The Greenville Center for Creative Arts (GCCA), housed in the Village of West Greenville’s Brandon Mill, is propelling diversity in Greenville’s art community. One of the many ways GCCA is doing this is by awarding a yearly Brandon Fellowship to support local artists. The fellowship provides a university-style studio space and a stipend for art supplies to local promising artists.
Naomi Nakazato is a 2015-2016 recipient of the Brandon Fellowship. She graduated from Anderson University with a focus in painting and drawing and will begin graduate school in September at the New York Academy. We sat down with her to hear how she got started, how GCCA propelled her career and her perspective on the arts community in Greenville.
When did your interest in art start?
I grew up in D.C., and my mom was a public school teacher, so she was very invested in my art education. We would do trips to museums and she would enroll me in art classes.
The actual formal education started at Anderson University. I did painting and drawing there and graduated in 2014.
When did you decide that you could make your art a career?
My second year of art in college in my painting one class. I wanted to be a graphic designer at first, because I thought that’s how you make it a career, and I saw that more as illustration than just moving text around. My professor introduced the idea of sharing work that you thought was invaluable to contemporary art and why you liked it, and I realized at that point it might not be something immediately attainable but something to strive for.
What were you sharing?
For that assignment we would find photos and images of art in America or art magazines. Painting is becoming this disappearing part of contemporary art, but it’s starting to come back, and I find that really interesting. My influencers are other painters — you have the same problem of mastering paint as a medium, and painting is how you solve that in your own artistic way. I really like Jenny Morgan and Chloe Wise. Artists with a sense of humor — I don’t think you should take things too seriously. I get tired of traditions that say this is what art should be, because painting has such a rich history and I’m just waiting to see it be reinvented.
There is a heavy cultural influence in your work; tell us a little bit about that.
I’m half Japanese, and that’s the premise of all my work: life as a biracial person. Experiencing growing up and having an absence of heritage and those experiences. Every time I go to Japan, I’m always learning more about myself. Recently my sculptural work and installation work has been based on the idea of memories and how at then end of the day they don’t belong to you. You have a memory and you can contain it, but the more you try to pressure it to be what you think it should be, the more contrived and fake it feels. I like to work with plastics and artificial materials — it’s cheap but holds personal value. Once I contain those objects and put them together, I then sell the piece. It’s kind of like letting go of those memories. It’s not that they don’t exist, it’s that I’m letting go of control of them.
How did you hear about the Brandon Fellowship?
I heard about it through a professor who suggested I apply and again from someone that works here. Hearing it from both people really reinforced it. Once I was accepted, everything kind of fell into place. I applied for the position of program director at Belton Center of the Arts and having this fellowship helped me get that job. After being here a few months, I applied to graduate school and got in. It feels like all of that happened because of this fellowship.
How has GCCA propelled your career?
Before I was here, I was in a home studio. I moved back to D.C., and the arts scene there seemed dated and didn’t have the same energy as Greenville. Greenville is almost like an incubator and everything goes. I moved back because I had connections here. Being exposed to a lot of different people helps — being exposed to the art market, being around people who have a lot of knowledge of art and people who don’t have really helped me with describing my work to other people. I want to use my art for communicating and sharing my experiences.
How does Greenville help you foster your art?
It’s so helpful. GCCA is such a nurturing environment. If I want to pose an idea, there is a large enough space and people that they all encourage you to try it out. The neighborhood and the Greenville arts community feel very new, but it’s also well established.
I felt really young when I first moved here, but there’s the Governor’s School and the Fine Arts Center, which are such great outlets and what make Greenville such a great arts community that’s moving missing from other areas.
The Brandon Fellowship Exhibition is Friday, Aug. 5, at the GCCA, where you can see more of Nakazato’s work and the other Brandon Fellowship recipients. GCCA is currently accepting applications for the 2016-2017 Fellowship through Sept. 16. For more information, visit artcentergreenville.org.