May 17, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

Artist and curator Chelsey Luster on Blackness, visibility, and claiming space

28 min read

Logan Cryer interviews Chelsey Luster– an independent curator and artist whose exhibitions and figure paintings explore topics like race, gender, and sexuality– about their newest curatorial project, “Wading: When the Water Rises,” on view this Friday, February 11, at Vox Populi thru March 13. Chelsey’s advice for other young artists of color is to never forget how much institutions gain from their ideas, representation, and diversity- “ask for whatever you want and do whatever you want,” Chelsey says

Chelsey Luster poses with several paintings. Courtesy Chelsey Luster. Edited for Artblog Radio.

Logan Cryer interviews artist, curator, and educator Chelsey Luster, who’s curatorial and personal practice focuses on topics like Blackness, queerness, intimacy, and safety, amongst others. In their conversation, Logan asks Chelsey about their experience as an independent curator, from self-funding their curatorial projects to their advice on working with arts institutions, and gets the scoop on Luster’s newest curated group exhibition, Wading: When the Water Rises, on view this Friday at Vox Populi thru March 13. Chelsey loves to connect with other artists and curators- hit them up on Instagram @ChelseyLusterArt or via their website, and “we can get coffee,” Chelsey says.

[Ed. Note: After we published this post, Chelsey wrote to us with an update: “I just started my position as an exhibition manager at Philadelphia Magic Gardens,” they shared, and asked us to share with you so that “… people know where I’m at now and what the freelancing curation lead to.” Congratulations, Chelsey!]

Wading: When the Water Rises,” featuring works by angel shanel edwards, Ashanté Kindle, Khari Turner, and Arien Wilkerson, is on view Friday, February 11- Sunday, March 13, 2022 at Vox Populi. Gallery hours: Friday-Sunday, 12PM-6PM- drop ins welcome, or schedule a visit here.

You can listen to Artblog Radio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thank you to Kyle McKay for composing Artblog Radio’s original podcast intro and outro!


Transcription

[00:00:12] Logan Cryer: Hello friends, you are listening to Artblog Radio recorded in Philadelphia. My name is Logan Cryer, and in this episode, you will hear a conversation with myself and the fabulous Chelsey Luster. Chelsey Luster is the Philadelphia based curator, visual artists and art instructor from Baltimore, Maryland.

Their curated group exhibitions focus on exploring social and political concepts regarding race, gender, and sexuality. In Chelsey’s work as an artist they focus on intimacy and vulnerability through depictions of empowered female figures in various drawings, paintings, and printmaking mediums.

Chelsey uses bathroom scenes in their work to explore the relationship between queer Black women in the bathroom with regards to privacy, trauma, and isolation, while also focusing on voyeurism and the idea of growth and rebuilding. In our conversation, Chelsey and I discuss their background as an artist and curator and discuss the particular challenges of working independently as both- especially as a person of color.

Chelsey has curated a new exhibition that will open at Vox Populi, Friday, February 11th. The title of the exhibition is “Wading: When the Water Rises”. You can learn more about this exhibition by visiting Vox Populi’s website.

Chelsey and I began our conversation discussing how they ended up in Philadelphia after growing up in Baltimore.

[00:01:45] Chelsey Luster: I was looking for colleges and I didn’t want to be in Baltimore, cause I was like “it’s a little too close to home…” But I checked out Temple and I was like, “this is perfect!” It was just like, everyone seemed really cool; Tyler seemed really cool… It was also like two hours away, which I’m like, “I could do that.”

It’s like my mom can’t just pull up on me immediately, but like, I could go see her (laughing) if I want to, if I miss her I can see her, she can see me, but like, she can’t just like… pull up.

So that was the balance I wanted. So then I ended up here.

[00:02:21] Logan Cryer: And did you minor in anything when you were in Tyler?

[00:02:25] Chelsey Luster: No, I took some like photo classes and some curation classes, but that’s it. I didn’t like minor in anything.

