JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS, “Archetype of a 5 Star,” 2018 (acrylic, spray paint, glitter, ink and cut paper collage on canvas, 60 x 48 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 

AS A YOUNG GIRL, Jamea Richmond-Edwards got lost in the pages of Ebony magazine. She was particularly drawn to the runway images from the Ebony Fashion Fair show. Through the otherworldly photographs of stunning black models styled in wildly imaginative ensembles, she discovered haute couture and envisioned herself as a fashion designer. Years later, she chose visual art over fashion design, but never gave up on her desire to explore the artifice of dressing.

“Those images were very visually affirming for me. It presented black women in a space that I had never seen before,” Richmond-Edwards told me via email.

Her latest exhibition, her first with Kravets/Wehby Gallery in New York, presents a series of mixed-media works composed of cut paper collage, paint, and ink on canvas. Cast against fantastical backdrops, her subjects are youthful black women indulging in the excess of fashion. Styled by Richmond-Edwards, their choices are an eclectic assemblage of vibrant colors and mixed-prints, which contrast with their intense gazes. The works examine the complex relationship between black women and luxury clothing and handbags. “My paintings are my interpretation of luxury,” she said.

Titled “Fly Girl Fly,” the name of the show is a cue to the time period that inspired the works. Richmond-Edwards spent her adolescence in Detroit during the 1990s. She described her neighborhood as “poverty-laden.” Luxury brands were idolized and served as a symbol of aspiration, even if they were knock-offs. In an effort to unpack this phenomena, her portraits consider issues of identity, perception, and respectability.

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS, “Bag Lady,” 2018 (acrylic, spray paint, glitter, ink and cut paper collage on canvas, 53 x 55 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 

Now based in Maryland, Richmond-Edwards cites as her influences Romare Bearden’s collages, the aesthetics and principles of AfriCOBRA, and 19th century Japanese Block Prints. She studied painting and drawing at Jackson State University where she earned an undergraduate degree, and then she completed her MFA at Howard University in 2012. I asked the artist several questions about her work and the exhibition. A few of her responses follow:

CULTURE TYPE: Tell me about the use of grayscale for the skin tone on your figures?

JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS: I render the faces in ink and charcoal, which is truly a meditative process. So in part it’s an aesthetic decision. Symbolically, it’s about celebrating the black female figure.

The fashions you’ve created in your works are layered, mixing patterns with exuberant color, not necessarily the aesthetic of a typical luxury brand, but certainly reminiscent of Duro Olowu’s designs, for example. Do they represent your vision of luxury? Are you redefining it?

Duro Olowu is phenomenal. I’m ashamed to say, I wasn’t familiar with his work until around 2010 when someone who attended my exhibition asked if he was an inspiration of mine. I immediately researched him and was blown away. His work is almost the literal manifestation of my paintings. …My paintings are my interpretation of luxury, but there are many designers of color who are redefining luxury. Dapper Dan is a great example! Gucci made a very smart move by bringing him on board.

One of your works, “Wings Not Meant to Fly” (2012) was featured on the Fox television series Empire. What season was that and how did the opportunity come about and choice to use that work in particular?

I had two other paintings featured as well, but that piece became a central piece of the show. I haven’t watched the last season, so I’m not sure if the painting is still up. I’ll binge watch this summer to catch up. I was vetted by the show’s interior design department before the first season. I sent them a series of images, and they chose which pieces they wanted to include. I knew it would be a successful show, but the impact it would have in relationship to contemporary black art was quite surprising. I will be forever grateful for that opportunity. CT

 

LEARN MORE about Jamea Richmond-Edwards on her website

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS, “The Witch of Joy Road,” 2017 (acrylic, spray paint, ink an cut paper collage on canvas, 48 x 36 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS, “7-Mile Girls” 2017 (watercolor, collage and ink on paper, 15 x 11 inches). | Courtesy Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS,, “7-Mile Girls” 2017 (watercolor, collage and ink on paper, 15 x 11 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS,, “7-Mile Girls” 2017 (watercolor, collage and ink on paper, 15 x 11 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 


JAMEA RICHMOND-EDWARDS, “Shirt with Lace Heart,” 2018 (acrylic, spray paint, glitter, ink, tulle, lace and cut paper collage on canvas, 72 x 128 inches). | Courtesy of Kravets/Wehby Gallery and the artist

 

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