protests that you could share with our readers?

My biggest takeaway is my new lost respect of black leaders in Richmond who allowed police to torment the entire city and instead of engaging in true conversation they played safe for political gain and more conservative relationships. Not sure who they are representing because it’s not the common Richmond resident and it’s like this in too many states and cities.

Courtesy of Keshia Eugene
What do you hope to communicate to the viewer through your photographs?

If you feel uncomfortable in the streets find different ways to share your disapprovals and thoughts for equitable change.

Finally, as a member of the Wild Bunch and a citizen of Richmond, the United States, and the world, what does the title “Our Streets” mean to you?

A reminder that origins of Monument Avenue, which was first set to segregate, will soon be dismantled. Things are going to change our way, in our streets.

Courtesy of Keshia Eugene

MarQuise Crockett @_innervator

A gravitational pull to be on the streets

Courtesy of MarQuise Crockett
Could you tell us about your artistic background? What led you to start using a camera as your preferred means of expression? What sorts of things are you typically photographing?

I was raised by my great grandparents Vernon and Dorothy Crockett who had deep roots in the Baptist church community in Richmond, VA. Not going to church wasn’t an option on Sunday. I first started singing in the youth choir and did it for the majority of my childhood. Then in middle school I was introduced to the lever harp and later graduated to playing the pedal harp in high school, as well as playing the 5th bass in my high school high step marching band. [As far as photography goes] even at a young age I was kind of obsessed with old family albums. I was in love with the idea of having tangible memories. The love came full circle a few years later when I was gifted my first camera, a Canon EOS Rebel t3i. I’ve been learning ever since. I don’t have a preferred thing to shot I just love to create content. However, landscapes were my first love.

When the protests first started in Richmond, I’d imagine there was something in you that said, “I need to document this.” What compelled you to hit the streets with your camera?

I don’t know what made George Floyd’s death different from all the others, but I had a gravitational pull to be on the streets, to let my voice be heard and tell the real stories of what’s happening on the ground. I remember reading a quote “Would you rather be at war with yourself and at peace with the world OR at peace with yourself and at war with the world?” Every time I turn on the TV, or look on social media, or even walking in my everyday life I’m constantly reminded that the world is and has been at war with black and brown people.

Courtesy of MarQuise Crockett
While documenting crowds, engaging with people you may not know, and perhaps even putting yourself in tense situations, what sorts of things did you encounter that our readers may or may not have expected?

Being on the ground for the first time was intense, the air is electric with emotions, the sea of signs and messages, megaphones singing chants, trailing cars blasting “Fuck Donald Trump.” It was a lot to take in, but what I also experienced was a real sense of community. There were so many tents of people in and around the circle. Whether if it was for making free masks, food, medical attention, liberation education, music, and sanitation – the PEOPLE proved that it could provide for its community.

What do you think you may have learned in the process of photographing the protests that you could share with our readers? (This could be either technically related to your photography or on a more humanitarian or societal level)

I’m learning that outside of taking photos and being passionate about my craft and telling important compelling stories through my art form that getting connected to the community and the leaders who have been doing this work is just as important if not more important.

Courtesy of MarQuise Crockett
What do you hope to communicate to the viewer through your photographs?

I want to convey the truth of what really transpired this summer. Its important for people to engage with these images and see what we experienced this summer at the hands of RPD, VSP, VCU PD, and Capitol police, the sense of community, and the fight that is STILL being fought on our street.

Finally, as a member of the Wild Bunch and a citizen of Richmond, the United States, and the world, what does the title “Our Streets” mean to you?

“Our Streets” means another chapter in the struggle for equity and equality – a story as old as the American experience itself.

Courtesy of MarQuise Crockett

“Our Streets” opens to the public on Friday, October 30 at the Slow Dive Gallery in Norfolk, VA and will continue to be on view for several weeks following, both during normal business hours and by appointment. More information on the opening, including the link to RSVP for your specific time slot on Friday or Saturday, can be found here.

*All of this coming mere months after Breonna Taylor was killed in her home by Louisville, KY police and Ahmaud Arbery was pursued and fatally shot by white men while jogging near his home in Brunswick, GA and the list goes on and we should know their names and say them.

Black Experience Collective – September

This month’s submissions include a poignant poem (“This Ain’t Even A Poem”) and beautiful art piece (“Love is Thicker Than Blood”) by Chesapeake artist, A-Rae.

To submit your experience for next month click here.

A-Rae | 34 | Chesapeake, VA (by way of Cleveland, OH)

“This Ain’t Even A Poem”

A-Rae | 34 | Chesapeake, VA (by way of Cleveland, OH)

“Love is Thicker Than Blood”

Sight Is Faculty, Seeing Is Art: An Interview with Dawit N.M.

Dawit N.M. is an Ethiopian photographer and filmmaker with an aesthetic that is both intimate and reticent. His debut museum exhibition, The Eye That Follows, will be on display at The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, through August 16th. Dawit’s story is one that invites onlookers to view life honestly in Ethiopia, Virginia, and New York. While personal to the artist, these images express ubiquitous themes of community, family, and faith. Over the past few years, Dawit has released a book, earned a nod for Emerging Director at the American Black Film Festival, and continues to emerge as one of the exciting, new perspectives in film and photography. Our CEO and Marketing Director, Cam Murdoch, caught up with Dawit to talk about his debut exhibit, the sacred nature of identity, and surviving 2020.

With COVID-19 and a national uprising, how have these “uncertain times” affected you?

I kind of got used to the quarantine lifestyle because I work from home, so it wasn’t that big of a change, just my roommates are at the house too now, so I was there with them all of the time. That was a little adjustment, but for the most part it was chill. I was there for the protests in Brooklyn for the first three weeks, and out of nowhere you would just start hearing loud fireworks going off every night. Every night you would hear police sirens, for no reason sometimes. It just got crazier and crazier, and I’m hearing that it’s even getting worse now.

