Q&A | Theresa Chromati

by Morgan Vickery

Photo: Tre Henry

Photo: Tre Henry

At the Kravets Wehby Gallery, Theresa Chromati transports viewers through archways, and into the multi-dimensional realm of her psyche. Her first New York solo exhibition, ‘Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed’ is an exploration of black womanhood and the duality of life’s emotions. Each work is a fragmented self-portrait, encompassing love, pain, happiness, and protection. Motifs of scrotum flowers and butterflies adorn each piece, attributing to Chromati’s journey in self-power, freedom, and understanding. Flaunt spoke with Theresa, discussing self-reflection in her current works.

Tell me about the name of the exhibition, ‘Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed.’ How did this title come to you?

In general, I'm focusing on women traveling. Each painting is a self-portrait and every woman depicted in the painting is a fragment of me. There's usually a central figure, and she's constantly in motion, moving forward. There may be a figure holding on to her leg or opening her eyes to see something that she might be ignoring, or it might be her inner voice. The woman is always in motion and going forward in her journey. So that's where the whole “Running in Place and Sometimes Walking” comes from, just to show women on their journeys forward, the things that happened, and the things that you deal with from the past and your present. And, in some ways, being comfortable with that — even if it's a bit dark or something you're not proud of. Just accepting your space and claiming that, and pushing forward, and bringing all of that into who you are moving forward — so that you're accepted.

The other part, which is “I Feel Loved and Paralyzed," is a similar thing — it's dealing with the duality of women's emotions. You could be happy and optimistic and seductive, but also feel shame and also feel a bit stuck. But even when you feel those things, for me, it’s still moving forward. It's nothing to hide from, it's more so just sitting with those moments and acknowledging them, but still keeping it moving. I wanted to talk about the emotions, and that often one woman's emotions aren't really considered. Especially for black women, I know it's a proven thing where doctors and scientists feel as though black women don't even feel pain. If we ‘don't feel pain’, what else are people not realizing that we feel?

“I Already Let That Shit Go (Moving On)”

“I Already Let That Shit Go (Moving On)”

Through abstract portraiture, you explore the duality of black womanhood— what have you found?

I've found that we're very layered. There's no one dimension today — you can feel optimism as well as feel pain. If something has been taken from you, you can feel shut out, but that doesn't mean that you're not happy or you can't smile, or that you're not moving forward… It's just an acknowledgment of the fact that you're a layered person. Once you own that, you can start to have conversations and open up a dialogue with other people; you’ll find you’re not alone.

In the past, the work I did included a lot of masked women, and that was a reflection of what I was feeling at the time. The work was about the push and pull of what’s visible; what you show to people versus what you hide. It was more so about protection and protecting energy. I feel that my work now will still be about protection, but the women in these works aren’t hiding anymore. And for me, that has been a step towards understanding and healing and growing.

What was your conscious state like while painting these works?

None of the paintings are a direct response to any particular thing. It's more so what it has added up in my life and makes me who I am. None of the paintings felt like the same painting, but contextually, all of them have this energy that can come back to what I was just talking about. There are certain aspects that the paintings always have or touch on; life, and I don't know where my life is going. That's something that I've come to terms with. After I've dealt with death, I feel like it's become easier for me to live with things, feelings inside of me, that I used to run away from. It's more so an acceptance and dealing with these contrasting emotions in your life.

“Prepared (She’s With Me)”

“Prepared (She’s With Me)”

From your perspective, how would you explain the common motifs throughout?

There are a lot of icons that pop up in the work. Scrotum flowers are a representation of power. The women will be dealing with the scrotum flower in different kinds of ways. Sometimes the scrotum flower acts as a support system for the woman, and other times, particularly in the painting “Prepared”, I see it as more of a resolve: the woman is clinching the scrotum flower above her head and marching forward. That just feels like she has her power, and that she is an understood thing, and that she feels prepared to move through whatever, wherever she's going. Also, I've been using butterflies as a figure for freedom. A lot of times, the butterflies will be stamped on one of the women's butts or floating behind them. We’re very layered people, and I’m creating work based off of things that I experience. In activating something like a butterfly, the way it speaks to me could speak to you in a completely different way, and I love that.

Tell us about your use of mediums; painted acrylic and collage, textured glitter and flat, and soft sculpture. How do these opposing mediums contribute to your expression of duality?

My work has become way more involved — more texture, more color, more layers, more transparencies. There's a lot of different overlap with transparencies that interest me, but contextually, I feel like it fit with women, and being these layered beings. Also using the glitter against the foundation — I like that contrast and texture, which makes the picture more than just one dimensional. It helps me to express the duality of nature that I’m trying to convey.

Left: “Hey, I’ll be There in 5. Can I Bring a Few Guests (Me and Me’s)”  Right: “You Always Show Me More”

Left: “Hey, I’ll be There in 5. Can I Bring a Few Guests (Me and Me’s)”

Right: “You Always Show Me More”

How has this exhibition attributed to your journey of self-power, freedom, and understanding?

When making art, everyone has a different process. Some people do studies or sketches before they start a piece. I usually don't do studies, I do sketches, and sometimes I don't even know the full composition — I might just know one thing. And then, you paint the background, you pick this one thing and you kind of look at it. Each painting activates itself, you know what I mean? Then other figures and other stories come into place. Sometimes, you might make something, and it just doesn't work, and you have to put something else into the composition to really activate it. I'm really just having a conversation with myself and the painting, it's constantly growing in that way. A lot of times, when it's finished, I'm still shocked. It's clearly adding a visual to my thoughts, and I'm still getting used to that.

What’s next in your surrealist endeavors? 

I'm really interested in creating immersive spaces, and that's going to grow in many different ways. Some ways that I'm aware of, and some that I don't even know yet, but I know that it's something that deeply interests me — to continue to play with time and space between the viewer and the painting. Moving forward, these opportunities, when they make sense, can start to grow. We'll see!

“We All Look Back At it (morning ride)”

“We All Look Back At it (morning ride)”

Running in Place and Sometimes Walking: At Times I Feel Loved and Paralyzed” is on view at Kravets Wehby Gallery from May 16 - June 22, 2019.

Images courtesy of Kravets Wehby Gallery