[00:02:34] Logan Cryer: Well, see, that’s what I was curious about. Cause you curate a lot and you started curating in Tyler. So I was like, oh, maybe there’s a curatorial minor among us.

[00:02:45] Chelsey Luster: No, I wish. I mean, they might have one now, but they didn’t have one when I was there. So I just did internships and jobs, and just really asked everyone about it. Like all the professors, like, “How do you curate? Where should I go? What should I do? How do I get into this? Is there a class? Is there a course?” That was, I took all the classes I could.

And then, yeah, it was doing internships and just got into it!

[00:03:09] Logan Cryer: What was the first show you carried it?

[00:03:13] Chelsey Luster: It was at Tyler, in Stella Elkins. So I did a show about romantic and platonic intimacy in different relationships. Uh, I think I had like 30 artists. I don’t know. And it was like three different. Yeah, it was three different groups, it was a very ambitious first project. that I look back on it!

Cause I remember doing it and I was like, “I have so many people that applied. I have 30 that I love and I’m just going to do it.” And then I was like, installing at 5AM, like crying, like “this is so much!”

[00:03:46] Logan Cryer: Awww!

[00:03:47] Chelsey Luster: It ended the thing really beautiful and exciting. And like the reception was so massive because you know when you like, curate shows and there are a ton of artists, like… “Woah! Like everyone’s here, this is so fun!” So that’s why I was like, okay, this is what I’m going to try to do, you know, as a job and like (laughs)

[00:04:08] Logan Cryer: Yeah, I guess I know, I don’t know exactly how I heard about it, but I know you through your curation because you had curated at Little Berlin. Rest in peace, but at the time this was in, 2019? Yeah. That you had curated the show, “19.5%: Women in Politics” which I wrote about on Artblog…

And then you curated another show at Da Vinci Art Alliance in 20… was that 2020 or 2021?

[00:04:41] Chelsey Luster: I think 2021. I think it was supposed to be 2020, and then it got pushed, with all the pandemic pushes.

[00:04:48] Logan Cryer: Right, right. But it was so exciting just to see those shows because there’s not a ton of independent curators in this city. And I was just really excited to see someone who was working really ambitiously. I guess there’s not really a question there, but I would love to hear you talk about those shows a little more (laughs)

[00:05:06] Chelsey Luster: Yes! Thank you so much. I also remember seeing you– this is so specific– I remember seeing you at Little Berlin, because I think I reached out to you for something- either to write about the show…

[00:05:16] Logan Cryer: You told me about the show! That’s how I know about it. (laughs)

[00:05:22] Chelsey Luster: And then I saw you at either the opening or the closing, or one of them.

[00:05:28] Logan Cryer: Yeah.

[00:05:29] Chelsey Luster: I saw you walking around, taking notes and I was like, “I wonder if that’s Logan Cryer!” Cause I didn’t want to be like, “Hey, I emailed you and invited you- is this you?”

[00:05:38] Logan Cryer: Oh, yeah I would have hated that. So thank you. (laughs)

[00:05:45] Chelsey Luster: That was the vibe I was getting with the notepad. I was like “okay, I’m just gunna let Logan…”

[00:05:49] Logan Cryer: Yeah, but also, like, I can’t believe I was at the opening taking notes. That’s a mess. I should’ve just gone another day. But regardless.

[00:05:58] Chelsey Luster: I thought it was amazing. I felt like so special, appreciated and seen, so. Yeah that was a huge moment is like ingrained in my memory.

[00:06:07] Logan Cryer: You were not a little Berlin member. How did you end up curating that show at that space?

[00:06:12] Chelsey Luster: I wrote a proposal for it. For “19.5%,” that’s all about women in power, women in politics. And then I wrote the proposal and sent it out to a bunch of different galleries. And a lot of people were like, no, we’re not doing this, we don’t take calls. And then eventually Little Berlin was like, (laughing) “yes, you can have your show here.”