Other than that, I’ve been chilling. Just really focused on work and getting this show up again [the exhibit was initially scheduled for March but delayed for COVID-19 closures]. It’s been actually a needed time to catch up on some work and to catch up on some studies. The first couple of weeks I was super pressed to work as much as I [could], but then I gave myself a week of vacation, and I was like, ‘Damn, I haven’t had that in such a long time.’ The concept of not working seemed so foreign to me because of the hustling mindset I’d inherited from the people I came up from and also this society. I’m realizing all of the effects of capitalism . . . like I knew it was there, but I didn’t know how bad it was until I didn’t have anything to do.

Your work has consistent themes of community, family, and day-to-day life. Why are these subjects important for you to explore, or is it simply life captured in your style?

I’m a firm believer in just telling your story and that the best person to tell your story is you. So, a lot of my photos are usually just friends or family because I know them the most. I feel comfortable taking their images because I know they are comfortable with me taking their image. They know I’m going to represent them in a way that’s true. It’s just going to be a documentation of that moment . . . just like the image, Brad, Solo, and the Mirror. It seems like there are three people in that image, but it’s really just Brad and his child Solo and his reflection. That came from me and him just talking about how he came from a fatherless home and how he’s now a single father. We were just reflecting on that, and I just made an analogy within the photo where he was looking into the camera through the reflection.

Dawit N.M. (Ethiopian, b. 1996)
Brad, Solo, and the Mirror, Portsmouth, Virginia, 2018
Courtesy of the artist

Also, on the surface level, I’m just way more comfortable with people that I know. I’ve trained myself to find moments in everyday life [that] can look beautiful and interesting in a photo or film format. Even the stuff I did for Mereba, if you took away all of the music and the nice visuals and just imitated what she was doing, it’s really nothing crazy that she’s doing. It’s just the feelings that are present within those moments.

You and Mereba seem to have a lot of creative chemistry that feels like an extension of your previous works as a photographer.

The Universe lined it up, and it was the perfect collaboration. When I first got the email about the Mereba video, it was like the week before I was going to move into my apartment in Brooklyn. At the time, I had this job offer as an editor, and the safest route would be to take the job offer . . . but man, I would have regretted it if I didn’t take the Mereba video. I remember at the end of the first shoot, she came up to me and told me I did an amazing job. It was my first time handling a shoot that big, with that big of a crew. At that moment, I feel like that trust was really solidified. I think that’s when we realized that we wanted to keep working together. The reason I’m doing this is to help people, so if someone has that same purpose, I think I would have a connection with them. I mesh well with people who are super genuine and genuine about their craft.

Tell me if you agree. Learning something as a craft comes from a place of love for that thing, whereas some learn in order to commodify and sell their skills who may not have a love for the craft.

I don’t want to work with anyone that doesn’t have a purpose, and I’m starting to question that whole notion because I feel that everyone’s purpose should be to just . . . help one another. It’s just a matter of figuring out how you can go about helping someone. I used to ask myself what my purpose was in life, but then I started to ask how I can help someone. Right now, it’s through the format of film and photography. For a long time, even now still, Ethiopians are misrepresented in the media. That’s why I did the photo-book, Don’t Make Me Look Like The Kids on TV. Even while working with Mereba, not only was I presenting her in an amazing way, I was also showcasing a different narrative that people weren’t used to, especially for someone with an Ethiopian background. The main reason I became a photographer or filmmaker wasn’t really for a love of the craft, it was more a love of the people, a love for preserving the culture, and archiving it for future generations.

With everything that’s going on today with facial recognition, monitoring, even wearing masks outside, there seems to be a new emphasis on the intimacy of seeing someone’s face. Have you thought about that in comparison to your stylistic element of obscuring the face in your portraits?

It’s a cliché statement but a true statement, the eye really is the window to the soul. Also, . . . I had this eye infection when I was younger, so I’m always curious and careful about eyes and not so much in the face. A lot of my photo work revolves around hiding the face because when people were taking pictures of Ethiopia during the drought, they didn’t respect the people’s identity. They would just take these photos of people and just plaster their face[s] everywhere. That motivated me to find ways in which I can hide the face while still showing the person’s presence.

Dawit N.M. (Ethiopian, b. 1996)
Still from Mereba’s – Planet U music video, directed by Dawit N.M., 2018
Courtesy of the artist

I always wanted to push the portrait world a little bit further, and I was kind of bored at looking at the portrait standard way of image-making. One of the ways was to distort the face. When I’m editing, it’s really just changing the colors up a bit, and that’s about it. So, I try to do all of the effects in the camera . . . so I’m still documenting the moment, and I’m not altering the image in any way—it’s simply how I captured it. I’m still a documentary photographer, but I go about things in a very “fine art” way.

Even though this year has been wild, it’s still important to look forward. What are some things that you are looking forward to with the world attempting to reopen?

I’m looking forward to seeing how I balance out work and life. Now I’m getting a better understanding of being more disciplined. During the restrictions, I built up a level of discipline, and with them lifting some of those restrictions, I want to see if I can uphold the same discipline in whatever world we live in next. I’m interested in what kind of stories are going to be told now, even how things are going to be shot within film and photography. I feel like there’s a big change coming in the world, and I’m interested to see what comes next.

Thank you to Dawit N.M. for the opportunity to conduct this interview. Preview some more of his work below, and be sure to visit The Eye That Follows exhibition currently on display at the Chrysler Museum of Art through August 16th.

Minding the Curve with Mattie Hinkley

by Shannon Jay

Mattie Hinkley’s exaggerated and clothes-free style evolved throughout the years for a lot of reasons. It happened between shifts between schools or mediums and loneliness in cross-country celibacy or shifting power dynamics when she got back in the bedroom. Somewhere along the way, she stopped using reference materials for her characters and separating sex from any other bodily movement. Side-by-side skateboarders and surfers are featured with sixty-niners and suckers. She’ll be showing some work at her own table next week at NOICE, Norfolk’s Original Indie Comic Expo.


Seems like you’ve lived a lot of places on both coasts, how has each environment shaped your aesthetic?

I grew up in Virginia but went to furniture school in northern California, so I lived there for three years, and I’ve just returned to Virginia. Going to California was great, in a way, because I lived in a small rural town with no friends, so I just spent all my free time in my room drawing, and really figured out how I like to draw, what felt good. I had the opportunity to be very introspective. I was lonely and sad and experienced long periods of celibacy, but my art is better now.

