Tulsa born Artist Dawn Tree just wrapped up a group show at the Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The group show, titled “In Pursuit of Freedom Now,” took place in Weeksville, one of the earliest self-sufficient free black communities in the nineteenth century.
This show, and its location both, have a sense of significance to Tree’s art and the message she hopes it conveys.
“The political environment and the social justice environment are things that are really close to my heart and are things that are effecting people that I care about, which tends to be, like, everybody,” Tree said in regard to what inspires her art.
“I mean, it’s really a direct reflection of how I’m feeling at that moment. It might be anything, from the race riots to reflecting on being queer even, being black, all the things.”
For Tree, art has always been a part of life, but she recalls a few events that helped to set a passion on the road to becoming a profession.
“I won this contest,” she says.
“I drew a picture of a horse and I got an award. I don’t know what place I got, but I had to mat it and send it back to them and they never sent it back to me. I remember feeling like I won this award which is really cool and validated my skill but then they kept it. It was an awkward feeling of my creation is gone, but I know it was good.”
A few years later, it was the attention of high school friends that brought Tree’s attention to her developing skill.
“I had a few friends that would draw notes to each other and I remember really taking time on those notes to my friends and when I would go visit they would have them hanging up in their rooms and stuff and I thought that was cool.”
Tree says the transition to being a professional artist was a gradual one.
“I knew that I could sell the art once I got into college. I started selling art out of the art gallery at OU and that was pretty cool because they cut me a check and it just seemed really official. It really made real the fact that I could sell it. Truly it was just something that I did in my free time, as an introvert.”
The next step happened when Tree moved to Washington D.C.
“When I moved to D.C., it was a real period of self-reflection,” She says.
“I was working at this non-profit and it was like I wanted to be there, the idea of a non-profit was cool, helping other people, but I was one of the only minorities and it was really tough just dealing with the environment. I was literally a thousand miles away from my family. I had a girlfriend at the time, but I still needed an outlet, you know, to express myself.”
“So I started painting pretty heavily, in my living room and I just basically set it up like it was a studio. I had a table and I just covered it with tarp and just started painting. I was asked to a group show on First Street and I sold a piece for two hundred and fifty dollars and I wasn’t even there. I was like, okay, let me focus on this style and that’s really what I did. I started finding venues that would support my art.”
Since then, Tree has focused on her art.
One her favorite pieces, titled White Heart, is a recent one.
“This piece, I actually just sold it too, it’s called White Heart. It’s actually pretty small compared to some of my pieces and it was really like a direct reflection of the relationships that I have, specifically in Oklahoma.”
“When I come back here, of course we have different friends, and I have quite a few white friends here just because of the environment. I went to Jenks, and I went to OU and that’s what the majority is. So I do have white friends. Dealing with them in a more close sense, I’m viewed as kind of cool to them, you know, like I’m an idea of blackness that’s cool and I’m an artist, but in environment when I’m susceptible to racism and they’re viewing it, they’re witnessing it and they’re not really sure what to do. They’re more prone to go with peer pressure, with the other people that are doing what they’re doing, whatever it maybe, and feeling that was very hurtful.”
Tree explains that the piece White Heart was a reaction to those situations.
“I splattered a lot of paint and I was really reflective of the heart. It was really an abstract heart with roughness to it. It’s in part white, red, and brown and it was truly something that allowed me to heal.”
“One of the relationships was more of an intimate relationship and that in itself, it kind of allowed me to view relationships differently and that particular relationship.”
After discussing her journey to becoming a professional artist, Tree has some advice to offer anyone who is trying to take a similar path.
“I would say, if this is truly something that you want to do, don’t let people’s words deter you.”
“I know up until now, I haven’t had every family member support and even more recently, in terms of the scale of where this can go but I believed in myself. Nobody is going to believe in your art or you if you don’t believe in yourself. Be okay with being out of your comfort zone. To this day I’m continually being forced to be out of my comfort zone. This is my craft and I show up and even if the nerves are there I get through it. You grow in terms of confidence every time you do something new.”
“Don’t let fear hold you back and think outside the box. Continually think outside the box. In this society where almost everything is kind of regurgitated and given back to you, you can re-blog stuff, redo stuff there’s almost no creativity,” She says.
Despite the old aphorism about good artists copying and great artists stealing, Tree encourages aspiring artists to focus on originality.
“I remember back in the day the content that I put on Facebook was far more original. I repost or re-blog a lot of stuff now but you know at the same time, it’s good to know what the ideas are out there but also go seek information for yourself. Just be original. That’s really what people want, is authenticity.”
To learn more about Dawn Tree and her artwork visit, undergroundtree.weebly.com.
Cutline: Visit tccconnection.podbean.com to listen to The Connection’s podcast featuring Dawn Tree.