Q & A with Delita Martin

Interview by Quentin Pace


         BAS, currently on view in Art League Houston’s Front Gallery, is the fourth collaborative exhibition by artists Rabéa Ballin, Ann Johnson,Delita Martin, and Lovie Olivia. The show examines and transforms personal experiences, family histories, and cultural identities into a provoking visual play through the art of printmaking. Delita Martin was gracious enough to answer a couple of questions regarding her series within the exhibition titled Memories, which explores the relationship between objects and the memories we attach to them and how this imprinting of moments into objects help constructs an individual’s reality.

        Born in Conroe, Texas and now residing in Little Rock, AR. Printmaker Delita Martin received her BFA in Fine Art from Texas Southern University and would later attend Purdue University where she earned her MFA in Printmaking. She has exhibited both nationally and internationally in places such as Houston, Little Rock, India, and Denmark. She describes her work as dealing with “reconstructing identity. By piecing together the signs, symbols, and language found in what could be called everyday life from slavery through modern times, my goal is to create images as a visual language to tell the story of women that have lived but often have been marginalized.” www.blackboxpressstudio.com 

Q. I read that you are a master printmaker. What does this title mean and how did this journey into that medium begin?

A. Printmaking was a process I had always been interested in. However, I didn’t actually start making prints until graduate school. It was at this point I decided printmaking would be my major. It was a difficult process in the beginning because I didn’t have a background in printmaking. I sat in undergraduate classes during the day to learn process and I used what I had learned during the day to print at night and on weekends.It didn’t take much for me to really fall in love with the medium. I spent as much time as I could learning and working in all the various printmaking processes. My goal as a print maker was to be able to move fluently between the various printing processes and for me it is this mastery of the different processes that defines a master printmaker.

Q. What is your process when it comes to creating?

A. I’m always creating in my head.  I’m continuously jotting down words, phrases, and images on scraps of paper. I’ve been unsuccessful in keeping a journals or sketchbooks.  I have tons of drawings, prints and notes all over my studio. Most of my works come from these ideas. I often take these scraps, deconstruct them and sew or collage them into other prints and drawings to create finished images.

Q. How did the exhibition come to be called Bas? What is the meaning of Bas to you?

A. We usually toss around ideas for the upcoming shows and whatever word or phrase we decide on we take it back to our studios and interpret it as we each see it. This gives us a common starting point but leaves room for a diverseconversation to take place. My interpretation of Bas was that of a foundation. A spiritual, mental or emotional structure upon which something rests or is formed.

Q. Your series in Bas is titled Memories. What is the importance of memories to you? How does this play out in your work?

A. For me objects and spaces are conduits for memory. Our memories are the basis for who we are as people. Sometimes I walk into a space and there is a certain smell or a certain feeling or I can hold an object and it has been handled in a way that changes its texture. I believe this is created by the people who have previously been inthat space or handle that object. I believe we leave a kind of fingerprint ormemory behind with our interactions with these objects and spaces. We as humansreact to these memories and they affect our interpretation of what’s around us as well as our cultural and personal histories. I am fascinated by the connections and shifting moments between these physical objects and these intangible memories. These are the moments that I want to share in my work.

Q. The majority of your work on view at ALH features portraits of women and an item placed underneath. What is the significance of these items and their relationship to the portraits?

A. The women that I draw are not one woman but represent many. These women represent grandmothers, mothers, sisterand aunts. They represent a community. The objects that I uses are a visual language that offers a symbolic narrative. I have taken domestic objects thathave traditionally been associated with servitude and domestication and given them new meaning. For example the mason jars represent the illusion of freedom.The idea that something can be seen but not quite obtained. The skillet represents the preparing of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual nourishment. Some meanings remain constant while others change according to variants like pairing with other symbols or placement and positioning.

Q. How did the union between you, Rabe’a, Lovie, and Ann come into fruition?

A. I have been friends with Ann for many years. So she called me up one day and asked if I would like to participate in a show, which was our first show “Roux”. I naturally said yes and we have been working together ever since.

Q. What do you hope to accomplish in your work? What is the message you want to convey to the viewer?

A. I want people to be able to have a dialogue with my work. I use common everyday objects in my work as symbols. Even though the viewer and I may not have the same experiences with these objects they are still able to recognize them and create or assign their own experience. So when a viewer can look at one of my works and say, “Hey my grandmother used a cast iron skillet just like that”, or “We use to use mason jars when I was a kid” the conversation has begun.

Q. In your letterpress prints, such as When Natural is Not Beautiful, Afro Pick &The Bigger The Afro, the subject of hair and revolution are showcased. What is the importance of hair, specifically, black hair to you?

A. I think the importance of hair crosses the lines of race and gender. I think the issue is that Blacks and other people of color are not the ones who set the standards of beauty that we see in the media today. We are the ones that are being asked to assimilate. SoI think it brings in the question of Identity and this begins what I think is avery important conversation particularly for young women.

Q. You’re originally from the Houston area but now reside in Little Rock, AR. Do you notice a change in the way each city affects your work, if at all?

A. Having lived in many cities across the United States; I think that any environment you are in effects your work. It’s impossible to create in a vacuum. Everywhere I have lived I have met some amazing people some artist, some not. I have been able to learn from eachof them. I love the idea of taking what I have learned and experienced into the studio whether it’s a tangible technique or a conceptual idea and creating art that’s rich and layered.

Q. John Biggers has played a major role in the development of the arts within Houston with his murals and founding the art department of Texas Southern University. Being a graduate of TSU, how has the work of Biggers played into your development as an artist?

A. Dr. Biggers’ work played a major role in my development as an artist long before I began my studies a Texas Southern University.  I grew up in a family of artist, creating was just what you did. My father was a painter. He did his undergraduate studies with Dr. Biggers so I learned his philosophy of honoring your ancestors a very young age. His art work was the first work I was introduced to outside my family.  Growingup in a small town that was predominately white I wasn’t seeing art that look like me or anyone else in my family. So seeing his work allowed me to see my community in a different light. I was so fascinated by his work that I would sit for hours copying his drawings. That’s how I learned to draw. Around the age of 12 my father made arrangements Dr. Bigger and Dr. Carol Sims to look at my art work. This was my first art critique. The one thing I remember is Dr.Biggers saying to me, “Young lady, don’t ever miss an opportunity to uplift your people through your work”.  I take those words into the studio with me everyday.

Q. What new ventures do you have lined up for the future?

A. As for future plans; I will be traveling to Italy this September to start a new body of work that I’m very excited about. This work will lean more in the area of mixed media, using a combination of various printmaking processes as well as drawing and painting techniques. I have also embarked on a project that will invite other artist into my studio to create a print and the process will be documented.