Why is sex such a strong subject in your work and (especially considering the androgyny and queerness within many figures) what are you trying to say with this focus?

I don’t want to fabricate a false narrative here so I’ll be honest and say that, really, I’m just interested in drawing bodies and sex is something I think about so often that it makes its way into what my drawn bodies are doing. I also draw bodies skateboarding and walking around, but people don’t seem to care as much about that. So, if anything, I’m trying to say that sex doesn’t have to be any more important (or funny or dramatic or sinister) than anything else. Maybe sex is my still life, my bowl of fruit. As far as the form of the bodies, regarding their presentation as androgynous and queer, I suppose that’s directly reflective of how my own body feels — it’s the type of body I know best — and it feels uncomfortable (and boring) to draw them any other way.

How has drawing sexy pictures for 3+ years changed your relationship with the act itself (either internally or through people’s reactions & responses to your work)?

I don’t know that it has. Well, actually, at some point, after repeated uncomfortable (read: gross) responses from straight men about my work, I stopped drawing men in dominant positions, and that idea seeped into my personal sex life as well. So maybe it deepened my feminist resolve in the bedroom.

What came first, woodworking or illustration?

Illustration, for sure. I’ve been drawing since I was little; I went to SCAD at 18 intending to major in illustration (I quickly dropped out but that’s another story). Woodworking only came into my life 3 or 4 years ago.

How does each medium inform each other? What do you get out of each creatively?

Initially they were wholly unrelated, except maybe that I had confidence in accurately sketching furniture designs. I learned the fundamentals of woodworking and furniture making first so I was making traditional cabinets, tables, chairs. But as I’ve grown as a woodworker, I feel more confident in creating my own forms and shapes, so certainly my illustration style is more and more evident in my wood pieces. For me, woodworking is a technical practice, a stressful but rewarding learning experience, whereas illustration is calming, a release, an expression. Though that switches.

Both mediums are an exercise in shapes and curves. What’s your relationship to simple shapes and slick curves?

The way I draw and design is more intuitive than intentional, for sure. I wish all the time that I created differently, that my lines were wobblier, that my shapes were wonkier, and I work toward that, but when I sit down to draw or design, what naturally comes out is usually simple and clean. What can you do.

Your art from a few years ago was more realistic and defined, how did you get to more exaggerated and ambiguous characters?

I stopped using reference material. I was doodling in a sketchbook on a plane, this was winter of 2016, and I started drawing figures without trying to make them accurate, messing with their proportions, and it immediately felt so much better, more freeing, more honestly expressive. Maybe that’s corny to say. I don’t know. But I had never realized how constricted I felt by drawing realistically until I stopped, then I never wanted to start again.

What were the subjects of some of your earliest pieces? In my “research” (creeping) I stumbled upon what I’m assuming is your MySpace full of fantastical animals – I’d love to explore that connection to your current human focus.

Oh gosh, I’m a bit embarrassed. Yeah, those are mine; I used to draw animals all the time, and would give them human traits or body parts, a human head with a pig body or something. Maybe it was a young vegan’s crusade to get people to see the connection between us, and I just exhausted that proselytizing part of myself.

how is your work different in the context of comics and zines?

I’ve started a hundred comics but never finished them. I would make a few panels then get stressed and stop. I’m not confident in my storytelling. I feel comfortable with one-liners or quick back-and-forths, but not long narratives. On top of that, I like the ambiguity of my characters: their thoughts and actions left vague for the viewer to interpret. So the comic I’ve been working on for this expo doesn’t really have dialogue (or at least, doesn’t have text bubbles). But I’ll also have a woodworking how-to zine there which is chock-full of text.

What’s your “day job” if not woodworking/arting full-time & how do you find work/life balance?

Thankfully I do sell art and woodwork regularly, but I also work at a coffee shop and as a dogsitter, and I’ve been lucky enough to receive a lot of scholarships and grants while in school. It’s so hard to find balance, and I don’t know that I do. I stay up late and wake up early. I drink a lot of coffee. I eat microwaveable meals. I neglect self-care and over-commit to art projects then bemoan them when the deadline approaches. I wish I were more productive but life is exhausting.

You’re finishing up a degree, although you’ve been to other schools will this be your first Bachelor’s? What do you plan to do after school? (Every student’s most dreaded question)

Yeah, so, I’m at VCU in the Craft + Material Studies department, and hopefully will finish in May 2020 with a BFA. Then I’ll apply to every residency and fellowship I can get my hands on (/afford). Then after a couple years, my plan is to seek out graduate programs for Furniture Design and try to earn a Master’s degree so that I can teach. Or if I can swing a permanent teaching position with only a Bachelor’s, do that. So wood teacher by day, illustrator by night, human being on the weekends.


check out mattie’s prints, zines & comics this Saturday, Feb 2nd, at NOICE, norfolk’s original indie comic expo

“Unpopular Culture”: The Art of Carl Medley III

by shannon jay

Carl Medley III’s paintings subtly shift familiar imagery into something that makes viewers look twice. Tongue-in-cheek phrases are present where uplifting ones usually reside, or ones that have caved under too much pressure. Words that could be discounted as apathy may instead be acceptance, something that these familiar images are usually afraid to declare. Perhaps that’s why his latest exhibit “Fear of Acceptance” is titled as such — it’s on view at BOJUart Gallery until December 22nd. And in case you miss that, he’s got a fresh exhibition at VMFA in Richmond next year, the home of his fellowship. I shot him an email to talk about his other forms of expression (such as installations and a podcast), how to find creative balance between one’s day job and personal projects, and why the familiar makes fresh ideas more digestible.


When did you first become interested in art?

Probably more seriously around 4th grade. Before that art was just an activity that all kids do in addition to every other subject in school. But in 4th grade I got into Old Donation School and it opened me up to the idea that art is actually something you can do all day long and adults will actually take you seriously.

How did you transition from art being a hobby to your career?

