We had the good fortune of connecting with Fantasia Ariel and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Fantasia, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
In the winter of 2013, a younger student from my high school had been shot and sadly passed away — she was only 15. Her death would later spark outrage and a wave of melancholy throughout the city; the night I found out about her passing, I had so many feelings that I wasn’t sure how to cope with. The next day, instead of going to school and grieving with the other students and faculty, I stayed home and painted a portrait of her. I depicted her sweet and somber face between the night sky and the heavens. Later on, I gave the portrait to her mother. I remember her crying — not with the same grief that went into the painting but tears filled with memories her daughter. The first thing she said to me was, “That’s her nose. You got her nose! That’s my baby.” Hadiya Pendleton’s death made me realize that we as a people are often times not seen until we are already gone. I pursued an artistic career because I wanted to continue bringing life out of a canvas. I wanted to make sure people were seen before they were gone.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I put a lot of love into my paintings because they’re mostly paintings of people that I love. I believe individuals can look at my pieces and truly feel the spirit of those I’ve captured; that’s what I’ve always strived for with my work. The idea of a person loving a piece that depicts someone I love is special to me. Being that bridge of connection between complete strangers is simply magical to me. I believe there is is still so much of that magic to be tapped into and that’s what excites me the most about painting. I believe I got to where I am by mostly through the support of my friends and other artists I’ve befriended. It wasn’t easy to get to where I am today –I had to make a lot of sacrifices but with the love and support that I have, it always felt worth it. Along the way, I learned that despite having a support system, it’s me who makes the tough decisions at the end of the day. Learning to be your own boss and listening to yourself as the voice of reason wasn’t something that came naturally for me but I grew to understand just how important that was.
If there’s anything about me –my work, my story– that I want the world to know, it’s that I’m authentic, my work is made with a lot of heart, and my story could be anyone’s story. There are so many people who go through similar experiences but the way those experiences shape the individual is what really matters. I’m just grateful that my story is my own.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Chicago is a big city that can feel really small, so it’s important to travel –visit different neighborhoods–and try different things. One of my favorite spots to unwind would have to be in the Bridgeport neighborhood, Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar. The ambience is what really reels me in, but the food from partnering restaurants, Kimski and Pizza Chicken Ice Cream is what really makes this place a 10/10. Let’s say you want something to do during the day time, no problem, I’d recommend a trip to First Ascent or Brooklyn Boulders, these are rock climbing gyms that are awesome, one can be found downtown while the other within the west loop, both are great locations to find something fun to do after working up a sweat. In the more southern part of Chicago, there’s a gallery in the Pullman area, Block House Gallery. The gallery is run by an amazing woman, Frankye Payne who will make your visit feel like a visit to your favorite Aunt’s house. There are just too many great things you could do in Chicago but this would be a great start!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to shout out my mother, Felicia Graham for always believing in me, my friends Frankye Payne and Ellen Kaulig for being a huge support system for me during this crazy year, and lastly my late mentor Chris Holbrook, he was everything I thought an artist should be and I miss him dearly.
Photos 3 and 4: Robert H-B Photo 5: Oscar Sanchez