In just two years since graduating with an M.F.A. from Yale, Tschabalala Self has been causing a stir with her bold paintings centered on black female identity. Hedonistic women are seen dancing, posing, and reclining across the canvases, their exaggerated forms twisting and turning with seeming abandonment. “I try to communicate with my characters a sense of complete freedom,” Self explains. “They are free bodies, and they have total control over who has access.”
Bridging the gap between craft and fine art, the New Haven artist masterfully blends paint with sewn scraps of found materials, cut-up pieces of her unfinished works, and sections of patterned fabric from her mother’s textile trove in Harlem, where Self grew up. Citing activist artists like Ana Mendieta and Faith Ringgold as her inspirations, she says, “I use materials in an unconventional way to subvert the status quo. You don’t have to use paint to make a painting. It aligns with my overall message, which is one of change.” She also has started making colossal wooden sculptures—one was recently on view at Company Gallery in Manhattan—which she considers an extension of her paintings.
In addition to well-received solo exhibitions at Thierry Goldberg gallery in New York and T293 in Naples, Italy, Self had the distinction of being plucked by superstar dealers Larry Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch for a group show during last year’s Art Basel Miami. Her provocative pieces have been bought by the Rubells and the Astrup Fearnley museum in Oslo, Norway, among others. And she’s red-hot in London: Last winter, Self’s work was on display at the cutting-edge arts foundation Parasol Unit. In September, a solo exhibition at Pilar Corrias gallery will feature pieces that explore the shifting role of New York City’s bodegas.
“I was immediately struck by the graphic quality of her works and the remarkable degree of confidence in their execution,” says Ziba Ardalan, Parasol Unit’s director. “I just couldn’t get them out of my head.”