How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Hannah McBroom (HM): Most examples of trans love and representation prior to my start as an artist were problematic and controversial. Even in 2010 there were fewer problematic depictions of trans people in film and on tv but the long history of trans women as psychotic murderers or punchlines to a joke could still be felt within those facets of media.
The work I’ve been making is about my trans identity being both awkward and vulnerable. These representations have always attempted to tackle my identity as a trans woman first as personal then as political. The work I make is only a facet of the overall conversation going on at this moment and can never touch on the perspective every person within the trans community faces.
Ray Parker (RP): I began my current body of work, a series of massive oil paintings conceived as secular altarpieces, months before the daily events and outrages that are roiling our nation and the world. Referencing classical Madonna and Christ depictions, these detailed, naturalistic paintings depict the power and grace of their subjects: the bravery and radiance of my friend Hannah McBroom—a renowned ‘transgender artist embracing her femininity and offering her inner strength and creativity; and my neighborhood friend—a proud, strong, weary mother gathering and protecting her three small children. I wanted to create meditations on their all-too-human connections with us … so we could locate within them—and within ourselves—something overwhelming and unforgettable, something sacred and larger than life. My work isn’t political in the sense that it addresses specific national events or global atrocity. So many other forms of art and artists do that much better and more powerfully than I can. Rather, I hope my work offers inspiration, hope, and joy—a recognition of universal things that tie us all together, things that define our shared humanity, things we must fiercely search to find in ourselves and others now more than ever.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
HM: There have been two primary projects that have continued since the shutdown. Both revolve around my personal experiences of being a trans woman while navigating the misconceptions of trans identity present in today’s culture. One project is focused on my interpersonal relationships while the other delves into the representation of transwomen in the adult industry. The last six months I’ve researched trans representation in porn and how this representation affects transwomen outside this industry. The hard part has been how to facilitate these perspectives into a painting.
Social distancing has been hard for me. I miss the constant buzz of the city, the energy and closeness of people walking around. I was in DC the weekend of the closure and I remember everyone was outside moving around trying to see the museums before they closed the next day. Then the streets and shops were empty. I went home Sunday to an empty city. That’s been hard to process.
I was fortunate enough to work from my studio while receiving a full paycheck from my part time job which allowed me to stay home. Social distancing has forced me to rethink what it means to make work: who is it for and what it needs to be.
RP: Currently, I’m creating a new series of so-called “secular altarpieces,” large-scale paintings inspired by Renaissance and Gothic religious masterworks. These are for a solo exhibition at a university fine art center, scheduled in early 2021. I feel like time is already running out! So, reluctantly, I’m making COVID–19 lockdown be my friend. I’m using the time alone to focus on my art, to push my physical efforts as much as possible and dream as large as I can. If not now, when? The unfortunate nature of social distancing and pandemic protocols gives us the time and space to focus on the people and things that are truly important.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
HM: Be in touch with your tribe, your community. For me talking with my family and friends was crucial for my mental health. The only reason I was able to function during the last few months is because of my community.
If a commission or project is slowing down because of certain restraints reach out to the clients or directors for support, early payments, possible extensions.
RP: The photographer Duane Michaels said this is it, this is the ride. So, don’t miss it! Be grateful for the gift of being an artist. That applies not only to now, but also to when our lives return to a new normal. To paraphrase Marie Kondo: Do things that spark joy in you. Give yourself a break from the news. Open your art books, read magazines and newspapers, listen to artist podcasts, flip through Instagram. Search for your own artistic avatars. Seek inspiration everywhere. You never know where it will come from.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
HM: My family has been the biggest support and community for myself. Week one of the shutdown I had multiple family members and friends who reached out and offered financial assistance.
The last two months I had to redefine what community was for myself. I moved to St. Louis in January of this year and had difficulty finding a local community of artists before the shutdown. Since then I’ve been in communication with my long–distance community via phone or Skype. We talk about our hopes, how much we miss overstaying our welcome in restaurants that are trying to close for the evening, projects that start, fail, and eventually succeed. This kind of community has become stronger and crucial to how I can create work and who it is for.
RP: Unfortunately, support for the arts always seems like one of the first casualties in a crisis. It doesn’t have to be that way. The community, just like artists themselves, can seek artistic inspiration and appreciation everywhere. Look at artists’ websites and IG feeds, follow virtual exhibitions and comment on work you like. Answer artists’ emails! A few kind words to an artist can mean so much. I can coast creatively for days on the power of a little enthusiastic feedback. As for myself, I reach out constantly to the people I care about, I try to stay connected and express my appreciation to my artist collaborators and supporters, and I in turn support the artists, local restaurants and businesses that I care about
More About the Artists:
Ray Allen Parker was born in San Diego, California, in 1951 and grew up in rural Egypt, Arkansas. He earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas, where he took his first painting class. Following a three-decade career in retail communications and advertising, he returned to his lifelong interest in portrait and figure painting. Ray lives and works in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife Mary Jean.
Follow him @rayaparker
Hannah McBroom (b. 1993, Columbus, MS) graduated from Mississippi State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Studio Art with an emphasis in Painting. She received a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Arkansas in 2019. Her work explores themes of transgender identity, materiality, and the body.
She has attended residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and Chautauqua School of Art. McBroom has exhibited in many shows nationally and internationally including State of the Art 2020, Our Lady Parts, Looking for America, International Painting Annual #6 and #9. She is the recipient of the Artist 360 Grant through the Mid–America Arts Alliance. She currently maintains a studio practice in St Louis.
Follow her @hannah_mcbroom
Image List for Hannah’s works:
24” x 24”
Oil on Canvas
10” x 8”
Oil on Panel
8” x 10”
Oil on Panel
10” x 8”
Oil on Panel
Ray Parker images:
“Triptych Grouped”: Ray Parker, oil painting of Hannah McBroom
“Madonna and Children”: Ray Parker, oil painting of his neighbor and her children
Ray Parker with his dog
Ray Parker’s studio
Ray Parker in his studio with his dog