This summer, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts launches Delta Voices: Artists of the Mid-South, a limited podcast and video series highlighting emerging artists working in the Mid-South. The series was created in collaboration with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Mississippi Museum of Art. Each of the four episodes features an artist selected by curators at participating institutions. The Mississippi Museum of Art selected Alexis McGrigg, an artist based in Jackson, Mississippi.
The past twelve months have been a banner year for McGrigg, who opened her first solo exhibition in New York in May at the Richard Beavers Gallery. Her paintings were displayed in the group exhibitions SAY IT LOUD (I’m Black and I’m Proud) at Christie’s Auction House in New York and LIGHT at the CICA Museum in South Korea. She’s preparing for upcoming exhibitions in Mississippi, New York and Paris.
Working in painting, drawing, photography, video, installation and performance, McGrigg investigates themes of blackness, spirituality and space. Her recent series of paintings depicts a metaphysical plane she’s dubbed “the Ether”—a zone between the realm of the living and the domain where souls reside. Her work—made by dripping dyes on a canvas or paper—visually manifests this in-between space.
Former Andrew W. Mellon Post-Baccalaureate Curatorial Fellow at the Mississippi Museum of Art Christina McField spoke to artist McGrigg in June. To hear more of their interview, check out the Delta Voices podcast episode on Spotify and watch the video introduction on YouTube. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Christina McField: Can you speak about the challenges you’ve gone through being from the Mid-South? Was there anything that helped you in some way, that you grew from?
Alexis McGrigg: The biggest challenge I faced being from the South is not really about my work. It’s about exposure. I was speaking to a collector, and she was like “Oh, I’ve never seen your work, but I really love it. Where’d you come from? You’re not on the radar.” I’m like, “Yeah, not purposely.” But at the same time, have you really been applying yourself? Have you really been sharing your work and allowing people to see it?
CM: That’s also a hard thing, too, with making the work because you’re sharing a part of yourself to the public.
AM: I’m thinking about the resources we have here, specifically in Mississippi. We have the Mississippi Museum of Art, but what are the resources we have as emerging artists to really show our work in our area? There aren’t many spaces. We have to go out of state. We have to send our work somewhere else for other eyes to see it. And that’s what I’ve realized. I can’t just hold the work here—I have to send it somewhere. That was a challenge realizing I have to search for these opportunities. I need to connect with people, make friends and share the work. Even if I just share it on social media.
CM: A lot of artists feel like they have to move away from Mississippi. What keeps you here?
AM: I thought I had to go somewhere else. If I wanted to make it in New York, I’d have to go to New York, or I’d have to go to LA. But being here has really nurtured me. We have so much access to technology now. We have so many resources that artists did not have 20, 30, 40 years ago. Artists used to send those little slides. We don’t have to do that anymore. We have it made in some ways! The biggest challenge you are going to find if you don’t live in larger markets is shipping. Am I going to frame it for the shipper? Or am I going to frame it there? It’s the cost of shipping and the logistics of that process. But you don’t necessarily have to be there 24/7 to succeed. I think that’s a misconception. You can live in smaller markets and go visit larger markets and still make it work. That’s what’s been the reality for me. I can live here and enjoy this cost of living and still sell my work. I think at some point I might leave, but right now I’m able to create. I’m able to sustain. I’m able to thrive here.
CM: Without a lot of distraction!
AM: Without a lot of distraction. Without the traffic. So, it’s been working, and I’ll keep doing it until it’s not working anymore.
CM: Tell us about community. What does community mean to you? How does it affect your work? How does it affect showing up for your work? Do you need to be around a community of artists to have critiques or to get your energy going? Do you come to the Mississippi Museum of Art to find your inspiration? Community can mean so many different things to you.
AM: Community, to me, is like a support system. Community is my family. Community is the people around me who are supportive or encouraging. A listening ear, or “Hey, can I borrow your truck?” People who are there for you when you need them, even when you don’t need them. It’s family and friends. When I think of community that’s what I think about. Being here in Mississippi, there are organizations that say, “Hey, we just want to talk to you.” I find that helpful. I find it like a reminder—”Hey, keep going, don’t give up! Because we see you, even if you might not think much about it. We see you and we’re here if you ever need a hand.” I don’t find myself wishing I could get together with artists and do a critique. It would be nice, but I haven’t felt like if I don’t have this I can’t continue making. Being here, it’s a smaller arts community. You have to find a way to do it yourself. You have to find a way to motivate yourself. You have to find a way to just keep going. And part of that is developing relationships, but it’s not dependent on it.
CM: A phrase we say here is we have to get it out the mud.
AM: You have get it out the mud whether anybody is rooting for you or not.
CM: That’s the most important, because it all depends on you. It all depends on you to do the work—to show up for the work. We wouldn’t be here now if you didn’t do that. I’m very proud of you and where your work is going.
Delta Voices: Artists of the Mid-South’s presenting sponsor is Bank OZK. Additional support is provided by Friday, Eldredge & Clark, LLP; Judy C Thompson Trust; Barbara House; and the Andre Simon Memorial Trust Fund in memory of everyone who has died of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).