I wouldn’t say I have turned art into my career yet because I still have a day job, but I do treat it as if it is a career. I have always looked to the next thing once I do something with my work. What started out as doing illustrations I liked turned into maybe people being interested enough to buy them. That turned into getting into festivals and shows where I could potentially sell more. That turned into trying to do installations, murals or collaborations where I could maybe make a little more money without having to do as many shows. That turned into being selective about what I participated in and made it so I could build a portfolio based on how I wanted to be perceived.

What’s your day job?

My day job is Creative Lead at RocketBike Digital Agency in Portsmouth, VA. The balance is a constant practice. I have found that making an attempt to plan my week the most helpful because it puts me in the mindset of working at night and on the weekends and how much I can realistically achieve. The other challenge is staying inspired. After a day of thinking creatively for other people I still have to have some inspiration left for me. It’s not always there so I try to pace myself. My wife does an amazing job of supporting me and helping me the whole time and helps me stay focused.

Tell me a bit about your podcast.

The podcast is called Here’s an Idea: a Podcast and it features myself and my wife Liane. The premise is two people having a discussion and one person has an idea. It could be any idea. Then the next person has an idea inspired by or in the same area of interest as the first idea. We go back and forth on talking points and eventually get off topic. We have discussed food, dogs, cars, the dentist and subscription boxes. It’s meant to feel like the normal conversations people have when someone says, “You know what would be cool?”

Any exhibits to check out you’re stoked on? (Could be your own or other artists)

My exhibit “Fear of Acceptance” is on display through December 22 at BOJUart Gallery in Virginia Beach and I will have another exhibit up in March at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “Todd Schorr: Atomic Cocktail” is up at MOCA in Virginia Beach until December 30 and it is an amazing show. I’m also a huge Harry Potter fan and I just found out about an exhibit up in New York called “Harry Potter: A History Of Magic” at the New York Historical Society and it looks really cool. It has some of the original art from the book jackets and pages. I think it’s up until the end of January.

What music do you listen to when designing/painting?

I am all over the place with music when I paint. It’s usually whatever I’m in the mood for. Anything except pop country. If I had to pick the most consistent type of music I’d say it’s any lyrical heavy hip hop. I have been listening to Oxnard by Aanderson .Paak on repeat recently.


The people that push forward in the art world are the ones who develop thicker skins because they’ve dealt with all sorts of emotions.


Where’s the most exciting place your work has been featured/situation it’s put you in?

I think the most exciting situation my art has put me in was getting a professional fellowship in painting from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I was incredibly honored to get one and it was an incredible motivator, but when I realized that over 800 people apply to it I fully understood the gravity of where I was with my work.

Define “unpopular culture”

A lot of it is about awkwardness and dark humor. Peoples insecurities, their uncomfortable thoughts or just crushing truths are the focus of a lot of my work and it allows me to draw people in more because they identify with thinking or saying that same thing. I think honesty and transparency is the most relevant topic currently in pop culture and I think maybe that’s why there is somewhat of an appeal to what my work showcases.

How do you use familiar and often seen imagery to expose emotions often hidden beneath the surface? What are you revealing?

People like what they know. If they see something they recognize or feel like they know they feel an immediate connection. If you can layer that with a concept or a notion they are more likely to engage with it than if it was something completely foreign to them.

Describe some of your installation work

In 2016 I was able to do a couple installations which were really liberating and I feel like I grew because of them. The first one was for the group show Native, which was curated by Charlotte Potter and Gayle Forman, and I collaborated with Neon artist James Akers. The concept was to talk about Norfolk as a sunken treasure and use a shipping container-like installation to house large paintings of gold chains and bright yellow neon lights. The piece was called Perspective and made you look at everything different once you were inside. They also used it as the shows Photo Booth which was pretty rad.

Another installation later that year was for a show called “The Ghost in the Machine” which was a new media group show curated by Charles Rasputin. Charles and I had collaborated on projects before as our self-titled duo Fang Gang NFK so I was super excited to be involved in a new media show because I was out of my element. We collaborated on a piece where I drew these ornate flowers in cyan and magenta and it looked like one of those old 3-D images. Charles produced a video piece that played over top of the illustration, but he matched the colors to the video so at certain parts of the video you would only see one of the colored flowers and not the other. It was actually quite mesmerizing.

How do you think pop art like yours reevaluates familiar imagery and why is it important?

I think it’s important because people can get complacent with seeing things that I feel like they should pay more attention to or just constantly be noticing and appreciating. The world is a lot more interesting if you can just pay more attention to everything and play with it and comment on it. I recently did a large piece entitled “Yeah, No,” which really just started out as noticing that we say this phrase all the time and it’s one of the dumbest things we say. But until someone points it out and puts it in your face you will just go on not noticing it.

What are your inspirations for paintings?

My inspiration comes from observing the everyday. Very common elements and thoughts are more prominent and combined in a way that can seem absurd or surreal, but that’s mostly just because I wanted to see those things in the spotlight or wanted people to think about it more, almost as a way to focus on them without any other distractions.

How do you think of the phrases you paint?

I keep a running list on my phone of things I hear or say. A lot of times it’s not just the phrase, but also how it’s presented that makes you look at that phrase or word in a different way.


If you can layer that with a concept or a notion they are more likely to engage with it than if it was something completely foreign to them.


Do you have any tips for other up-and-coming artists to stop from being discouraged?

I think it’s about staying driven and always looking at the bigger picture. Not really knowing why someone is specifically getting discouraged, I would say it’s fine to feel discouraged because that’s natural, just don’t let it sway you or stop you. If you’re bummed that you’re not getting the attention of specific galleries then just put on your own show. If you didn’t get into a show you wanted to, try and ask for feedback. The people that push forward in the art world are the ones who develop thicker skins because they’ve dealt with all sorts of emotions. Use your experiences as just that and build on it.

Comparison, Consistency, and Crew Love With Max Fullard

 Photos by Marcel Hoke (@allencatell)
Photos by Marcel Hoke (@allencatell)


by jerome spencer

When I met with RBLE’s Max Fullard at Thank You Gallery in Norfolk, VA for this interview, he took a few minutes to go live on Instagram and talk to his followers. As he perused the gallery’s collection of books, zines and clothing, Fullard joked and laughed while he held his phone and coveted a Star Trak shirt in the collection. This was somewhat of a homecoming for Max since he relocated to LA in 2017 and he seemed happy to be home. He was quick to get down to business, though. And once we got the interview rolling, he was focused and genuine – a combination of qualities that is somewhat rare for someone who interviews musicians on a regular basis.