So that’s really just how it happened. I just was emailing, and you know, DM-ing people and calling and try to find a space for the show. Cause that’s the first show I did outside of Temple. So I was just looking for a spot and they gave it to me in that, open, I think like month or a couple of weeks in one of their smaller galleries.

But then whoever was going to be in the bigger gallery backed out. So then we push it into the bigger gallery. Yeah.

[00:06:59] Logan Cryer: Yeah. If I recall correctly, that show was like an open call. So was it, you had the idea for the show and then once you had the venue, you released the open call?

[00:07:08] Chelsey Luster: Yeah.

[00:07:09] Logan Cryer: Oh, wow.

[00:07:11] Chelsey Luster: That’s what I did, yeah. I got, secured the spot and then put out the call and, you know, waited for people to submit stuff. And I had some people that I had in mind that it was like, “Hey, submit, you know, I love this piece.” There’s some artists that I personally invited.

Yeah, it was mostly open call. That’s how I met some artist. I still work with today and that I’m like dear friends with too. Yeah.

[00:07:34] Logan Cryer: And then your show at um, DaVinci Art Alliance, which you mentioned was going to be in 2020, And then you know…

[00:07:43] Chelsey Luster: And then it got, you know, the push.

[00:07:45] Logan Cryer: Yeah ( laughs) the big push.

[00:07:50] Chelsey Luster: The big push of every art thing! So.

So that was sanctuary and that was about, queer safe spaces and that was really fun. That was my first time doing a show through a fellowship. So Kathryn Pannepacker Fellowship for Da Vinci. So they helped fund the show, they help me with like the promotional materials. They helped me with install. They had all the pedestals, all the, everything.

So that’s the first time that I really had like a lot of like, kind of like institutional support with a show that wasn’t just like, Hey, here’s the space, but like, you know, good luck with it.

[00:08:28] Logan Cryer: Yeah. “We only have so many people on hand to help you out.” (laughs)

[00:08:32] Chelsey Luster: Yeah, it was good. That was good. And then I got to do like work with like installation artist and there’s photo and paintings and all the fun things. And that’s the first time I really did a lot of virtual programming too, which is cool. So we did the gallery walk through and had a nice video and did Instagram lines for each artist…

[00:08:54] Logan Cryer: Yeah. Having had like a super DIY like self-directed experience, and that supported experience, I mean, just looking back on it and then maybe speaking potentially to like future curators, what were some things you learned about what’s maybe different between the two, or like why one might go more towards one than the other?

[00:09:14] Chelsey Luster: I mean definitely when you’re independent, you definitely have to do more grant writing and like find funding yourself. Cause I’ve put out a lot of money for my shows, even ones that are like institutionally supported, I still ended up putting out some money. So just like, you know, if you don’t have any support at all, like get those grants on, that’d be my advice.

Don’t spend all your money, you know, and also like, I did, always, like contracts. Like I tried to keep things super professional. So I’d always keep that in mind. Cause like, if something does happen, if like a piece breaks or like if, you know, something happens with shipping, like you don’t want to be liable for that.

Especially if you don’t have a whole institution behind you to back you, with lawyers and like all the things. Protect yourself. And also if you do work with an institution like. You know, if you have ideas and you want things done, like just kind of stand your ground and be confident in your decisions.

Because when I do talk to other curators or like people that are creative that want to do things, I feel like there’s this idea that you can’t ask for a lot. Or you can’t ask for specific things. And they’re like, “you have to be very like grateful because you’re getting the support…”

But ask for whatever you want and do whatever you want.

But if they say no, they say no, but I don’t know. I feel like as creative people and artists and especially artists of color, like you really need to demand what you want when you’re working with institution. Cause like as artists of color, I feel like sometimes we forget how much an institution is gaining from having us a part of their like, you know, space and like. Just having our ideas and also having us as beings, as representation as like their diversity. Sometimes it’s like this institution gets so much from that, that we need to get everything we can from them and demand exactly what we want.

No matter what. And you know, that kind of creates a balance, in my opinion.

