Floating around the room, dressed in white linen, her red curls a striking contrast to the layers of turquoise, jade and green crystal beads that encircle her neck and dangle from her ears. She slices pieces from two birthday cakes, after being serenaded by a gallery full of friends, new and old. Melodee, a masseuse and administrator for a healing arts education center, is in town visiting one of her best friends, who also happens to be the Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence, Shelby Keefe. Originally from Milwaukee, Melodee moved to Tucson four years ago to pursue a new life with her “beloved.” Everything about her is light and airy, yet warm and bright. Her hands gesture with careful deliberation, and everyone gravitates towards her when she laughs.
People like this tend to be a magnet for creative people, and the circles of artistic creativity have certainly overlapped tonight. For example, one of Melodee’s friends, the evening’s self-appointed photographer, Sandy, decided to invite another artist friend to tonight’s celebration in the Pfister’s artist-in-residence studio. What Sandy didn’t know was that this young artist was also already friends with Shelby, the evening’s hostess!
Tia and I sat in one of the high-backed wrought iron chairs with their animal print cushions, eating cake and talking about art. A former student of Milwaukee High School of the Arts, Tia was always a “drawer” but her dad, a painter and visual engineer, took her on as a student and encouraged, mentored, and inspired her, to become a more versatile artist. Though his creativity comes out in his engineering work, he most “lives vicariously” through her, she says. Her work, as she went on to college and participated in more art shows and honed her craft, is expressed in a variety of mediums: oils and acrylics, colored pencil, watercolors, even wearable art (though she primarily creates her jewelry for herself, not for sale). While not her favorite medium, Tia really likes an interesting technique known as “gouache.” She describes it as being workable and good for layering, like watercolor, but more substantive, like acrylics.
Drawn to the impressionists, Tia’s art displays a flair for magical realism combined with a strong nod to her ancestral background as a young African American woman. Her website features some incredibly moving portraits of black women in native dress, tribal patterns and color, together in dance, or celebrating children and family. There are some more impressionistic-inspired watercolors where the men and women in them are nearly in silhouette, but bathed in, and surrounded by, so much color. There are works that lend an air of “magical realism,” like the one where a woman’s streaming hair is adorned in flowers, pearls, and then the sun and moon. After the ones of African women bonding together, my favorites are a set of commissioned works that depict jazz artists and blues jams – you can practically hear the scatting, bass-thumping, and complementary audience murmur. I want to be inside these pieces.
As we talked at Melodee’s party about art in the community, Tia told me about the teaching she does in classrooms, after-school programs and Boys & Girls Clubs. As part of her art classes and talks, she incorporates “talking circles” to help her connect to the kids, and for the kids to learn how to better connect to themselves and each other. Tia says she doesn’t see a line between her artist self and her everyday self, and wants to help others be their authentic selves, too. Seeing her work makes it clear how actively true this principle is for her, as her art celebrates circles, connection, a “coming together” of friends and family. The peaceful joy that radiates from her person is the same joy that comes alive in her paintings and drawings – a joy expressed in movement, song and radiant, brilliant colors!
Who knows, perhaps Tia will apply for the next Artist-in-Residence year and you will get a chance to see her vibrantly joyous, inspiring work as it develops and grows. I know Shelby’s encouraging her to throw her paintbrush in the ring, so to speak.
In the meantime, you can view Tia Richardson’s artwork online or, at least through July 11, on display at the Unitarian Universalist Church West’s Community Room Gallery as part of their current show, “A Celebration of African American Art.”