Art Forms: Exploring Blackness and Meaning with Alexis McGrigg
Many artists go to great lengths to interpret the feelings that a particular place in time evokes.
But what if you were visualizing, deciphering, and deconstructing the space holding that place - a different dimension? Alexis McGrigg is doing just that.
Originally from Utica, Mississippi, Alexis McGrigg spent many of her formative childhood years in Omaha, Nebraska, before moving back with her family at twelve.
"I think creating was always just a part of my life," McGrigg said. "My mom would tell people that I'd throw temper tantrums if I couldn't take my crayons and coloring books everywhere. (laughs) Like, that's something very simple. But, you know, it changed from crayons and coloring books to craft paper and string and all the crafty things that you do as a kid. I loved those things. A lot of children love toys and all that stuff, but I didn't want toys. I wanted to make stuff."
With a drawing or painting instrument always at the ready, McGrigg's love for creating became an opportunity to study at the Mississippi School of the Arts in Brookhaven as a teenager. "I am a product of funding for the Arts in our state," she said. "It was such an integral part of the artist I am right now, the training I received."
Upon graduation, McGrigg headed to Mississippi State University for her undergraduate and then Texas Tech for grad school where she continued to learn about painting and transmedia. Since then, she's grown her professional art career across multiple disciplines, including museum and gallery work, art consulting, and teaching as a professor. Now, she's completely embracing her art with full-time studio work at her home outside Jackson.
Much of McGrigg's collections explore the significance of Blackness and its substance in many forms. "When I say blackness, often it's just associated with black skin, black people, black bodies," McGrigg said. "That's a part of the narrative, the foundation, and springboard that it happened from. But when I think about Blackness in general, it's not just related to the human body. It's also related to space."
McGrigg says it's not only the celestial space she's thinking of but the current dimensional plane we are all learning to live, love and work together in.
"The every day on Earth, that space, that sort of intangible thing," McGrigg said. "How we have to navigate that. We have a certain way that we have to move through the world that has been shaped for us. We didn't get to shape it ourselves. I visualize paralleling that kind of space with alternate worlds that are like a plain on top that isn't visible to the human eye."
The interdisciplinary result is vast canvases of rich watercolors and fabric dyes that are multidimensional in their construction and meaning, almost like peering into a portal to another universe. Although beautiful to behold, McGrigg realizes her art's message is equally layered.
"It's always in the back of my mind that I know what I'm talking about, which is Blackness, and black people, existence, and spirituality, and that those things can make people uncomfortable," McGrigg said. "I don't have any concern about that. What I talk about in my work, I want to challenge people in a way they haven't been before, or haven't reckoned with."
Her professional artistry is also an example of how much the Magnolia State offers to the creative world.
"To see how many talented, successful, and thriving artists have been grown here, loved here, and called Mississippi their home away from home despite where life has called them, I find it massively important to shine a light on what supporting the arts can do for our state," McGrigg said.
"I look at artists such as Sam Gilliam and Mary Lovelace O'Neal, thriving artists from [here] who have reached international acclaim," McGrigg said. "As I look at their careers, their struggles and triumphs are why I get to do what I do today. On some grander scale, their representation in the art world made space for me. I hope that my trajectory does the same for those after me. As a friend always tells me, 'lift as you climb.'"