[00:11:21] Logan Cryer: Hmm. Yeah. That’s an interesting way to think of it in terms of balance. Yeah, your show was really great. Which I also reviewed. And then I think after that we finally met (laughs) um, but a big way that we’ve been interacting is through Vox, which you’re now a member of. And I know you have a show that’s coming up, I forget exactly when it opens. But could you talk a little bit about it?

[00:11:55] Chelsey Luster: Yeah. So the show is called “Wading: When the Water Rises” so that’s going to open on February 11th. So it’s going to be like a soft opening from noon to six, and then a larger opening on first Friday, so March 4th, six to nine, but yeah, that’s my next show. So that’s kind of be about the relationship between Blackness, and Black people and water.

In a couple of different ways. I have one artist, Ashanté Kindle, that’s thinking a lot about water and histories and hair textures, and kind of meshing them all together in these like beautiful abstract, wavy curly paintings. So Ashanté’s works that I’ve been in it that I have Khari Turner, who’s doing some paintings that also tie in to history, but he focuses on very specific bodies of water, whether water bodies that he grew up around, or you know roots that he finds that are from the African diaspora, like the Nile River, or really anything that he finds really important. He takes those and bring some into figure paintings.

And then I had angel shanel edwards, who’s doing a couple of different things, uh, so there’s some installation and there’s some photos, but a lot of their work is about dance and rituals and the connection between the body and earth and water. My last artist is Arien Wilkerson, who’s doing work that’s mostly about the environment, and climate change, and how that affects black people specifically.

So those are my artists. That’s the show. It’s a lot of video. There’s a lot of installation. There’s a lot of paintings, there’s everything. So that’s coming up. So I’m installing that right now and it’s really exciting!

Yeah.

[00:13:50] Logan Cryer: Yeah. And maybe it might be up by the time this is released potentially. So if you’re listening, how long- oh when does it close? Did you say?

[00:13:59] Chelsey Luster: Like mid-March. So I think March 14th? But mid-March

[00:14:06] Logan Cryer: So people are going to have to get on it quick, so they don’t, so they don’t miss out.

[00:14:11] Chelsey Luster: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a quick one. It’s a quick one. show will be open starting in February 11th, but we’re just having a reception on March 4th.

[00:14:21] Logan Cryer: Okay.

[00:14:21] Chelsey Luster: Feb. 11, open to the public. People can go anytime. But if you want to go to, you know, reception and even meet some artists and meet the people, then that will be on March 4th.

[00:14:33] Logan Cryer: You mentioned earlier that there’s some artists that you’ve continued to work with, but how do you generally find new artists? Like when you have a show idea, are you then seeking out people or is it more like you’re discovering people and then you come up with an idea of how to put them together?

[00:14:50] Chelsey Luster: Usually I continuously look for people and go to shows. Like, you’re an amazing curator, so I go to your shows or like, watch all your shows on Instagram. So that’s how I’ll also keep abreast of artists. Or really just, you know, kinda keeping plugged into the art scene in Philly and going to as many openings as I can and just meeting artists..

And kind of keeping them in the back of my head. Like I saw Ariens piece at ice box a couple of weeks ago. And then I was like, oh, this is amazing. So when I was creating the shows and oh, I need to reach out to Arien. Or for Ashanté and Khari, I met them at a residency in 2019, and we just kind of kept in contact because I also just really loved them as people and think that they’re amazing and super talented. So with this show I thought about them, because I’ve been watching their work through Instagram and you know, all things. And with angel, I’ve been watching that work for ever.

So, you know, I just like continuing to watch people and chat to go to shows. Yeah. Keep up and keep my eyes on Instagram, in the real world when it’s safe to be there…

That’s what I’ve been doing. Can I ask you that question too?

[00:16:04] Logan Cryer: Yeah. I have found it’s really hard to, like, if you have an idea of the type of work you want, I have found it nearly impossible to find it. It’s kind of like you have to either know the artist beforehand or know a platform, like a space, that you can then reference back to.

