Maya Freelon is a visual artist best known for her colorful, organic sculptures made from dyed tissue paper. A speaker in our fall 2019 WINi event, she shared her process of embracing life as a full-time artist. We checked in with her to see what she has been up to during North Carolina’s stay-at-home order.
What am I doing? Well, surprisingly, it isn’t a lot of art-making!
These days, I’m cooking, cleaning, teaching and sleeping, with a little dancing in between with my kids. Three years ago, I took the leap of faith to truly embrace working as an artist as my full-time job and primary source of income, without exclusive gallery representation. Now that we are experiencing a pandemic, recession and mass unemployment, most inquiries about acquiring my artwork have vanished, would-be collectors have paused their plans and upcoming exhibitions have been rescheduled.
So I’ve been writing more grants and relying on my rainy day savings (artists should try to have at least 3 months of living expenses saved up!) to get by. I’m cutting down on personal expenses now that I’m doing my own nails, yoga, massage and hair at home. I’m calling friends and family more, and my therapist is on standby in case I need a session. I’m remaining hopeful and focused on what my grandmother called “an attitude of gratitude” about the whole situation.
Queen Mother Frances J. Pierce, or “Granny Franny,” as I called her, was born in 1928. She survived the Great Depression, and when she was living, she taught me lessons in being resourceful, working with my hands and avoiding food waste. She told me we came from a “family of sharecroppers that never got their fair share,” and as a child, she knew what it was to “need and not have.” I can hear her voice echoing in my mind now: “be a be-liever and have faith that everything is in divine order.” I actively try to release the anxiety I have about the future by staying present, which isn’t easy when the kids ask me 1,000 questions a day. I love to remind my eldest son to keep journal writing because he will have some interesting stories to share with his grandkids one day.
During the rare moments when I do have the kids occupied, and everyone’s belly is full, and the sink isn’t full of dishes, I sneak to my studio to surround myself with art. There, I breathe deeply and remind myself what a privilege it is to be a working artist and mother.
Moving towards the future, I am encouraged by this last grandmother’s nugget of wisdom: “a delay is not a denial.” My solo exhibition at CAM Raleigh was moved from opening in July to opening in September (which I’ll celebrate with an event with WALTER!). Schools will open back up eventually. People will want to buy art again.
And while we wait, I’m encouraging everyone to have an “attitude of gratitude”—ok, that’s really the last grandma quote!—as a reminder to find something each day that’s going right. Today, I’m grateful to have a supportive partner who reminds me that we are in this together. I’m also happy to spread some joy through my exhibition up at The Art Box Raleigh (4242 Six Forks Road, Raleigh, NC 27609). It’s available for contactless viewing 24-7 through September 2020—use it as an excuse to take a trip outside of the house!
Follow Maya’s art on IG or visit www.mayafreelon.com to stay in touch.