Artwork by MICDS Senior Asia Johnson-Brimmage '19.

Finding a Path Through Art

At the Black Student Union’s recent Black History Month Celebration, Asia Johnson-Brimmage ’19 shared her art, her feelings on finding her path as an artist and how she aims to use her work to spark conversations around difficult issues.

Asia Johnson-BrimmageEver since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be an artist. In kindergarten, I would create beautiful, vivid landscapes full of color with crayons and construction paper. In elementary school, my mother crowded the refrigerator with my doodles of monsters and imaginary friends. In fourth grade, I was eager to dress up as a “painter” for career day, smearing paint all over a bright red apron and topping it off with paint brushes so that no one would mistake me for anything else.

Art was the only thing on my mind, and everyone supported my endeavors. By the time I reached Middle School, that support began to waver. In the beginning, when people asked what career I wanted in the future, “artist” flowed out of my mouth with confidence, but unlike before, a disheartening statement followed their question: “But…art isn’t a real job.” The first few times, I was quick to jump to my passion’s defense, but as time passed, I began to believe what everyone was telling me.

As I transitioned into my high school career, I tailored my education to be more STEM-focused, as the classes would lead to (in my parents’ eyes) a more “practical” future. However, in no time, I learned that those were not the right choices for me. I struggled with those classes and I ended up forcing myself to remain interested in my own education. It was difficult, to say the least, as I wasn’t satisfied with being unhappy simply so that I could please those around me. Fortunately, I came to realize that it is my own life hanging in the balance, not anyone else’s.

Since then, I’ve had lots of experiences that have helped me grow from timid and compliant into the open-minded and outspoken person that I am today. Many of these experiences center around two things I value most: art and identity. In 2018, I finally gathered enough strength to enter an art competition for the first time, entering two different pieces into two separate competitions and placing in both. One of my paintings was displayed in the Saint Louis Art Museum last summer and another auctioned off to raise money for diversity programs in the Saint Louis area. Last summer I also got my first job, working as an art instructor for the inspireSTL classes of 2022 and 2023. I taught them all about the basics of art and the elements of design, ending those incredible eight weeks with a final project recreating van Gogh’s Starry Night. However, the most impactful experience I’ve had was visiting the National Portrait Gallery with MICDS’ Pathfinders in Washington D.C.

Since I was first introduced to them, Amy Sherald and Kehinde Wiley have been my role models, as their work tells the story of ordinary black people in an extraordinary way through a medium that has neglected us of that representation that is so freely granted to others. Having the opportunity to see their work in person, so extravagantly displayed as equals amongst the most influential names in art, has validated my aspiration of becoming a successful portrait artist just like them. If they can do it, I can too. Due to this influence, my art has begun to gravitate toward portraiture as I have observed that people are extremely complex creatures with the impact of subtle differences in the shape of facial features coming to fascinate me most. As a result of my fascination, it has become my goal as an artist to be able to accurately capture someone’s essence to be able to convey feeling and emotion and attempt to tell someone’s story, through my portraits.

Art is a place where one is freely able to express their opinion through their various perspectives, without anyone being able to tell them what is right or wrong; because the lens through which one views the world is unique to them and only them. Art itself causes controversy and through my artwork I aim to provide a commentary on various social issues that people often skirt around. While dissent can be intimidating, I spark these conversations through my artwork because you don’t need to be an artist to have an opinion about art, and that is the beauty of this platform. Anyone can utilize it, anyone can appreciate it, and anyone can find solace in the freedom that comes with it.