On Beauty: Dawn Okoro {visual art}

{"Saturday's Best" © Dawn Okoro}

While the next few issues of The Liberator are cooking, we'll be sharing snippets of our Visual Arts interviews and articles. For the full versions, be sure to subscribe to the magazine for $10 a year. (Less than the cover charge at most clubs!)

As the readers of this here blog have gathered, I'm big on artists (and anyone else for that matter) who explore and challenge notions of beauty and identity. So it was a pure delight to come across the work of painter Dawn Okoro, who has been creating bold, sensual, and bright, color-saturated portraits of Black women for the past few years. Okoro, who holds a law degree and is currently based New York, was kind enough to talk with the Liberator a bit about her work.

To see more artwork from Okoro, visit dawnokoro.com, If you're in New York, she will be showing work next Friday at RFA Gallery for "Urban Pulse", described as "an exploration into identity, class and culture set against the ever evolving back drop of New York City, featuring the paintings and sculptural works of Dawn Okoro, Jordan!™ and Justin West."

(Note: This interview was co-edited by our winter intern, Angus McLinn, a student at Macalester College in St. Paul.)

LM: Who and what inspires your paintings?

DO: I grew up flipping through fashion magazines and imagining myself as part the fantasy world they presented. That is the foundation of a lot of my art concepts. I am inspired by fashion, television, advertising, and people.

LM: Also, would you mind talking a bit about your technique? What is it like working with models and taking the photos that become the blueprints for your paintings? Also, would you ever consider having your photos be the end product as opposed to a reference point for your paintings?

DO: I start out with a mood that I want to convey. I may browse photos from various sources to see examples of how I could have models pose in order to convey that mood. The models are sometimes friends or referrals. Other times they are models that I find online through a model networking site. The models usually wear their own clothes and makeup and we just experiment with different poses that I think fit the concept.

When I shoot the models, I try to imagine how the painting would look and then frame them accordingly. I use the resulting photos as inspiration and as a guide to keep the figures proportionate in my paintings. I change colors and other elements, depending on how I want the end product to look. I am very open to the idea of having some of the actual photos as the end product in the near future, although this will involve building settings for the models to pose in.

LM: I noticed that many of the women in your paintings tend to be dark-skinned and have amazing, perfectly coiffed afros. Is this a conscious decision to address our notions of "traditional" beauty and take on the perennial debates about complexion and hair texture? Also, I was wondering how you felt about Andrea Pippins' recently launched I Love My Hair project. It seems like you two are on the same wavelength visually and conceptually. (www.ilovemyhair.com)

DO: One of the reasons that I have painted the afros is simply because I find them aesthetically pleasing. In some of my paintings, I have taken an image that I saw in a mainstream fashion magazine reformed it. As I continue to create work like this, I do hope to incite conversation about this unconventional beauty that is missing from most of these magazines. My practice does overlap with Andrea's because we’re both putting a spotlight on beauty that hasn't gotten much shine in mainstream culture.

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