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Antoinette Cauley: In Her Own Words
Jul, 07, 2020
Antoinette Cauley: In Her Own Words
When it comes to the artwork of Phoenix native Antoinette Cauley: it’s alive.
That’s the only way, really, to describe the compelling portraits of pop culture-inspired figures, young girls covered in tattoos and culturally relevant accessories, and others who glimmer with vibrancy, who emerge from the two-dimensional canvas, fully fleshed, full of life.
Represented by monOrchid, Cauley studied fine arts at Mesa Community College in the East Valley before completing a two-year apprenticeship with oil painter Chris Saper. In 2017 and 2018, she was named Best Local Artist by AZ Foothills Magazine, and in 2019, she took the top prize at the 19th Annual ArtLink Juried Exhibition and was named to Phoenix Magazine’s Great 48, a list of 48 influential people in Arizona. Today, Cauley’s work has been exhibited throughout the city and beyond. Her first solo exhibition, Ain’t Nobody Prayin’ For Me, was presented at monOrchid in 2019.
A painter, documentary filmmaker, soundtrack producer, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, and arts educator, Cauley embodies a relentless drive and creative courage as she seeks to blaze a trail for younger artists, including young Black people for whom creative careers can often seem just out of reach. Her work captures a fearlessness, a willingness to attack this life, to make the most of it, with everything she has.
But don’t take our word for it. Discover Antoinette Cauley, in her own words.
“That delay in learning that people who look like me have a harder time in the art industry was actually helpful in building confidence in my artistic abilities because there was no seed of doubt.”
Iva Kozeli and Antoinette Cauley, Portrait of Antoinette Cauley, 2019. Mixed media photography and acrylic.
PhxArt: How did your journey as an artist begin?
Antoinette Cauley: Growing up, I always had this natural inclination to do all things creative. I absolutely loved arts and crafts, and lucky for me, my mother’s family was super crafty. My aunts and grandparents always had some sort of art project for my cousins and me to do when we visited. Along with that, my father is actually a woodworker and very artistic as well. When I was little, we would build model cars together, and while I was basically obsessed with drawing, he always encouraged me to explore different media as I grew older. In college, he helped me with a lot of my bigger 3-D projects and offered guidance in my 2-D/paint classes.
I always loved being creative and making art, and both of my parents encouraged it so I just kept going. I never thought in a million years art could be my “job,” but when I was around the age of 25 or 26, I made the decision that I was going to make a living off of my work and (more importantly) I would give a voice to my community and inspire those who need it most. I haven’t looked back since.
PhxArt: What do you know now that you didn’t know then?
Cauley: As a child, I didn’t realize how important making art with and being encouraged by my father would be. I am biracial (my father is Black and my mother is white), so seeing and experiencing a Black man making art and teaching me about art throughout my formative years and college really normalized Black art-making to me. I did not realize how little representation there is for Black artists (and Black people as subjects) until I began to take art history courses in my mid-20s. That delay in learning that people who look like me have a harder time in the art industry was actually helpful in building confidence in my artistic abilities because there was no seed of doubt. Once I learned the realities of the art world, I was able to still hold onto my confidence but move more intentionally in creating the representation we so desperately need and empowering those in the Black community.
Antoinette Cauley. IntroVert. 2019. Acrylic on canvas. Mesa Community College Permanent Collection; Antoinette Cauley. Yesterday All My Troubles Seemed So Far Away. 2020. Acrylic on canvas. Private Collection; Antoinette Cauley. Still Brazy. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Mesa Community College Permanent Collection.
PhxArt: In which media do you prefer to work, and how do you plan to expand your practice?
Cauley: In a perfect world, I would work only in graphite and colored pencil. Nothing makes me happier than a plain ol’ mechanical pencil and some paper. But for the past decade, my medium of choice has been acrylic and sometimes oil paint. While I prefer drawing because of the precision and control it allows, painting provides more possibility in terms of translating my visions to a visual piece of art. I have dabbled in nearly every medium from fashion to ceramics, but I always come back to paint. In the coming years, I plan to work in 3-D media as well.
PhxArt: Who inspires and influences your work?
Cauley: My work is heavily influenced by music. I tend to use a lot of rap music as inspiration because I believe it is the most versatile of all genres, but most people don’t know that I am influenced by a wide variety of artists. Some of my biggest influences artistically are The Beatles, OneRepublic, Tupac, Post Malone, Beyoncé, Nipsey Hussle, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Odessa.
As far as visual artists go, some of my greatest influences have been Vincent van Gogh, El Greco, and Kehinde Wiley. I just travelled to Paris in January to see an El Greco exhibition actually! It was my first time seeing his work in person. I am also very influenced by the writing of Khalil Gibran. He is someone who has inspired me since I was a teenager. Truthfully, I am open to receiving inspiration from wherever it chooses to come from!
Antoinette Cauley. Lil Bo Peep. 2018. Acrylic on canvas Mesa Community College Permanent Collection.
PhxArt: What is in the works for you, and what can our community expect to see in the coming years?
Cauley: I am currently working on a body of work that explores Black femininity. Recently, I have been learning about masculine and feminine energies and how to tap more into my own feminine energy. When I began this journey a few months ago, I realized that Black femininity looks a little different from other forms of femininity. I began to ask questions about my own identity and decided this was a topic I wanted to explore through my work to find answers and simultaneously create more representation for Black women in the arts. I have very specific communities and cities I will be working in to give a voice to marginalized communities through this journey. I’ll be working on this body of work at least through 2021, so people can expect it within the next couple of years.
Antoinette Cauley. Whole Life I Been a G. 2018. Acrylic on canvas. Private Collection.
We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Antoinette Cauley shares what’s giving her life as a creative during quarantine.
Cauley: Honestly, my therapist and a whole lot of self-care! I have always been an advocate for self- and mental-health care, but this quarantine has really allowed me to focus on my health in a holistic way and get some things in order that I have wanted to. I am still listening to the same music and watching the same shows as I was before the quarantine, but I have been exercising more, cooking more often, eating much healthier, taking care of my skin and hair more, and just really digging deep into the internal care I had already been working at for years.