Grace Lynne makes art about her relationship with herself "as a Black woman, and the vulnerability that that entails." She also works in social impact design and "strives to stimulate empathy and critical thinking through art." Grace graduated from ArtCenter College of Design last year and recently returned from a trip to Egypt where she was working with local street artists on a mural project. We sat down over coffee in Pasadena last month to discuss her life and work.
Kevin Smith: Are you from here? What's your background?
Grace Lynne: Yeah, I was born and raised in LA, specifically South Bay, like Long Beach area. I went to ArtCenter College of Design to study design and commercial art and I'm glad I studied design because I learned a lot about how to make an image look good. I'm happy I went to design school but now I'm exploring more fine art.
Was that a BFA program?
Yeah, BFA in illustration and I minored in Social Impact Design.
Is Social Impact Design a new program?
Yeah, it's something that's just started in the last few years. It's gaining in popularity now that the world is more politically aware and there's so much political divide. The design is for community. Designing to raise awareness. It's more about making an impact than designing for something commercial.
Is that another name for 'social practice?'
Yeah! Social Practice, Public Practice, etc.
Do you see your painting practice and social impact design work as one in the same or are those different?
I'm trying to make a difference with my work and tell stories about different groups of people. The social impact design is more graphic design, and my art is more of an artistic way to tell these stories. So they are kind of the same, just different ways of expressing it.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an artist?
When I was young I did a lot of writing and art and my parents didn't nurture that talent so I didn't continue it or see the point of it or didn't see a future in it. So I wasn't the kid in high school who was known for being an artist or won artist of the year or something. It wasn't until I went to community college that I realized you can actually make it as an artist. Once my fine art started blowing up I learned that it is possible if I really focus on it.
In this moment of darkness, artists are faltering and wondering if there is power in art. Where do you fall? What is the power of art?
I sometimes think the art world is so secluded that only artists know about fine art. We make art for other art lovers, but what about the people who don't like art? How do we make art for them? How do we attract them?
I've been working with a lot of street artists lately. I did a mural project in Egypt and the thing is that a lot of mural artists are street artists. They don't go to school. They learn from other street artists. It's like a whole other world in terms of what they look for in art and what they consider art. Going to ArtCenter College of Design I know people who would look down on those types of artists because they aren't aesthetically driven or they don't know color or composition. I wish the worlds weren't so disconnected. I wish there weren't a hierarchy in terms of fine artists and street artists and comic artists, etc. There are some artists that can make art that appeals to both worlds.
There's this artist, Nina Chanel Abney, who does these really graphic paintings and she sells them for thousands of dollars but she also has this contract with Nike. That's the type of artist that I want to be. Like, I want to be in the fine art world but if I could have a partnership with Nike I feel like that would be the goal. Instead of making work that is so abstract that it can only fit in the gallery world.
You are without a studio right now. Are you inentionally giving up a studio space to focus on social impact design?
Right now my room is my studio. I've been more interested in residencies lately. I just did a one month residency at the Vermont Studio Center. It was a lot of fun and it taught me why you need a studio. It's nice to have a place just to create. As opposed to your room where you sleep in it, you eat in it, then you do your work in it. It's hard to separate the two.
You're on social media, right? Do you like it? Do you feel like you have to do it?
Yes. I feel like to be an artist, especially in this modern time, it's possible to do it without social media, but it's so much easier with it. I feel obligated to not just post pictures of my art, but to post pictures of me making art. It's almost a part-time job. I've sold so much work online and met so many new people. To me, that hard work pays off if you're an artist. I definitely separate my personal life and my artist life. I don't post personal things. It's strictly for business and I think that's what keeps me sane.
Do you have a preferred medium?
Yeah, I've been into gouache a lot lately just because it's so flat and I've been loving that matte look. Even though oil was my first medium, I'm kind of limited with oil painting, in terms of doing graphic stuff. So I've been exploring goauche more.
There's this book, 'On Beauty and Being Just' by Elaine Scarry. She makes the case that beauty is actually doing the work of pushing us toward justice. Do you think much about beauty when you're working?
Yeah! Beauty is what we all strive for. I remember I was talking to this guy named Ron Finley, who calls himself the gangsta gardener and I did a project on him. He goes around the inner city and he paints gardens and plants things and he's like "we underestimate the power of beauty." He's like "I'm trying to put more beauty in the inner cities" because there's trash everywhere, the walls are dirty, the streets are dirty, and that takes a toll on the way you operate your day to day lives. But imagine living in a beautiful neighborhood. You're naturally going to be more motivated and you're going to have more self-worth. Ron's goal is to literally plant more beauty around the inner city so people can be inspired.
What keeps you coming back?
I feel like it's my purpose. It's the only thing that makes me feel like I'm doing something right or good. And it gives me a sense of release. I never feel more like myself than when I'm creating. When I'm not creating that's when I feel the most depressed. Or I know something's wrong if I'm not creating.
Are you actively looking for an MFA program?
Yeah! But I feel like I'm only going to go if I get a full ride. I just don't want to be paying off loans for the rest of my life.
So what would you want to do after that?
I would love to be a professor. I'm really attracted to teaching. I want to develop my own curriculum. Like, teach classes on artists, women and people of color especially, who made a lot of work without getting much recognition. And I'd love to work on the faculty or board of art schools to figure out ways to make the art world more diverse. So I want to work in the education system to try to make art more expandable and reachable to people of all different incomes, backgrounds, cultures.
Follow Grace on Instagram @bygracelynne or stop by her website www.bygracelynne.com/