So to say like, I remember seeing this exhibition like three years ago, let me go back and look at that artist list. Or, I know this person curates, like, let me see some of the people they’ve worked with or something like that.

But honestly, so much of it is just kind of… trusting the vibe will be out there and you’ll know it when you see it (laughs) Yeah. Cause it’s not… It’s, it’s hard. And I, I have found the best way for me to do it is to not focus on artworks, like specific pieces, but to really just go off of like the vibe of the creator and then usually…

like honestly, 10 times out of 10 for me, if I feel that vibe and I talk to them, they actually will have the specific piece that like makes sense with what’s happening. They just have to kind of always be keeping that mental bank of like, what have I seen, who if I met, you know?

But it seems like, that to some people can sound a little too, like networking, or too like business minded, like “I’m meeting people to keep them in mind for my projects.”

You’re saying “no.” (Laughing) No?

[00:17:38] Chelsey Luster: No. I thank that.. I mean, I think that’s the best kind of networking there is. To be honest.

Because it’s like, it’s not like you’re… googling, you know, different artists and just like emailing them. It’s like, you’re showing up for people and you’re interested in them and their work. And like, you want to show it. It’s something that you’re passionate about.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, you know? Like I said, for some of the artists I’ve known for years, so I’m like if I have an idea and a show and I want them to be in it, I feel like that’s nice, you know?

Keeping a bank of artists whose work you believe in and care about? I think that’s lovely, personally. know, if someone was continuously thinking about me and my work and invited me after a couple of years, I would be flattered! I’d be like, “oh you’re still thinking about me? You like my work that much?”

I think that’s kind of touching. But maybe I’m also kind of corny, but I think it’s touching (laughs)

[00:18:39] Logan Cryer: (laughing) It can be both! It can be both at the same time. You kind of mentioned this a, a little bit earlier where you mentioned that there have been exhibitions where you’ve had to spend some of your own money to put them together, which I don’t know if people think that curators make money putting together shows on an independent level.

Most of the time they do not, and it is the opposite (laughs)

[00:19:03] Chelsey Luster: Yeah (laughing)

[00:19:05] Logan Cryer: But to that point, I dunno, I guess I’m just kind of curious. You’ve been curating for a few years within the city. How are you finding like curatorial opportunities for people? Do you find it’s hard to find opportunities?

I mean, you mentioned doing a bunch of cold calls when you were looking for a host for “19.5,” but, what are the particular kind of struggles that come with, you know, not being attached to say a major institution, that’s kind of.. paying you a salary to curate shows in their space?

[00:19:37] Chelsey Luster: It’s definitely like, it’s a lot of rejection, which I think people don’t talk about enough. And I think if you’re afraid of rejection, like that’s something you’ve had to try to work past, cause like I’ve definitely applied for a lot of different spaces and curatorial fellowships and all the things and been rejected by them. But every once in a while you get some. It’s amazing and it’s exciting, but I think that application process of like finding different spaces can be exhausting at first, but then eventually you create connections.

So like now, because I had to show at Da Vinci I have a connection and a relationship with them. And now that I’m a member at Vox, you know, I can curate shows there. So I think it, at first it can be a lot of just applying. Applying, rejections, applying, applying… But eventually you start to just form these relationships with people. Or other curators, like you. So then, you know, you start to kind of have more ease with finding space and time.

But at first I think it’s just a lot of rejection, a lot of putting yourself out there and your ideas out there. But it definitely, I think it gets easier as time goes on. You get more experienced and you have like photos of your installations and your shows and you have, you know, spaces you’ve worked with, and.. Then I feel like it’s a lot easier, slowly to do it.

But yeah, but there are also a lot of virtual platforms now that I think people should take advantage of, like, I can’t remember the name of it, but there are some websites where you can like build a virtual gallery or like… You know, like you have your set up on Instagram, S.N.A.I.L, which is really cool.

