Art

Junior Tanea Crawford on Being a Self-Taught Artist of Color

Courtesy of Tanya HicksLoyola junior and Chicago native Tanea Crawford uses various media, including digital and watercolor, to empower people of color. Crawford’s art is for sale and can be viewed on Instagram @TaneaMarieArt.

Warhol. Picasso. Van Gogh. Da Vinci. These four names aren’t just bonded by their exceptional work in the field of artistry — they’re also all white men.

“I can’t even name five artists of color off the top of my head! That’s sad!” Tanea Crawford, a Loyola junior and pre-med student studying molecular and cellular neuroscience, said.

Crawford, who also goes by nom de plume “Tanea Marie” online, is a 20-year-old mixed media artist and Chicago native. She’s also a resident assistant at Bellarmine Residence Hall. When she’s not on-call for her residents, doing service work with Loyola4Chicago or hard at work in the labs, she’s plugging in earphones and tuning out the world, ready to splash some watercolors on a blank canvas or trying her hand at a new digital piece.

“I’ve been recently getting into digital artwork, ‘cause I find that is what I can do in the time that I have as a busy college student,” Crawford said. “[Because I’m] so busy and always on the run, doing this and that, I try to work on digital media to just fill in those gaps of time, and then when I have breaks I focus a lot on watercolor, some acrylic, stuff like that.”

For art connoisseurs, Crawford’s portraits might be reminiscent of the abstract nature of Wassily Kandinsky and Norman Lewis, while her wilder pieces might be reminiscent of that untamed, scribbled-but-stylish aspect that only artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jackson Pollock have been able to capture.

Courtesy of Tanea Crawford

Crawford wasn’t always experienced in dynamic art forms. In fact, she’s a bit of a newcomer on the art scene. When she was a high school student at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, she started doodling a picture of one of her favorite singers, Lana Del Rey. Impressed with what she had created, she had an idea.

“Once I drew that picture, I was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t go into drawing or studio art 1, maybe I can see if I can push myself,’” Crawford said. 

So, she went to the department chair at her high school and showed her a few of her pieces, hoping to be placed in an advanced class. Instead, the chair told her she could be in the AP class, granted she take a public class over the summer. The novice artist happily obliged.

Crawford cited painter Kehinde Wiley as one of the reasons she wanted to be an artist in the first place. Wiley’s trademark is a portrait of a black person with a floral background. In 2018, Wiley was commissioned by former President Barack Obama to paint his presidential portrait.

“Seeing an artist who’s a person of color create such fucking beautiful work was such an inspiration to me,” Crawford said. “So he has inspired a lot of my work.”

It’s no secret that some famous painters, musicians and actors suffer from mental illnesses. Crawford opened up about her own experiences with anxiety and how art can be a coping mechanism.

“There’s an overarching theme of utopia and desire for happiness that comes in my pieces, so I think that also contributes to my identity with struggling with an anxiety disorder,” Crawford said. “That’s something I’ve struggled with for quite a while now, and to be completely vulnerable about it, that’s something that always influences my art. That’s something that’s been an outlet for me — I go to art when I feel stressed or anxious.”

Courtesy of Tanea Crawford

Crawford said she also feels mental illness is something that’s become stigmatized in the black community, and she hopes she can help change that.

“I think growing up, I continuously was told, ‘Pray about it. It’s a phase. God’s just wanting you to grow,’” Crawford said. “If you break your fucking leg, you go to the doctor. If you’re having a mental breakdown and you’re having anxiety attacks, you go to the doctor. I don’t think in the black community, and in communities of color in general, that it’s talked about enough.”

Crawford also spoke about the trials of being a woman of color in an art form dominated by white men, and how that fuels her to keep doing what she loves.

“When you learn about art in grade school, it’s Picasso, it’s Van Gogh, it’s Henri Matisse,” Crawford said. “It’s not Kehinde Wiley. … It’s my hope that my artwork will reach people. Black boys and black girls who are young and want to do art but feel like they can’t.”

Crawford is one of the lucky ones, having found a way to make money while doing what she loves. On top of being a full-time student, a resident assistant, a service worker and a member of Kappa Delta Theta Upsilon, she also teaches a mixed media art camp at the Evanston Art Center for children as young as four. When she’s teaching, she believes in the importance of letting her students create what they want.

“I don’t grade my students,” Crawford said. “That’s one of my philosophies, art’s supposed to be fun. I don’t want anyone telling me no. I don’t want someone to grade me, to tell me, ‘No, that’s not how it should be.’”

Courtesy of Tanea Crawford

While it might take generations to put a person of color on the cover of an art history book, Crawford has high hopes for the future.

“I try to use my identities to encourage other people that even though you have aspirations in life and certain goals in life, don’t lose sense of who you are and what you love,” Crawford said. “If I have kids, I want them to see that mommy’s a doctor, but mommy’s also a dope-ass artist! And she’s a strong black woman.”

Crawford’s art can be viewed on Instagram @TaneaMarieArt. Her pieces are for sale and she takes requests. She can be contacted on Instagram or by email at tcrawford@luc.edu.

Are you a starving artist and Loyola student? Are you interested in having your work featured in The Phoenix? Contact Emma Sulski at esulski@luc.edu. 

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