I’m assuming you’re already familiar with RBLE, but I’ll give you a quick refresher; Virginia-based hip hop collective came together around 2010 (don’t fact-check me, I’m going off of memory) and quickly became eminent in the 757 due to the hustle and grind they devoted to the scene. For a while, it seemed like at least one member of RBLE was performing on any given weekend and their name was on everyone’s lips. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the clique, you’re probably still well-aware of RBLE affiliates DRAM and Sunny & Gabe; the two acts have had a pretty big buzz for a minute now with momentum still building. Regardless of what impetus each member distinctly possesses, the RBLE fam stays close and diligent and Max Fullard is always in the mix; usually front and center.

Fullard has been consistently dropping tracks for the better part of a decade, most notably 2014’s A Rebel Named Max and 2016’s Nights of the Forth, but it was only in September of last year that he decided make the trek to LA. While Max’s reasons for moving to California may have seemed inconsequential at first – “Honestly, man, weather,” he tells me, “Anything drops below 70 and I feel cold” – his motivations were actually more specific and focused.

“One of the reasons I wanted to move to LA, I’m not gonna say I was depressed, but I was a little down,” he confesses, “Like everyday I’d wake up like ‘alright I gotta go to work’ and I’d spend unnecessary money trying to find happiness. That’s why I had to get some of those darker songs on Nights of the Forth out. Because I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

A stellar example of one of those “darker songs” is Hurt One, a somber record about feeling alone and looking for hope. But the beat is a banger and Fullard doesn’t want you to think he’s on that depressive tip. In fact, the guy is brimming with optimism and positivity.

“Not to knock anybody who ever thinks really dark thoughts,” he says, “but I was on the outside looking in at myself. I knew I was sad and I knew how to get rid of the sadness; I just wasn’t there yet.  You try to put all of your emotions in one song so I was just like ‘I need to get this shit out’. When I went to LA for the first time I was happy.”

So this really becomes a story about a man searching for himself and, for Max, a change of scenery was what he needed.

“I’m not saying it was Virginia that was making me sad it was just Groundhog Day shit,” he continues, “I was like I need to get out. I need to see some other shit. I was working everyday because I was living outside of my means. I bought a drop-top convertible. I bought jewelry. I was racking up my credit cards just trying to find something that was gonna make me happy and I knew I needed to stop or I was gonna fucking fold. So when the LA thing came around I was like this is it.”

LA also found Fullard on his own for the first time. Up until then, he lived in “the RBLE house” with the other members of the crew, a situation that could be a little overwhelming in terms of creativity.

“Now that I am away I get my own solitude and I can become more of who I wanna be,” he says, “As myself instead of who I am in the crew. We have the big RBLE House so – I’m in my room making music, Gabe’s in his room making music, (Artel) Carter’s in his room making music – you’re gonna hear each other making music. So naturally you’ll bust in like ‘what’s this’ or ‘you should do this’ or ‘will you listen to this’. So now that I’m by myself I’m able to form my own identity. I’m not hearing Gabe make his beats and telling him I want it so he’s able to expand and finish his stuff with Sunny & Gabe. Sometimes I’d be like ‘yo, that shit’s fire. Let me get that’. Now, I started using more dudes that I was finding. I utilize Youtube a lot more.  I like to straight up buy your beat for what it’s worth, get the stem, and get the contract. That’s it. I lot of Youtube producers give you that on the reg, you don’t gotta meet them, they don’t have to be involved. “

That creative environment also motivated Max in a different way, helping him shape who he wanted to be and what he wanted to get out of making music. “I would come home from work and I’d have a little bit of jealousy that these dudes get to sit around all day and play Madden and work on music. And Sunny & Gabe was popping off and DRAM was popping off and I’m at work, fucking waiting tables. You know, you make a song like this gonna be it and a week later it’s only at like 100 plays. But then I started appreciating 100 plays. When I wrote the song Ten Fans, I was like I have ten fans and that’s it. And those are the people that I’m gonna show my love for, those are the people that I’m gonna keep pushing for.”

Finding his identity outside of RBLE has proven very productive for Max. He released the Max EP on October 26th which showcases a clearly more ambitious and adventurous Max than we’ve ever heard before and he plans to follow that up very soon with two – yes, two – new full lengths in the near future. Max’s influences have always felt West Coast  – “the 2000 Myspace West Coast vibes,” as he puts it – so LA seemed like a logical second home for him. LA also puts him geographically close to “cousin of RBLE” DRAM, a detail that isn’t lost on one as motivated as Fullard.

“He lives ten minutes away from me. I see his crib and I’m like I can get this,” he says, “When DRAM blew up I saw that it was possible. So now I go a little harder. Not even in a jealous way, but like DRAM got it I can get it. Because he has the same exact resources that I have, obviously he’s on a label now, but he had Gabe, I have Gabe. He mixed and recorded all that shit in [his sister] Sophia’s kitchen. So he showed us that it was possible with the exact same resources that we have, you know? Same foundation, same fanbase, everything he had with Cha Cha… I just need a Cha Cha, or even if I get three-1/3 of Cha Cha. I just gotta be consistent and he’s showing me that as long as you’re consistent and putting out good product and just keep pushing, it’s gonna happen.”

When Max isn’t learning from his peers, he’s learning from his mistakes. The Max EP showcases the ambitions of a vet that is ready to step into the majors.

“I was very inconsistent before I met DRAM,” he admits, “I was going thru the wrong avenues, I was paying for PR, I was trying to get on blogs. I’ve been in Billboard, I’ve been in Fader and all that shit, but if you’re not consistent it doesn’t matter. Once they see the tweet at the end of the day, you’re at the bottom. So if you’re not getting people to post about and talk about you, you’re just gonna fade out. You gotta stay consistent. Once one song takes off, they’re gonna go back and listen to everything and then I’ll be fine. So that just keeps me going.”

