All Around Art

Tell us about your journey as an artist. 

Growing up, I was good at finding programs. I had my mom running around, but she made it happen. I started an apprenticeship at St. Louis ArtWorks at age 14 and left when I was 18. That program taught me that I could be an artist. I saw all sides — the business, the fun, the donors’ part.

My mentors from St. Louis ArtWorks are still my mentors. Byron Rogers, he introduced me to wood burning and carving, scratching, stuff like that. Kevin McCoy showed me computer work, graphic design, and how to manipulate an image. I’ve merged both of those styles and created my own thing. 

When I was maybe 12 or 13, I participated in Kilalo Rites of Passage, a St. Louis program. It was three years long, and at the end, we went to Accra, Kumasi, and Cape Coast, Ghana. That’s partly where I adopted my style. I saw people using these bold colors, pattern and texture, and design … It woke up my love for that aesthetic and made me want to pay tribute to my culture. 

In high school, I did Cultural Leadership. It was all Jewish and Black kids, being allies and learning each other’s paths. Over one summer, we went to like 22 cities within 22 days, meeting people who have made changes in the world, like Ed Koch, Claudette Colvin, and Ernest Green. It opened a lot of doors and taught me to have more of a voice. Meeting these activists shaped what I wanted to paint about, initially. I started doing civil rights pieces — faces, actually — and then that transferred to other things. 

Marley Billie D's latest solo exhibition, “Intimacy: Into.Me.See,” displayed this winter at Wildfruit Projects.

Describe your latest exhibition, “Intimacy: Into.Me.See.”

It’s about being loved, how we want to be loved, how we give love, and how a lot of times we perceive love and say, oh, I don’t need to be loved, and yet we still yearn for it. I took it through movie ratings. I did G, where intimacy is not so sexually intertwined; it’s getting your hair done, your mom and you. Then PG, where intimacy looks like starting friendships and hanging with your brother while he plays video games. Then PG-13, where you see mom a little more for who she is. You’re doing stuff you’re not supposed to be doing, but you’re experiencing it. Then R — you’re learning your body; you’re learning who you want to be. You’re kissing and having those car rides. Lastly, explicit. At this point, you’re like, these are the ways I’d like to be loved, in the explicit, through touch. Those paintings are all about touch. 

You spent some time in Chicago as a young adult. Having returned to St. Louis, you’ve had three exhibitions. And you’re bringing things full circle by working as an art teacher. Talk about what you’ve achieved since moving back in 2018.

My first solo exhibit was called “Thank You.TH,” about thanking everyone in my childhood village. “Sorrow; Tranquility” was about grieving my divorce and accepting that part of my life being over. “Intimacy: Into.Me.See” was about rediscovering who I am. My next exhibit will just be fun, not as deep as the last three.

I also teach at Momentum Academy. I’m teaching middle schoolers about brand identity, like, who do you want to be? What do you want to be recognized for? How do you want others to view you? How do you want to view yourself? They’ve used polaroid cameras to do portraiture and create personal logos for themselves. We’re going to have a showcase at the end of the school year.

Pictured from top to bottom, left to right: Views from Marley Billie D's latest solo exhibition, “Intimacy: Into.Me.See,” displayed this winter at Wildfruit Projects. The artist discusses the exhibition here with gallery co-owner Kentaro Kumanomido.

Talk about your winning design for 314 Day.

I wanted to highlight the fun of the city, the grooviness, the autonomy. That vibrant vibe, you know, that freedom. I was thinking (about) the Grove, St. Charles … For me, I’m a restaurant buff. I love food. And cocktails. St. Louis has a lot of hidden gems, a lot of local, small-business restaurants. I love that. The vibrant experience you have when you go to these places — the owners are so proud, so happy you came, so grateful that you’re interested in something they’re creating. 

What advice do you have for young artists?

Keep everything. Record everything. Don’t ever think you’re doing too much when you’re filming yourself creating, or when you’re drawing on a napkin. Keep it; put it in your portfolio. Later, it’s amazing. I used to be so upset at my mom for keeping all my stuff, but some of those same items I’ve used in my exhibits. Even the old-school TV in “Intimacy: Into.Me.See” was the TV from my childhood bedroom. 

Artist Marley Billie D's 314 Day design.

What’s next for you?

I want to really hone back into my art and make my mark here in St. Louis. I told my job I won’t be coming back next year. My superintendent has been amazing and allowed me to run my own Marley Billie D program as a pilot. That has set me up for the direction I would like to go. I would love to continue running my own education program. 

I want to fix my house up, turn it into an art house, make each room have a different vibe — Airbnb it out as a meeting space. And just be able to create freely, whatever I want. Because I’m a multidisciplinary artist, and I love doing everything. 

Artist Marley Billie D poses outside of Wildfruit Projects, where her latest solo exhibition, “Intimacy: Into.Me.See,” displayed this winter.

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