So I feel like there are starting to be more platforms where you can create exhibitions online. If you can’t find a physical space. I think people should also do that too, while applying for fellowships and cold calling and showing up to places and meeting people.

[00:21:29] Logan Cryer: Right, just take advantage of every platform available.

[00:21:34] Chelsey Luster: Yeah! Every way. And also, like, I feel like some places I’ve created connections with, just like, as a person, not even as a curator… like I got connected to Vox just through a talk I was going to do, like, I was going to moderate a talk a couple years ago. And it didn’t end up happening because of “the push” uh, the “big push” we were talking about with everything.

But, it’s kind of like, I got my foot in the door and started, you know, talking to Danny, the director and the other members. Cause I was interviewing each of them about their work and kind of like getting involved that way. So I think just showing face and showing up…

[00:22:10] Logan Cryer: Mm,

[00:22:11] Chelsey Luster: …while you apply, apply, apply. That helps. So then if your application does come up, they’ll say, oh, I know this person, I’ve talked to them, I know what their work is like. Then you’re not just the person on a piece of paper.

[00:22:25] Logan Cryer: Yeah. That’s interesting to think about. Presenting yourself, or making yourself present in such a way, where you’re not solely just relying on, you know, whatever haphazard artist’s statement you can throw together.

I mean, your statement’s nice, but It’s hard to write those things (laughing.)

[00:22:43] Chelsey Luster: Mine isn’t even that nice! I appreciate you (laughing)

[00:22:45] Logan Cryer: Well, I was actually going to ask about this cause like, so you’re an artist and a curator- and there’s a lot of really kind of pedantic questions I could ask about the relationship between the two, and maybe we’ll get to those if we have time.

But firstly, I’m just curious, like when you’re talking about applying to things and having rejection and you know, networking and having opportunities, how much of that overlaps with your painting practice?

Do you show a lot of work? Do you have a similar kind of drive, in terms of, all right, I’m going to try this and try this and try this and just get my work out there?

[00:23:19] Chelsey Luster: Yeah. It’s like the same thing. with my art, where like I’m always applying to different stuff.

I have a fellowship right now with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA), who’ve like, they’ve been helping me get my work out, and connecting me a lot, and helping me also sell some stuff, which has been fantastic. Um, you know, we love money, we love it. (laughs)

But yeah, I try to keep same drive up with my paintings and like get them out there, and also try different mediums and like push myself and apply for different shows.

But it’s nice to do it at different times. Like if I’m curating a show, I might take a break from painting. Or if I’m painting a lot, I might take a little break from curating or like try to… just not have like install week the same week I’m painting something. I just like try to balance it so that I’m always making something, and always being creative, but I’m not burning myself out by doing too many projects at the same time.

And working, cause you know, some of us got to work sometimes

[00:24:15] Logan Cryer: Yeah! (Laughing)

[00:24:17] Chelsey Luster: I also got a job during the day! (laughing)

So I try not to push everything out and create a very intentional timeline of it. Yeah. I definitely, I still show work and show paintings and sell paintings and all the good stuff.

[00:24:32] Logan Cryer: Can you talk a little bit about, if you had to kind of give a overview of what kind of paintings you make, and what they look like, and what they’re about… could you share?

[00:24:44] Chelsey Luster: Yes! So my paintings are mostly figurative. I do a lot of self-portraits and they’re usually oil on panel.

I did a huge series of bathroom paintings that I’m about to start shifting away from. I’m going to compare the bathroom to my personal experiences of having like, this room that’s supposed to be the safe space and this like very private, intimate space. But also, like, talking about it and thinking about it as an illusion, how a bathroom’s just like any other room or any other space that’s not particularly safe? So I just compare that to just my experiences living, where I never really feel comfortable or safe anywhere, in any spaces.

So I created a bunch of bathrooms about that. So like these huge of life size bathrooms that are, you know, beautiful in some way, but also a little bit uneasy in other ways? Like sometimes the colors will be really vibrant, but like, next to muted ones that are kind of uncomfortable. Or like the person will be in a bathtub and they’ll kind of be floating, but kind of drowning at the same time. So just kind of playing with different tensions in the bathroom.