These are words to live by, kids. My dude Max could do a TED Talk on perseverance and following your passions. Or you could just listen to his music and support his dreams. I know he’d do the same for you because he told me as much: “If anybody’s ever feeling lonely, lost, sad or even just happy you can reach out to me – dm, Twitter, IG, email – you can talk to me.” I’d do it soon, though, before he blows up.

Shedding Water & Poise with Heidi Peele

by Shannon Jay

Heidi Peelen’s work sheds the polite skin females usually portray, and unleashes every lady’s raunchy side. Whether large-scale mixed media pieces, goofy installations, or comedy routines, she creates characters (sometimes at her own expense) that might not be classy but are complex. What some may perceive as lower class at best or trailer trash at worst, she turns into stunning pieces that provoke beauty and respect. She’s nobly brought what she learned in the Big Apple at Pratt Institute back to humble beginnings in Hampton Roads.

She’s put herself out there for performances at Push Comedy and Watershed Art House, which she created and runs. Next, she’s shaking-shit-up at Chrysler Glass Studio this week for a Third Thursday performance. When I asked her to tell me a bit more about it via email, the question boded the shortest and vaguest response of all: “Me trying to be the perfect homemaker and me being the perfect homemaker.”

As for everything else, she’s pretty much an open book:

So, you do… a lot. Maybe start by listing out your extracurriculars?

As far as “extracurriculars,” I’m not sure if I can define them as such, I am genuinely bored by a lot of things and as result aim to find pleasure in other stuff. I really like other stuff. Most of the time the other stuff is anything and everything but the thing I SHOULD be concentrating on. If its a Sunday and I am alone, I like to play the autoharp and make up songs (only if my breakfast voice is still on) and sometimes I record them and sometimes I honestly just strum two chords over and over again until I never want to look at the autoharp for like a month. Also, I really am recently finding pleasure in housecleaning, redecorating and not leaving the parameters of my yard, unless its like someone’s birthday and even still I’ve flaked on like 3 this past year alone. Also I find sanctitude in making lists and never returning to them again. I have 8 to 10 spiral notebooks in rotation that I cant keep track of. 

What got you into comedy?  

I’ve made home movies dressed as really unfortunate characters since I was in ninth grade. When I found a place where other people were doing that and on stage, and then strangers were laughing and actually enjoyed it? And when I felt the adrenaline surge of hearing strangers laugh at me and I did it on purpose, I don’t know – that kind of turned me on, so I went for it.

Its fun, but I can’t fully submerge into anything. So I do it and try to incorporate it into my art and my day to day as naturally as I can, it makes sense. Especially for art, because art is a joke and I’ve been doing that since they told me you got to pick something to be good at and/or make money. I don’t make a lot of money. 

Money must come from somewhere. What’s your current “day job”?

Still teaching. I’m part-time waitressing too. I’ve worked in factory-produced metal stamping for the family business, I’ve worked as an assistant project manager in a basement in Brooklyn, I’ve been a Xerox printer salesman, I’ve made money doing what I had to do to make money.

I think there’s a beauty in employing yourself into fields that make you uncomfortable, because undoubtedly I learn something with every single job. Whatever we’re defining as a job these days. 

Tell me a bit about your sexy one-woman show.

One woman shows are a blast. I like to play with the role of performer for the audience and audience as the performers for the artist. Psychology is a favorite pass time read. But I am by no means experienced in the subject, especially anything written past 1970-something. I love any 60-70’s psychology. Its so much less forgiving than the contemporary, I think.

Anyhoo, the one woman shows are a way for me to low-key hate myself. Because just before I have to go out and perform, backstage, I freak all of the way out and want to call it immediately. Questions begged, “Why are they here?” and “OMG what do I contribute to society?” its all sort of just a cheeky guarantee that I get to develop my own existential crisis for actually no reason at all. The whole show, the whole production, is like one giant excuse for me to self destruct. Awesome. 

“Low-Key Starved” was all purely experimental (and I definitely want to do one again). It was really about toying with audience as performers vs the performer as the audience and how to make myself even uncomfortable. Like I had expectations of people reacting certain ways or walking out or getting fed up or laughing but then when they did I was like oh no what am I doing.

“This is How You Art” was more about the philosophy of watershed. I wanted to get the general art enthusiast up to speed with the tongue in cheek world of art academia and the contemporary and more conceptual pieces that have blurred the lines of art for even the experts. So I’d introduce a performance artist or sound piece or whatever through a live re-enactment (of course with some art licensing) and then allow the audience to experience it. After the re-enactment I would commentate on what they witnessed, and prompt them based off of Goethe’s 3 questions: what was the artist trying to do? Was it worth doing? And was she successful at doing it?

Speaking of Watershed Art House, What was the initial premise behind it and are there any upcoming events?

Watershed Art House is an attempt to yank the area out of the gallery and into the mindset of art as experience. Not a product, not an end result, no a sale, or potential sale or how much for this or whatever, but Watershed is supposed to stretch the mind. Omg that sounds zealous, BUT, I want it (and the people involved with me on this want it) to make art approachable and shifting and ever-changing and incredibly ephemeral. We live in a world of– never mind I’m not even going down the roads, but its a work in progress and we want art to be the experience and temporary and approachable by everyone. Amen. (and I think our next event is this fall- tba, tbd, y’all.)

What are all the visual mediums you work in? What’s your favorite?

I’ve been drawing since the magna-doodle and my mom made a really big deal over my drawing a deer – it looked like an animal of sorts I guess but whatever I was four and she thought it was the bee-knees and I think when your so easily influenced and you’re a little bb child and your mom makes you feel like Picasso, your 4 year old mind is like, “shit yea, I’m gonna be Picasso”. But recently (although I do draw alone and when I’m on the phone, or idk, whenever) I don’t see a point for visual art. I don’t see a lot of a point for anything, but especially visual art whose end product takes up space and time and money. I’ve spent a lot of those things in my life-long affair with this bit and I won’t stop, but the ebb and flow of our love demands that occasionally, I cut her off. Right now I like video and projections, and happenings and performances, and making myself really uncomfortable swimming in all those pools. And its working. Art should make you (as the artist) uncomfortable – if I feel good and cozy and comfy with doing the same thing I’ve been doing for a bajillion years, then really, what am I doing? 

