Whether they sit in a gallery, atop a cover of The New Yorker, or are spotted on your Instagram feed, figures painted by New Jersey-based artist Grace Lynne wholeheartedly draw a viewer's eye. Vastly textural, bold and contrasting in colour palette, each piece of Grace’s powerfully centres Black women beautifully, across a body of work which sees the artist portray “the nuance of being both Black and a woman,” she tells It’s Nice That.
Describing herself as an “image maker, painter and a visual enthusiast”, growing up in California Grace was always drawn to creative fields. After high school she made the conscious decision to pursue the career path of a professional artist, setting aside “a season in my life dedicated to experimentation, making lots of ‘failed’ images, and trying to find where I fit in the art world,” she says. Driven by a want to explore Blackness on canvas, Grace describes that as she matured her personal experience as a Black woman became the focus of her painting practice.
“I’ve always battled in my innermost thoughts on whether I am Black first or woman,” says the artist while describing how her approach has developed. “Society can label accordingly, however I feel as though this is a personal decision for every Black woman in terms of the way she leads her life.” Visually Grace portrays this focus through a number of detailed techniques, each creating both a wider portrayal and varied entry points for the viewer.
At the consistent centre however, Grace purposefully only paints Black female figures across her artworks, a decision which then “subconsciously points womanhood as the centre of the discussion,” she explains. These figures lie effortlessly across the artist’s canvas, in positions largely inspired by traditional figurative poses, “such as reclining nude and feminine leisurely positions that showcase the figure at rest,” says Grace. “Incorporating this history that excludes women of colour into my work is important. Women are the most free in their own safe spaces and when close to the state of rest.” It’s here that the artist achieves her aim of showing “Black women in safe havens”. Yet when expressions are painted on her subjects a sense of unease can be seen, “creating an interplay with comfort and agitation”.
To further display how “being a Black woman is a unique experience, because you deal with the intersectionality of both racism and sexism,” a regular feature in the artist’s works is a clear contrast between her palette for backgrounds and the central figures, as well as the painting techniques used to apply them. For example, Grace describes how she is often “drawn towards sharp edges and solid colours,” and so while working on a piece she’ll “add soft textures through feathered paintbrushes and light pastels, to create contrast”. This is then extended further by the artist’s use of colour, where Grace is “passionate about utilising pastel and lightly toned colour palettes” in a contrast to her Black female figures. In turn, “creating an image where both dark and light coexist at ease”.
In this sense Grace explains that her use of colour is symbolically utilised “as a verb or a form of action,” she describes. “Colour is a crucial part of my paintings and helps elevate the meaning.” Whether it’s the colours people choose to wear, the palettes they fill their homes with or are drawn to naturally, all can provide inspiration when the artist is planning a piece. “Colour is also very psychological and you can tell much about one’s personality traits or emotional states through the colours they associate with.”
It’s here too that Grace continues symbolic meanings, building upon society’s habitat of categorising certain colours as “masculine” or “feminine”, and it is rare that her work isn’t surrounded by a sophisticated hue of pink. “I strive to lead the viewer to question the very nature of colour and how historically symbolic meanings surrounding colours and shades, specifically black, are constructed,” the artist continues. “Black is traditionally perceived in opposition to what is good and pure, and I combat that perception in my work.”
Once all these elements are painted as one, the result is, as Grace aims for, sublime. “I love the definition of sublime because it means there is beauty but there is something deeper bubbling underneath,” she adds, perfectly describing the effect of her works. Currently the artist’s focus feels particularly poignant, as she points out: “We are currently in an era where Black women are reclaiming femininity and rights to have safe spaces, and I want to show this movement in my work.”
Grace Lynne (Copyright © Grace Lynne, 2020)
About the Author
Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.