So that’s the series that I was working on for probably two or three years almost? And I’m about to transition into something different, which I’m still figuring out. But it’s gunna be something with masking the figure, in a way? that’s really loud.

Um, that’s what I’m thinking right now. I’m playing around with it and I want to play with some different textures and patterns and colors that I’ve never used. I’m figuring it out, and I also want to try to get away from self portraiture.

[00:26:37] Logan Cryer: Okay.

[00:26:38] Chelsey Luster: But I don’t know how I’m going to do that yet, (laughs) but that’s where I’m at right now. I wanna make these really loud paintings, where people are kind of in and out of their spaces. And the spaces are really important to the figure.

It won’t be me, but it’ll be someone that’s kind of, you know, swallowed in their space.

[00:27:05] Logan Cryer: I’m kind of curious– and you don’t have to go into too much detail– but to hear you talk about this body of work with the bathrooms that is clearly really personal to you, was there something that you kind of worked through after years doing that series?

Like what was the thing that kind of made you say, like, “okay, I’m ready to put this to rest, and transition?” Because I think artists often make really personal work, and I’m… yeah, just really curious to hear you articulate what that pivot was.

[00:27:34] Chelsey Luster: Yeah. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, too. I think for awhile, I just knew that the bathrooms were coming to an end. Probably for about six months. I was like, okay, like, I’ll make a few more bathrooms, but like it’s starting to not… feel like I need to explore it anymore?

I’m just interested in looking into something new, you know? Cause I do love the bathrooms, but I am not as interested in them, and then making them anymore. Um, where I can do them and make it beautiful, make it, you know, make it fit. But like, my excitement about the work has started to dwindle.

So I started to brainstorm and try to think of different bodies of work, and I found something that I was like, “oh, this is exciting. Like, I want to paint. I want to go to the studio. I want to stay in the studio and make this.”

And I always want to feel that about my work. So now I’m ready to move on because the last couple of bathrooms I made, I just wasn’t feeling excited about them or challenged by them.

And I feel that that’s when it’s time to move on to something else.

[00:28:47] Logan Cryer: Yeah. The last question I have is in terms of your curatorial practice and your artistic practice, obviously there’s some thematic overlap, um, just kind of speaking generally, what is it…

How do they overlap, and what is it that you feel like you’re really trying to like, express and communicate to the world?

[00:29:11] Chelsey Luster: That’s such a big question.

[00:29:13] Logan Cryer: I know. (Laughing) But I know you like big questions.

[00:29:15] Chelsey Luster: (Laughing) I love big questions! So I’m like, woah!

Hm. They do overlap a lot.

Usually when I am thinking about something with my own art, if it’s a big question or something I’ve been thinking about– like, I’ve been thinking about water in my own work for a bit– I want to see what other artists have to say about it and their approaches. And that’s usually how I come up with a theme for a show.

When it comes to what I have to say, as an artist and with my own work, I don’t know if I, you know, have anything to say with it right now.

I think that when I was in school, when I was an undergrad, there was so much pressure to make work that like, says something to an audience. And now I’m just kind of making for myself. If it applies to a show, great, and if people want to buy it, great. You know, if that happens, it’s amazing.

But I think, especially after like the first shutdown, when everything was super, you know, all over the place, I started making these party paintings because I just missed social interaction. And those paintings were just for myself and for my happiness. And just to like, kind of put myself back into these moments were actually out and having a good time.

And those are entirely for myself. And they sold pretty well, and people wanted them, and it was great, but like, those were just paintings that I needed to make to just, you know, feel good. So I’ve been trying to more stay in that space, just like making stuff that feels good to me and feels important to me.

But I do think that being visible– like having figures, whether it’s myself or like other Black women or that Black people visible– and very like confrontational and paintings in a way that’s like, they’re owning the space is really important to me in all my work.