What music/movies do you usually paint to or draw inspiration from?

I like anything with low to no dialogue. I like music with words I can’t understand but chords and repetition I do. I love repetitive qualities in sound. I love sound collage. One of the MAJOR films that truly dug out my insides and in ways revamped my brain was Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life. Still now. And if I weren’t a trite millennial I’d give you my musical artist faves, except that then everyone reading this would know about them and then they might get a little more popular and then they’d do something awful with their next album and I’m approaching 30 and really need some stability in my life rn. 

To see more work, check out her portfolio, and her 360 portrait project on Instagram

Maker Extraordinaire Kelsie McNair’s Next Excursion

 What once hung off the nails
What once hung off the nails

by Shannon Jay

When I met Kelsie McNair up at her studio on Fawn Street, it looked like a gentle tornado had blown through. Walls were scattered with vacant nail holes, beautiful stained glass instead stacked on the ground. Old photos flung array, including a wallet-sized portrait of her mother sporting a jeweled choker and sassy red boa. Her table was afflux of boxes and those signature floral phone cases.

After closing her successful vintage shop, With Lavender and Lace, the cases became Kelsie’s main focus. Now, she’s finished up the last of her final batch. “I have to be out of here by Friday,” she said while carefully layering the gel over dried flowers in intricate rows. It was the first of a major to-do list that includes packing, photoshoots, and a show at Toast tomorrow with her project, Pyrrhic Whim. “Social time is over, that’s it,” she said “I’m done with that,” thus the show will serve as her farewell party before she moves to New York. There was no wine opener, so we relocated to her kitsch apartment filled with mismatch rugs and modern furniture that had a very high tech one.

“I’m doing so much sniffing” Kelsie said while putting away a mountain of laundry, deciphering what was clean or dirty. Seemingly no matching socks to her name, she exclaimed “my life is a nightmare.”

 Where Kelsie's head is at
Where Kelsie’s head is at

We try to figure out which meme Kelsie is at the present moment; I suggest she’s the woman with math swirling around her heard, just trying to figure it out. Kelsie suggests it’s the comic of a dog uttering “this is fine” while sitting in a burning house. “That’s where I’m at,” she said “it’s a good fire I guess, just a lot of change really quickly, but I’m really excited.”

She’d planned to go to the Big Apple months ago, but with a new gig at Renegade Craft, her vision has shifted. “It is very much in a different direction than all the plans I was planning on.” Previously with no full-time job ahead, her big move framed around teaching at Urban Glass. “I have 3 weekend workshops,” she said, “One of my favorite parts about my life is working with this school, and that they respect me and want me to teach there.”

First though, she must squeeze in a pitstop to San Francisco for work. “There’s a lot of moving parts that are visual and a lot of editorial stuff,” she said of her position as the traveling market’s Social Media Content Manager. McNair’s snippy copywriting and aesthetic posts cultivate “little experiences that people are experiencing,” a skilled gained by garnering her own following and proving she could curate a brand by building herself up over years. 

“It was easier back then,” she said of starting up over 5 years ago, when the internet was less saturated and more blog-centric. Still, getting over 15,000 followers and plenty of sales means working “really hard at all this stuff I made up here,” she said, “I taught myself how to do a very specific position.” It’s the first time she’s been employed by someone other than herself in about 10 years, previously working at an ice cream shop, then a thrift store. “That’s my life — ice cream an old clothes,” she said, “nothing has changed, they’re still both weekly things.”

Her NYC digs are a reflection of her social media savvy — she’s shacking up in a beautiful house in the Bronx with a couple she met on Instagram years ago. When they were opening up Mottley Kitchen in 2016, Kelsie offered to help in the kitchen, and they’ve been friends since.

 Where to say farewell to Kelsie
Where to say farewell to Kelsie

“I literally look like a giant penis,” Kelsie said after putting on a beanie found in the pile, “this hat is over”

Busy with her social media content manager job, she wants to focus less on writing music, and shift her genre focus. Lyrics are her “love language,” music her mode of communication for complicated feelings, but crafting songs can be emotionally draining. “I love writing music, I just don’t have the energy to always be writing music like that,” she said, “and I don’t really write any other kind.” Pyrrhic Whim is dreamy and dramatic, with beats and drones that are dazing. After listening to a lot of alternative R&B, she wants to strip the bells and whistles of her performance and have fun as a jazz singer.

“Playing someone else’s soulful stuff would be a wonderful space to be in; it’s so sensual and old, I want to be apart of it,” she said, “Just a dark, shadowy room where music fills the whole space, and it’s my job to be another instrument instead of all these trends and sounds.”

Her hopes for the city are new experiences, lacking here but plentiful in her new home. “When i have a good day in New York, it’s never like ‘oh, that was fun’ it’s like ‘shit, I’m gonna remember that experience for the rest of my life.” In the opposite direction, this extreme is equally strong. “New York bites you sometimes, it gets rough,” she said, “Men on the street are rude and aggressive and awful, everything is super expensive, there’s so many things, overstimulating in every way, no one cares about you — it’s the loneliest place there is.”

Lying within this premise is her greatest fear — unhappiness “The worst part about leaving [Norfolk] is there are so many awesome people here, they are the best people, and it takes a long time to find friends when you get older, it’s just harder,” she said, “these are the ones i’m gonna have forever. There’s a couple more spaces in me for that, but it’s starting to close up.”

Nonsense will not be brought to New York for the sake of friends. “I have to be my most genuine self so I don’t have to act like someone else when they do let me in,” she said, “if you’re letting me in, you know who I am so I don’t have to work any harder”

“I think back on myself even a year ago, and I keep getting better but I’m still so dumb, I can’t wait to look back and see all the things i’m making bad decision about right now – I’ll be so wise, but I still won’t be there; none of us ripen all the way.”

