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Mina EliseArtist

New York, US. February 4th, 2021

“Ultimately, I define beauty in truth. It’s a person, a plant, a song, a dance, a feeling that exists in its truth. Which is not to say that something fabricated, altered or built upon isn’t beautiful, because evolution is as stunning as it gets.”


 

I would describe myself as an a tender, yet sharp-tongued, storytelling, daydreaming, free-spirited type of artist, the kind who creates out of love. I have been especially blessed with exponential love in my life, and my art affirms my purpose of being a little love being. It’s an outlet to open my light for other folks to feel; it’s both a super vulnerable and fulfilling way of existing for me.

The bulk of my work represents the beautifully warm and wet things in my life. Like love—through self, family or partnership—or intimacy, whether as a femme, Queer or Black/Brown person. There’s also color; with all the magical spectrums of energy, they make me feel, warm ones specifically.

As much as I believe artists are true in purpose, we sure are some magical beings. Artists can bring the unimaginable and indescribable to life. We carry our resourcefulness like a wand. We collect the most special and peculiar things. We believe with such colorful conviction. Artists can reproduce with our hands, transform with our bodies, and influence with our minds. Now tell me that ain’t some magical shit!

I was born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, which is where my parents actually met, and most of my family is from there as well. One grandma was an educated art teacher in Hartford’s public schools, while the other grandma, like many Puerto Ricans, came here to work hard in the tobacco fields. Even my great grandfather was an activist here. My senses, my memories, my influences, my take on community, family and culture, all that, have hefty ties back to Hartford. With that in mind, I’m sure you can imagine what an honor it’s been to create art along the streets of my hometown.

In my parents I saw that art can be the volume, melody and frequency in which you want to be heard—otherwise known as our voice. To this day, they use their art as a vessel for their selves to come through. Growing up, I watched my Mama put her art on like a pair of wings, with her freedom of expression through makeup and fashion. I see my Dad use his art to tell his history and our families’ ancestry. They use art as a means to discover who they are. It’s a superpower, really, especially to little Mina.

Having creative parents completely shaped who I am, and down to the littlest of things, too. Like the way I meticulously chop in the kitchen, or my hyper-sensitivity to color, or how my eye will find joy in the shape of a shadow, or my intense fascination with body parts; I could go on and on. My upbringing has essentially shaped the way I see the world and my relationship to all things sensory. Because of that, I think it just naturally led to expressing myself through artistry, like it comes through and before me.

There’s no secret formula, however; I have many different processes, similar to the chicken-or-the-egg theory. But I almost always pull a reference of some sort, a visual that I can refer back to or recenter my idea. Whether it’s to render the realness of something, or a color palette or sometimes even a feeling, a reference is where it all begins for me.

From there comes my fantasizing. Now this has got quite a range for me, which is pretty human, because we live in our heads! It’s about my child-self, sexual, dream-state, mystical, fantasies of all kinds. This is combined with all the surreal beauties of reality: pictures, books, film, women, women and women. After this mental file cabinet of inspiration comes to the front, I start sketching. My mediums vary from watercolor to acrylic to digital, so the next steps can look like anything. That’s actually the fun part.

Just like music, my art is practically a marker of who I am at the time. Content-wise it’s personally not as telling as my journaling, but what I love is that you can witness my evolution in skill. Progress is so humanly pleasing to watch, and it’s so humbling that my artwork is a tangible example of that. The more I create, the more my craft becomes refined. Sometimes I’ll even look at a previous work and go, “But how can I elevate this? How can I do something different or uncomfortable?” That can be as simple as using a color I’m not often drawn to, like blue.

Murals specifically created by the community are so powerful. They help affirm that the environment is a space worth feeding, honoring and sharing. Art for pleasure or adornment can tend to have this classist, elitist, washed-film coating over it. Communal art is a beautiful way to wash that off. It’s a way to say, “We are here; listen and look, stop to reflect.” They encourage your presence. And as often as the community blessed and thanked us for our time as we worked, the murals were really my thank you to Hartford and all the gifts it’s given me.

But if I’m inspired by something, chances are I either wear it on myself or in my work, as though it’s all connected. You can see it very clearly with my relationship to color. I almost always “feel” red; if you’re familiar with my work, you already know what’s up. But if not, the best way I can explain it is that I basically feel color in phases. Sometimes I feel green, so I intentionally wear it and create with it so I can get closer to how it makes me feel. Color is incredibly energetic. We actually make most of our decisions based off color alone, and that’s because we feel it. And to feel is fucking everything. It’s the source.

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The characters I paint are people I would definitely be friends with, and I essentially paint my femme’s faces as if I were doing makeup on them. Doing makeup for friends has always been a love language of mine. Right now I’m also really inspired by Black folx and Queer folx, especially when they’re making things, doing things, living their lives, and infusing joy.

I have found working and being creative amid the pandemic very hard. I’m not sure if this is an artist/creator thing, but sometimes if I’m not making work, whether consistently or productively, it feels like I’m losing my purpose. That’s a little dramatic, but it’s real. I care so much about my creations; they affirm me. So when I get waves of feeling defeat, confusion and frustration, especially as it pertains to living in this body, or in this world as a woman, a Queer Afro-boricua, a super-sensitive artist, sometimes I don’t want to make a damn thing. I wanna just exist and be alive. And that’s okay, too. I just gotta remind myself of that more often.

Ultimately, I define beauty in truth. It’s a person, a plant, a song, a dance, a feeling that exists in its truth. Which is not to say that something fabricated, altered or built upon isn’t beautiful, because evolution is as stunning as it gets. It’s more so that our true beings and states are so customized. Beauty looks like everything, yet it also has this recognizable rawness that means something specific to everyone. But a true smile, a true proclamation, a true love, a true you—what’s more beautiful than that?

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MINA ELISE [Freedom Models]