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Family Swank: Liana Murray

Family Swank: Liana Murray

Name: Liana Murray
Age: 17
Sign: Libra
Swank: Visual artist

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North Carolina is the home to some of the country’s most prolific painters, like Ernie Barnes, Charles Alston, John T. Biggers, and this week’s featured cool kid. From being accepted into a prestigious Miami-based arts program to having several solo shows under her belt, 17-year-old visual artist Liana Murray has the game on lock. In this week’s Family Swank we speak with Murray about her most recent successes, how the South has shaped her identity, and if it’s a good thing to hail from the third most hipster city in America.

Mass Appeal: Congratulations on your acceptance into the Young Arts program for visual arts. How stoked are you?

Liana Murray: Thank you, I’m super excited! I’ve never been to Miami and I get to spend a week with other amazing artists and see all of their work. Wow!

MA: Your art seems heavily influenced by Harlem Renaissance: it reminds me of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden mixed with a little Loïs Mailou Jones. Is that your intention?

LM: I’d never seen their work until now; they’re really amazing. I’m really inspired by all periods of rich black history because art is really an integral part of our lineage. Kehinde Wiley has really inspired me as an artist, as well as classical pieces whose ideas I’ve transformed into my own.

MA: What’s your preferred medium and materials?

LM: I use oil paint: it’s thicker and you can paint with it for days. I like that I can just keep playing with or adding to it as much as I want. I also collage, so I use magazines and glue-sticks.

MA: Is painting your only artistic outlet?

LM: It all really started with drawing. I used to only make art with a graphite pencil, and frankly, I was too scared to paint—to try something new and not be in control of what the outcome might be. But I’ve learned to love that experience and just letting the art and paint go where it needs to go.

MA: At only seventeen, you’ve already landed a solo show, which you dubbed Little Black Pearl, in Chicago. What was the inspiration behind the title?

LM: The title of the collection, so to speak, is Truth Beneath the Roses. It refers to the beauty and power of black people (otherwise, the truth) that is hidden beneath the beauty and idealism of the “American Dream”. Our society doesn’t want to face the institutional racism that’s entangled beneath the oversimplified ideology that everything’s all fine and dandy. But I had my first solo show in my hometown, Asheville, North Carolina, and from there, I got the chance to be flown in by the Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy (a high school in Chicago) and I got to work with the students, and there was an exhibition with both my work and some of the students work as well. It was so amazing meeting everyone and seeing their talents.

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MA: Do you have a muse?

LM: Hmm… I haven’t found him or her quite yet. But really, sometimes I’ll just see someone and I feel like I need to paint them. It’s very particular, but I can’t precisely articulate what the “requirements” are.

MA: You volunteer every Sunday at Asheville Prison Books in your hometown of Asheville. What about that charity compelled you to start working with them?

LM: Education and literacy are one of the most valuable tools that can allow a black American child of the American public school system to transcend the cradle-to-prison pipeline that they are statistically on track to follow. Prison Books is an extension of that, reaching men and women who are seeking the freedom of knowledge that they weren’t given as a child. That’s important to me.

MA: What are the three stereotypes you’re confronted with when people find out you’re from the south?

LM: I’m not sure. I guess a lot of people think I should have a country accent. But I live in a little “progressive” niche of North Carolina. This article listed Asheville as the 3rd most hipster city in the US. On the other hand, I would say people in Asheville have subconscious stereotypes or biases against Black people, and that is one of the reasons my passions are based upon racial equality and respect for the Black community. What’s funny though is that Don Yelton, the man who was interviewed not too long ago on The Daily Show is from my county, Buncombe County, and the episode was filmed in my town.

MA: Finish this sentence: Growing up in North Carolina has _________ my art.

LM: Informed.

MA: Besides painting, do you have any other hidden talents?

LM: I used to want to be a fashion designer (even though I’m not very good at sewing). You could say I have academic talent, or more so I strong work ethic.

MA: What’s your favorite quote or motto?

LM: Countee Cullen once said it is the “definite duty…[of] Blacks to raise a great hue and cry against misrepresentations” and to “supersede their individual prerogative without denying those rights.” That’s really inspiring for me. 

MA: If I could be featured in any museum, it’d be ________.

LM: The streets. If I wasn’t too scared of being caught—lame, I know—I’d spread my art all over the world, directly to the people, like Basquiat or Banksy.