And that is something that I definitely want people to get from it. Is that like this painting was theirs, whoever’s in the picture. And the space is theirs. And like, you get to look at it, but…

You’re welcome. (laughs) Cause this is theirs! You know? Like this is their space. This is their world.

[00:31:45] Logan Cryer: “You’re welcome.” That’s such a perfect way to say it! (laughs)

[00:31:51] Chelsey Luster: Yes! Cause it’s like… It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege.

[00:31:55] Logan Cryer: There you go.

[00:31:56] Chelsey Luster: And that’s not me trying to boast myself up and be like, “I’m the best painter,” because there are so many talented people in this world. But like, to be able to view Black figures and paintings and view Black people in art? I think it’s a privilege, especially if you’re not Black.

So I think that, as like a black figurative painter, that’s important to me. And that’s probably why I paint figures is because like it’s important for us to be seen and heard in different ways. And I think that’s honestly the most important part.

And then my own concepts are for me, what I paint is for me, my days like… we will be seen. You’ll see us.

[00:32:33] Logan Cryer: Rest assured. (laughs)

[00:32:36] Chelsey Luster: Rest assured, yes! Out here on somebody’s wall. You know? Yeah.

[00:32:41] Logan Cryer: Wow.

Well, um, I think that’s going to close it out. Is there any last thing that you want to promote or share? Can people follow you on Instagram?

[00:32:53] Chelsey Luster: Yeah! Yeah People can follow me on Instagram. My Instagram is @ChelseyLusterArt. It’s “C-H-E-L-S-E-Y” (Not a, but it’s a Y) and then “L-U-S-T-E-R”, and then “Art,” like “A-R-T.”

That’s me on Instagram, I also have a website, which is just my name, “Chelsey Luster.”.

But yeah, you can follow me on there. You find me on my website or Instagram or anything.

[00:33:19] Logan Cryer: Oh, if an artist is potentially wanting to share their work with you, is it okay if they hit you up?

[00:33:26] Chelsey Luster: Oh, my goodness. Please hit me up. Like, please DM me or email me, like my email’s also my Instagram and website.

Hit me up! We can hang out. Like if it’s safe, in the world. When it’s safe! (laughs) But I love meeting artists, I love seeing work. Like, also if people just want to send me their shows and what they’re doing, I’ll go! Like, if it’s in Philly- even if it’s not, if it’s close, if it’s on the east coast I’ll go.

So yeah, hit me up! We can be friends (laughs) if you’re cool and nice, we can be friends and I’ll look at your work, and we can talk about it. Yeah. I love that. I love when people DM me. That’s how I met some of my best friends. They’ve just like slid in my DMs and been like, “Hey, you make art, I make art, let’s hang out!” and I’m like “Yes!”

[00:34:14] Logan Cryer: Oh, my gosh. Amazing.

[00:34:16] Chelsey Luster: Yeah, no, definitely. Also, sometimes people hit me up. They want to know like opportunities to apply for stuff and shows and all that. Also hit me up for that. If you want to, I’ll send you everything I got. I’ll send you my like, documents too. If you need some help writing stuff…

I don’t know, I’ll send it all! Don’t be shy.

(laughing) Seriously!

[00:34:40] Logan Cryer: (laughing) All right. Well, now everyone, you have no excuse to hit up Chelsey. The doors are open.

[00:34:46] Chelsey Luster: I been wide open. I love it. I think it’s so nice. You know, we need more of that! Cause like how else people know what to do? Like you said, there aren’t independent curators, especially that are like, young, and like, super open and kind and sweet. Like there aren’t a lot of us, so…

Why not? We can get coffee.

[00:35:11] Logan Cryer: (laughs) Great. Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. It was so great talking to you.

Thank you for listening to Artblog Radio. Please be sure to listen to our other episodes and to check out theartblog.org for more content on Philadelphia arts and culture.

Artist and curator Chelsey Luster on Blackness, visibility, and claiming space

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