Maybe, I offer, we are all avocados that are too hard to eat once opened, stuck in the fridge only to be browned a few days later, but never soft. Kelsie might not be totally happy in New York, but she certainly isn’t here and none of us ever are all the way. “If you’re 100%,” Kelsie responded, “you’re more than likely in a manic episode.”

“I’m overprotective of myself,” Kelsie said, only to ensure she’ll be taken as she is or not at all. “That comes with growing up, that’s the best.”

 Why Kelsie's voice rose two times that day
Why Kelsie’s voice rose two times that day

When snorting like children, our laughs high pitched after sucking helium from leftover birthday balloons floating about, I didn’t feel so grown up. Sprawled on a newfound friend’s bed, feet kicked up, flipping through magazines and chatting about hopes & dreams, I felt like a teenager. With a hole closing up inside her, reserving space for a new place, I felt fortunate to catch a genuine glimpse of Kelsie.

She took a puff of the ballon and contemplated. “It’s not because we’re not good,” she squeaked, “it’s just because there’s so many people, I have to do so much to matter so little.” Her voice and mindset were heightened, possibly just a trait of the always overthinking Pisces. 

Like a high school girl, I read Kelsie her horoscope. We’d classed and sassed up from Seventeen, with problematic glossy pages replaces with empowering matte media. Alongside thick art publications and makers magazines, featuring inspirational artists like Sarah Perez, was Broccoli. Reflective of her latest endeavor, Smirk Supply, the cannabis-friendly magazine is smart but fun, mature but creative.

“Say a prayer to the weed fairy that you’ll be supported in your wildest dreams, and take a puff.” I read aloud dramatically, “You set the tone this season through the faith you show in yourself. If you are clouded by vibrations of doubt, question them. You are a sensitive soul, so use cannabis to tune into your own energy, not the emotions of the people around you.”

“Yeah,” possibly after not totally staying still for several days, she paused and pondered, eventually smirking. “Wow.”

Ming Ying Hong Finds Sublimity in Uncertainty

  The Head Not the Face , 76
The Head Not the Face , 76″ x 126″, Charcoal, marker, graphite on paper, 2016

By Shannon Jay

Since Ming Ying Hong moved to Norfolk from St. Louis, her studio space has gotten a bit smaller. While it’s still able to accommodate her large-scale work, “there’s no room to look back at something,” she said, “there’s not a lot of editorial distance.” This added ambivalence in her process embodies the ethos of her latest exhibit, “Conditions of Uncertainty.” The collection of chaotic charcoal works is on view via popblossom at Work Program Architects in Monticello Arcade until March 16th.

  Empty and Full,  Graphite on mylar, 12″x12″, 2016

“I just feel like it’s okay to be at a place where you’re [unsure],” Hong said of her exploration of “hazy” area between binaries, and the discomfort people feel within that space. Her explosive portraits are “visible but not tangible,” and hope to produce ambiguous viewpoints wherein meaning emerges.

While the immersive scale of Hong’s drawings reminded me of Mark Rothko, she felt his motives more defined. “When you look at a Rothko, he wants you to feel a very specific [emotion], there’s no other ways to interpret that,” she said, “with mine it’s placed in these grey areas, there’s a level of questioning happening, and the hope that in questioning something, someone’s experience or understanding of something becomes more expanded.”

“There’s a level of fear” Hong said of disjointed subjects, who are always “on the brink of disillusions, and in forming them they fall apart.” It’s something she explores across all mediums. A graduate installation piece Hong named after a Mark Strand poem called “Keeping Things Whole” filled a room with fog to seem as if “you’re kind of floating in space.” Barriers of the room’s walls became invisible in her attempt to “dissolve this idea of you as a person – this sounds cheesy, but so you’re one with the space.”  

“My ideas drive my practice rather than being loyal to drawing,” Hong said about using multiple mediums. “I think everyone starts with drawing, as a kid that’s the most accessible art form,” she said, “It’s amazing that you’re able to make something…being able to make images suddenly emerge, to have your abstract ideas being formed on a page.” Intrigue with immersive abstractions, haphazard sculptures, and smoke-filled rooms, come from Hong’s interest in ecstatic states. “This moment where your body is there at the same time you’re not entirely,” she explained, “when the external world doesn’t become entirely understandable.”

“static states are near death”

“Wanderer above the Sea of Fog,” a favorite piece by Caspar David Friedrich she cites as a big inspiration, embodies this feeling. “It’s small but still depicts the sublime in a way that’s contemporary for its time,” she said, “now of course we have to make things bigger to do that.” In such a sensory saturated world, Hong’s scale is forcibly attention-grabbing. “I think people have enough attention span to do anything they want,” she said, “but in order to feel fear or awe I think you have to be experiencing something slightly new.”

 Hong in the studio by  Richard Nickel
Hong in the studio by Richard Nickel

With the natural world of “Wanderer” already explored time over, folks have turned to technology for new horizons. Not even amazed by and iPhone anymore, Virtual Reality has created a more immersive and exploitative recreation/invention of environments. With projections and other tech, Hong’s works take organic shapes and allude to natural phenomenon. She plays with the juxtaposition of “something you’re slightly familiar with that feels natural, but is nonetheless artificial.”  

A new way she’s doing this is incorporating sex-safe silicone into portraits. The “squishy” material overlaying a drawing of Hong’s long-time partner will look “kind of like a disease,” and spell out his insecurities in braille. She hopes to “question that type of masculinity” with soft material and a vulnerable message. “I feel like that material is a simulation of flesh and a symbol of desire,” she said, “not only his desire to have a better body, but a yearning to touch flesh.”

Hong’s use of unique materials to mimic reality made her classic Romanticism influence even more striking. Her work reminded me of more contemporary artists (such as Cai Guo-Qiang, who shares Hong’s Chinese heritage and interest in explosions). However, ideas of art from centuries past manifest in Hong’s work “in a way that’s more in our times.”

For her, she’s still trying to convey the powerful and relevant feeling Friedrich’s painted exactly 200 years ago. The wanderer looking at endless earth from the top of a cliff embodies exact uncertainty she hopes for viewers: “the fight of being amazed, but nevertheless being fearful.”