Alumni Spotlight: Black Love

March 25, 2022

An expanded ideation of the South Puget Sound Community College's 2020 Futures Rising Exhibition, Black Love: Community Building Through Mentorship, was a project in which five notable and established Black artists in the Olympia area were selected to participate and mentor five emerging Black artists early on in their careers. South Puget Sound Community College recently hosted Black Love: Community Building Through Mentorship, featuring several Evergreen alumni. Two of Evergreen's alumni participated as mentors and one alumni as a mentee.    

A portrait of Cholee Gladney who is smiling, wearing a neutral sweater and has dark curly hair that is shoulder length.
Portrait of Cholee Gladney '00.
Painting by Cholee Gladney, Meditation: The Void.
Cholee Gladney '00: Meditation: The Void, 36"x48", acrylic on canvas.

Cholee Gladney '00:  

"Gladney is a visual artist from Olympia, Washington. She received a BA in cultural studies from Evergreen; an MA in counseling psychology from Saint Martin's University, and studied drawing and painting at Oregon College of Art and Craft. Through her work, Cholee is excavating internal and external landscapes for spiritual resources to help us understand and move through our most challenging moments. Using image-making as her spiritual practice, Cholee connects with the divine for supportive guidance. Making use of what we are given is a value that guides her work; she hopes to create spaciousness from scarcity and transform pain into learning. Her images encourage us to know our inner worlds more intimately so that we may connect more deeply to our truest nature and to one another. She is inspired by patterns in the natural world, the ancestral realm, song, outsider art, and surrealism." – Cholee Gladney, artist bio   

Painting by Cholee Gladney, Protective Patterns.
Cholee Gladney '00: Protective Patterns, 48"x48", acrylic on wood.

Cholee was a mentor to recent Evergreen alumna and artist De'Ja Marshall for the exhibition; De'Ja works predominantly in digital media and photography and has exhibited her series Outgrowth II with the Olympia Artspace Alliance.  

A portrait of De'Ja Marshall, a young Black woman whose head is resting upon her left hand, her hair appears to be shoulder length, the image has a rosy tint to it as well.
Portrait of De'Ja Marshall '21.

De'Ja Marshall '21:  

"Marshall is a narrative tableau photographer based out of Tacoma, Washington. Her interest in photography was first piqued at ten years old while spending time with her grandfather's digital camera. Over the course of her extensive photography journey, the subject matter with which she grappled through her art ebbed and flowed with the ever-changing interests of her youth. The latest iteration of her work centers on Black women. It serves as a culmination of the development of her artistic praxis at The Evergreen State College, more pointedly, exploring the nature of Black femininity and the fluidity of divine feminine energy as it persists outside of the white gaze." – De'Ja Marshall, artist bio 

Fine Art photograph by De'Ja Marshall '21.
De'Ja Marshall '21: Be Waiting, 17"x25", Photography, digital.
Fine Art photograph by De'Ja Marshall '21.
De'Ja Marshall '21: Even If I Got A, 17"x25", Photography, digital.

De'Ja and Cholee worked together as they navigated their ideas, dreams, hopes, doubts, the struggle of being Black women, and more. The power of mentorship is reciprocal and invigorating. Working with a mentee can open one's eyes to new ways of thinking or viewing the world; working with a mentor can provide guidance one did not know they needed and breaks down barriers between seasoned and new professionals. When working together with De'Ja, Cholee expressed:   

"It is an incredible gift to be in the company of such brilliant Black artists and to be able to partner with and learn from De'Ja Marshall, whose work I respect deeply. The theme of protective patterns emerged from a growing awareness of my own negative thought patterns. As I began to work on the pieces for this show, I reflected on my use of the creative process to remedy anxiety and negative thought patterns. Partnering with another Black woman who understands the need for these adaptive practices around transforming patterns has been invaluable. This experience has taught me that while my insular creative processes may have certainly helped me develop awareness of harmful automatic thought patterns, the connections we create by revealing our struggles and sharing our healing practices is truly what will sustain us." – Cholee Gladney, BLACK LOVE artist statement   

Travis Johnson '21 also participated in this exhibition as a mentor artist, and his mentee was Cebron Kyle Bradford of Olympia. Kyle learned of this exhibition after posting to Instagram a photograph of paint and text saying: ‘I want to get back into oils.’ Travis immediately reached out, and their journey together as mentor and mentee began. Travis is a professional artist, working primarily in painting and sculpture mediums, and has exhibited throughout Western Washington.  

Portrait of Travis Johnson, Johnson is a Black man, and is smiling in the portrait, he wears clear framed glasses, and has a short beard with a black top and scarf on.  The image is in black and white.
Portrait of Travis Johnson '21.

Travis Johnson '21:  

"Johnson has spent the last 3 decades developing his craft as a creative and uses his art to explore the human experience by touching on the whimsical, silly, serious, and sometimes painful side of life. He uses the subtle nuances of classic western world iconography to tell a highly illustrated and visually rich narrative. His main artistic inspirations are Bill Watterson, Justin Bua, Thomas Hart Benton, Kerry James Marshall, Kara Walker, Michael Hafftka, Bill Turner." – Travis Johnson, artist bio   

Sculpture by Travis Johnson '21, depicting a red and white boxing glove clasping two metal and wood hammers.
Travis Johnson '21: 9 Rounds Two Hammers, 13” x 11” x 9“, leather, gloves, wood, and steel.

When asked about the experience of mentoring for this exhibition, Travis shared, "The mentoring has been a healing act of reclamation for my ancestral bloodline. I have enjoyed this process of seeing creativity activated in another artist. This process gave me a new lens to view my own art practice."   

Sculpture by Travis Johnson '21, depicting a black and white EVERLAST boxing glove sitting atop a branch coming out of a wood base.
Travis Johnson '21: Glove In The Desert, 27” x 7 ½ ” x 7 ½ “, gloves and wood.

The Evergreen State College wants to share our gratitude for our friends at SPSCC for coordinating this exhibition and uplift Theresa Yost, SPSCC Leonor R. Fuller Gallery guest curator and contributor. Theresa's arduous work and determination set this exhibition into motion and created this opportunity for Black artists in Olympia. We encourage our readers to dig deeper and follow these artists on social media, read their artist statements, check out their websites, visit their exhibitions, and most importantly, support these artists by buying their work. To learn more about the other artists involved with this exhibition and read more about their artistic practice, follow this link here.  To watch the Artist Talk held at SPSCC follow this link here