Dawn Grant’s art is what they call “wearable.” That is, it’s meant to be put on. But, in truth, it takes off — into other realms. It soars, as does Dawn Grant herself.
As I speak to her she wears earrings that she herself has made — no one else could have — but it doesn’t look so much like she’s wearing them as it looks like they’re growing out of her, out of her very presence, like wings.
Which brings us to the question of where Dawn Grant stops and her art begins; in other words, where is the boundary between who she is and what she makes?
I’m not sure it exists. Art is not only Dawn Grant’s living and her livelihood; it is like the rising out of her of who she is.
When she sits down to talk to you about having her own space at The Cotton Factory, a dividend of being awarded the Hamilton Arts Council’s artist-in-residence appointment, she lets fly. And it’s something to behold.
Her words and gestures are as full of colour and dynamics, her face and movement as animated and variable, as the props, special effects, wearable art, sculpture and painting that she creates.
When I say she sits to talk, it’s a bit of a misnomer. She’s up and down, showing one thing in her new studio, explaining another, darting from topic to topic — her own story, working in film and TV, fashion, design, makeup, identity issues.
Her ideas are alive. She lives them.
“This is a blessing,” she says of the spacious, light-filled, brick-walled studio she now works in.
“I have never really had the opportunity to create on my own, without (being on a busy film or TV set or) children spinning around,” says Dawn, 41. She has two young ones and, since she has been doing art for a living, she has had to do her own creative efforts in her home, with the distractions that involves.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
As the Hamilton Arts Council’s Artist-in-Residence for the next six months, she is accorded free space in The Cotton Factory, renowned for its excellence as arts infrastructure. She has already started networking with other creative tenants in the complex of buildings and can now display her art in the space and participate in other ways in The Cotton Factory events. The Hamilton Arts Council, which sponsors the residency along with The Cotton Factory, offers assistance with artist materials.
In Dawn’s case, the materials might be just about anything. For instance, in one of the works in her studio she has braided dark plastic garbage bag material into fine, pinion-like elements in a larger structure. In some wearable art that she fashioned out of an old leather jacket, she has included chess and Monopoly pieces. Somehow she makes it all scintillate.
Her studio is full of found items, vintage findings, accessories and technical supplies with which she engineers her creations, as well as more conventional paints and brushes. On one table, there are golden hoops and meshwork that will in time adorn the shoulders and arms of the wearer as part of a larger work, among the three she is working on now as part of her residency — “How it Feels to Walk in My Feet,” “It’s All in Your Mind” and “An Eyeful.”
Some of these will likely involve dance, music and acting in what Dawn calls “wearable contemplation.”
The residency and the new space might be a blessing but one she has certainly worked hard for.
She has been excelling as a makeup and special effects artist in film and TV for 14 years now and for the last seven also as a prop and production designer. She has recently worked on projects with renowned Hamilton author Lawrence Hill (“The Book of Negroes”), Drake (the medieval-themed video for the song “Wait For U”) and Scottie Barnes.
Dawn has at times been hired to create effects, props, makeup and costumery, sometimes whole arrays of them, for film and TV, sometimes gory prosthetics, latex, blood squirting and wound simulations for horror and such, and sometimes the producers go with a CGI solution instead. It’s part of the work.
“I think CGI is killing it sometimes,” says Dawn. “It makes it too horrifying and less artistic,” leaving too little for the imagination to supply.
Dawn has also, for the last 10 years, been owner and designer of UFascinate Me. UFascinate Me supplies and customizes accessories and wearable art for clients, in particular, crowns, “fascinators,” sculptural headdresses and much else, handmade, usually from upcycled and vintage findings.
In all of her work, both commercial and otherwise, Dawn brings a gloriously colourful palette and dramatic rhythms of form and spatial energy, much of it rooted, both consciously and organically, in African influences. Dawn is of Trinidadian descent and the vibrant artistic traditions of that island culture are very much part of the inheritance in her work.
“I try to add colour and diversity into everything I create,” Dawn says, “To make people interested in the fine details of my work, is for them to reflect on themselves and how they perceive identity.”
That is another crucial theme in all she does — identity. She is conscious of her own as a Black artist in a changing landscape of inclusion and diversity, yes, but also as an artist qua artist, a human being qua human being.
“I want to demarginalize how we look at ethnic art,” says Dawn, adding that it’s not all about kente cloth and tiger prints which she avoids. She also doesn’t use animal products, such as feathers even when the piece creates an appearance of feathers.
Last but not least Dawn’s art passion includes a therapeutic arts practice, including sit-ins, which helps people explore self and self-expression, emotion and healing. Learn more about Dawn at https://www.dawngrantartistry.com/.
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