We had the good fortune of connecting with Missy Washington Cross and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Missy, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk reminds us that we are alive and that our time here is finite. With so many cushions and barriers in place to help keep us safe, I think most of us operate in our daily lives under some pretty blinding assumptions. Inviting or even accepting the possibility of high consequence scenarios, allows us to practice resourcefulness. We are pushed to think on our feet or solve a problem efficiently; this creates a stimulating environment for learning new things. After a risky situation, in which we’ve performed well, we get a boost of pride and self-confidence. We need this! I think we have, as a society, inched our way more and more into a zone of safety and protection, which engenders fear. This is so debilitating. Living without fear is really the goal. I think we tend to think of risk as performing dangerous physical feats, like skydiving. But I think real risk and reward are in confronting situations that we face in everyday life – leaving a dysfunctional relationship, leaving a stable career to follow a dream, telling someone how you feel, being kind and vulnerable when it’s easier to shutdown. I think confronting fear is one of life’s biggest challenges. I continue to wrestle with these ideas in my life and career. As an artist, I am consciously trying to find ways to bring meaning and connect with others through art. It’s so much easier to relax and float along on the surface, but there’s no reward in that.
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 am fascinated by nature’s hard to reach places, high mountains, wild landscapes, and the physical and mental challenges to get there. I almost compulsively seek to challenge myself, venturing into uncomfortable situations, and confronting fear, often with mixed results. These experiences have had an indelible impact on who I am, the kind of art I hope to make and how I would like to share it. It is my goal to realize the freedom and vibrancy I feel in the mountains or exploring a new city with the work that I produce, to capture the environments that I move through. I find the inner landscape is just as intricate and engaging, compelled by the unseen and the unknown. I have attempted to explore the emotional toll that grief and loss carry and how it shapes us. Much of my work has an element of assemblage to it. I grew up in the woods at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where my family built our house from logs and discarded materials from my father’s construction work. This has given me a sense of finding purpose and usefulness in what could be deemed trash. My interests often venture into the ancient and obscure, which appear again in my illustration work with cartography. For as long as I remember, I’ve been captivated by maps – how maps bridges the abstract with the concrete and visceral reality in which we live. Knowing that a series of lines and dots correspond to a vibrant land full of smells, tastes, and colors has always peeked my imagination. Currently I split my time between illustration (most of it cartography) and murals. Murals challenge me to be seen, to say unequivocally that this piece is made for widespread attention. Over the past few years, two of my largest projects have been murals depicting Yosemite and Joshua Tree National Park, both over 1,000 square feet. Invoking the quality of color, texture of rock, and atmosphere in each of these beloved places, it was my hope to help create inspiring communal spaces where all feel welcome. What motivates me most about art-making is creating safe, supported spaces that allow youth to open up and communicate emotional experiences. In the future, I would love to partner with schools and non-profit organizations on projects that use public art as an educational tool, striving for social justice, positive youth development, and community revitalization.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Unfortunately, nearly everything is closed at the moment, so we’d be pretty restricted. Let’s pretend the vaccines are out and effective, and we can all see each other’s face again. I love a good day climbing at Stronghold Climbing Gym or Rockreation in Santa Monica or Orange County. Stronghold is next to Barbara’s At the Brewery, which is a great place to go afterwards for drinks and mac & cheese. When the Brewery Art Walk is happening you could have an excellent day without moving the car! If my friend is crafty, we would definitely visit Moskatels downtown for all sorts of creative bits and pieces. For more art, Maurice and Paul Marciano Art Foundation had an exhibit of artist Ai Weiwei’s work last year. Something like that would give us some visual food for thought. Then eats at Ta-Eem Grill, which has amazing falafels. Dan Sung Sa in Koreatown is my place for drinks and silkworm soup. Or there’s Borneo Kalimantan Cuisine to get some authentic Indonesian. On the other side of town, Cervateca serves up my favorite fish tacos and horchata, and The Wee Chippy at the beach has the best fish and chips! Top that off with some Jones Coffee and some perusing at Vroman’s Bookstore and you have my favorites of LA!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Dr. Shibata practiced Chinese/Japanese medicine, acupuncture, and chiropractics. Sitting in his office, observing him treat all of the elders in his community, many of them for free, I was inspired. He agreed to teach me after incessant questions. I owe many of my ideas about mindfulness and spiritual practice to his guidance. Just as pivotal as the healing modalities and spiritual direction, Dr. Shibata opened my mind and broadened my understanding of social justice issues. As an activist during the Civil Rights Movement, he talked often about his experiences with grassroots organizing, supporting Asian American youth, drug prevention, and community and coalition-building alongside the Black community’s fight against police brutality and institutionalized racism. Dr. Shibata passed away in 2012. The loss was and still is painful, now because I want to introduce him to my husband and son. My husband and best friend, Pete, has been so incredibly supportive in everything I do. His motto is do it now, just go for it. And that zeal is so contagious. Not only is he a force on skies or climbing rock, he’s hilarious and a great father. Auggie is 10 months old, and I love him to pieces.
Picture painting map on concrete wall – Jason Lo