Based in New York, Adrienne Elise Tarver is an interdisciplinary artist whose work addresses Black female identity, invisibility, and the history of the tropics. Tarver’s practice spans painting, installation, photography, video, and sculpture. In this interview she tells Kendra Walker about her beginnings and the development of her artistic practice.
Contemporary And: How were you introduced to art as practice?
Adrienne Elise Tarver: My undergraduate and graduate degrees were both in painting. The story with undergrad and the reason I went into it was because I was a confused teenager. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Originally I thought I wanted to be an architect, but then realized it wasn’t for me in terms of the whole engineering side of it. My parents were the ones who encouraged me to apply to the art school at Boston university, where I ended up going. So I’ve had a lot of support from my family throughout my career, even though they don’t fully understand or didn’t understand what it is that I do. And then I went to grad school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. That was where my practice really opened up and I started following concepts more than materials.
C&: Do you think the city of Chicago and the peers you were surrounded by had anything to do with your practice expanding into other mediums?
AET: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of reasons why Chicago had an effect on it. I spent my middle-school and high-school years in the Chicago suburbs. So going to grad school in Chicago was my first time going back home. During that period I visited my parents and my childhood home regularly. My bedroom had a lot of materials in it that were interesting to me more than just paint and going to an art store. I was making a lot of work where I brought all of my childhood stuffed animals to my studio. I was looking at old family photographs. I was using fabric – my mom used to sew a lot and she had all these unused fabrics. I was really starting to value these objects and materials within the same hierarchy as oil paint or any other traditional art material.