Alumnae Spotlight: Tyanna BuieFebruary 5, 2014 by Jenn Bratovich
In 2012 Tyanna Buie came to WSW from Milwaukee where she teaches screen printing at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Tyanna incorporates photographic imagery, found materials, and painterly monoprint techniques to create large, muti-layered works centering around personal history. During her 2012 residency at WSW she created “Sweet Escape”, a roughtly 16×6 foot “screenprint painting” that acts as a memorial to her uncle who died in prison unbeknownst to her family.
Tyanna has taken Milwaukee’s art scene by storm. She was recently named in Milwaukee Magazine’s “20 of the Most Creative Milwaukeeans” issue, and in 2012 won the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship, the most important art prize in the region. Tyanna shows her work regularly, and last year popped up at major regional shows such as Wisconsin 30, Current Tendencies III, and the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial. We caught up with Tyanna to ask a few questions about her current work, her WSW residency, and women in art.
Congratulations on your recent success, including winning the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship! How does it feel to be the first African American woman to hold this award?
Thank you! The Mary L. Nohl Fellowship is the most important prize for individual artists in Milwaukee, which makes it super competitive. The interesting thing is that I had no idea that I was the first African-American woman to win the Nohl because there are some great African-American women artists in Milwaukee that I admire. I was really surprised and honored.
Who are some of those Milwaukee women you admire?
There are a couple in particular, [artist, writer, curator] Evelyn Patricia Terry, and [self-taught folk artist] Della Wells. I became familiar with these artists before I moved to Milwaukee because of their reputation in the Milwaukee community. These are very influential women because of their knowledge, tenacity, and insight. It’s important to pay attention to living artists and get to know them, if at all possible, because they can give you the tools and guidance necessary to help you along the way.
Mary Louise Schumacher’s 2013 piece about you for the Journal Sentinel really illuminates your youth growing up in the foster care system and how art became a stabilizing force in your life. Based on your experience, why is it important to support young female artists?
I was able to be an observer during an art prize jurying process, and I saw something that surprised me. There were way more applications from men than women. However, when I was in grad school and even where I teach now, there are more women that make up the student population than men. I asked myself, what is happening to women artists once they graduate? It seems to me that they are either not continuing to make art, or they are under-recognized. Either way, this is an issue. This is why support for young women artists is extremely necessary.
How have you arrived at your current practice, and what direction is your work taking?
I began undergraduate school wanting to be a graphic designer, but as soon as I was introduced to screen printing, I was hooked! There was something about the process that came so naturally to me. I made prints that slightly dealt with personal narrative. However, once I attended graduate school for printmaking, my professors and colleagues encouraged me to go further and dig a little deeper. Once I changed my thinking and approach, my work changed. I realized that I wanted to be an artist and not be pigeonholed to one medium. I stopped editioning my prints and started to create one of a kind monoprints. This was mainly due to the use of mixed media I employed in the work, such as charcoal, fabric, and found materials.
I’ve noticed that my work is taking a new direction. I am still working on paper, but now I am using three-dimensional objects within the work, as well as creating three-dimensional pieces with the monoprints.
How did your WSW residency have an impact on your work?
I truly believe that atmosphere dictates the work a person makes. For me, I absolutely need a positive environment that allows me to think and create. That’s exactly how I feel about WSW. I created one of my most pivotal pieces [“Sweet Escape”, pictured first] there. I couldn’t have done it without the facilities, the space, the time, and positive energy and feedback that allow an artist to make work.
How did “Sweet Escape” signal a shift in your work? Did it steer your work in a new direction?
It was difficult for me to make because of the heavy content. My uncle died in prison at the age of 43 in 2009 after being in prison nearly his entire life. The prison misspelled his last name and could not contact the family. They cremated him without giving any notice or choice. This really upset me. My family did not get a chance to say goodbye. As an artist, I felt it was my duty to somehow right this wrong.
I came up with an idea to have a memorial “exhibition” to highlight my uncle’s life and give him a voice unmarked by the prison system. I hesitated when I initially thought of the idea of doing this work. It seemed so personal and I wasn’t sure how to go about making a piece that did not directly involve me, even though it affected me so deeply. After I spoke with family members for quite some time, they were able to help me through the development of constructing the works.
The entire process has definitely steered me in a new direction when it comes to my practice. I make bolder decisions now because of it.
You came back to WSW to teach for our 2013 Summer Art Institute! How was it being back?
It was great to come back! The students I worked with were so dedicated hardworking. But that is how it is at WSW. The atmosphere is conducive to production. What makes WSW so unique is this: It’s like being at home with a perfect studio space designed just for you. You’re productive and comfortable. It’s difficult to have both at a residency program, but WSW does it seamlessly. The founders, the staff, the visiting artists, and the overall atmosphere make the experience at WSW incredibly special.
So what’s your workspace like now?
Ha! I’m still trying to figure that one out. I recently moved into a studio, but I still use the facilities at the institution where I teach. I’m not used to having a studio space post-graduate school, so I’m trying to figure out the best way for me to utilize the studio space.
What advice do you have for emerging women artists?
Keep making art no matter what life brings! You do not have to choose between family, children, friendships and art. Keep art a part of all of those things. The art world needs a woman’s perspective.
In April 2014 Tyanna will be having a solo show at her representing gallery, The Dean Jensen Gallery, in Milwaukee. See more of her work at www.tyannajbuie.com, and hear Tyanna discuss her work in a video from the MMoCA 2013 Wisconsin Triennial.