Called to Art: A Conversation with Amira Caire
Amira Caire is the owner of Amiradescent Art and Design, based in Madison, WI. In June 2020, Caire, a lifelong artist, had never painted a mural. Before summer’s end, she had completed four murals for local businesses around Madison, including the University of Wisconsin Bookstore, Overture Center for the Arts, and Tantra Wellness. LunART Visual Arts Coordinator, Augusta Brulla, was struck by Caire’s mural work and reached out to commission an original artwork for LunART’s 2020 Virtual Festival, Human Family. Augusta had the chance to talk to Amira about her artistic process and journey.
How did you hear about the downtown Madison mural project?
I live downtown but had been trying to stay inside and quarantine. I remember that I was on Facebook and my friend Solomon shared his sister’s mural work that she did on State Street. I was like wait, is this a thing? I wanted to be part of this. I was really inspired to become involved because of what happened to George Floyd and the BLM protests that really started to create change. The 2020 summer protests were different from the other protests because I feel like people were catching on more this time and there were changes being made that we didn’t see before in response to BLM. It became more of a movement instead of just a moment. When I saw artists creating murals in response to all of this, especially in the city that we live in that has had a lot of issues with discrimination, myself included, I felt called and really motivated to be a part of it.
The whole State Street mural project developed so fast! I know Karin Wolf of the Madison Arts Commission was looking for artists and heard you were interested in becoming involved. What happened next?
Karin Wolf was reaching out to Black artists to paint murals on State Street showing how we feel through our art in relation to BLM. She saw I was interested and contacted me. We had quite a long and great conversation. She said to me “I know you’re interested in being a part of this and I just want to tell you right now if you end up doing this after all, it's a bit crazy out here. There have been and could be people who come by and will be against it, but there’s also going to be a lot of people who will love what you are doing. This is really a big step for you and a decision that you’re going to have to be sure about. But before you do…I am just letting you know right now that there are a lot of people out here doing art. Some who also aren’t aware that this is a space for Black voices and is a project commissioned by the City of Madison, so If you really want to be a part of this, I kind of suggest you come down right away.” I hadn’t even gotten out of bed at that point but was just like, “Oh yeah, I'll be there in 30 minutes.”
Your first mural at UW Bookstore, a collaboration with artist and friend Danielle Mielke, was of Tony Robinson. How did you decide where and what to paint for your first mural?
We were looking at the boards where Karin said there was space and we were both just like, you know what, go big or go home. We had no plan and it took us a while to decide what we wanted to create but we chose Tony Robinson because of what happened to him right here in Madison. After he was murdered, there were a few protests, conversations at schools, and community gatherings, but it felt like people forgot about him…as if it didn’t even happen. Many people in Madison didn’t even know it had happened. We were glad we chose this giant spot right next to a busy road where officers would pass by as well. We wanted people to be able to see this right away and remember him. It was really nice to see how people responded to us and our mural. It even helped us as artists and I’m really grateful for that. This artist life is 100% the life I have dreamt of and I can’t wait to do more.
What was it like to create public art for the first time?
Before we began the Tony Robinson mural it was pretty nerve wracking just because I've never done a mural before. Knowing there’d be people watching us and witnessing the whole process, mistakes and changes and all, made us both pretty anxious. We wanted to do Tony justice. But because we knew we wanted to do this, we ended up trusting our skills and respecting our process. After we finished the mural it was just completely exciting (and bittersweet) but my nerves were gone. It was done! I was so in love with it and so emotional. Not just about the piece and seeing Tony, but also about the experience, the reason behind all of the murals, and myself as an artist. Being so serious about my art and my people and spreading my wings to do this on a whim with such a wonderful and powerful outcome brought a feeling I can’t even describe.
Danielle and I definitely had many moments of sadness because this art came from such a tragic situation and directly relates to a serious issue we are facing and confronting in this country but there were also many positives of this experience. We generally felt so alive working on it and had so much fun together. Our family and friends would come out and hang with us. Strangers would come hang with us. The music we danced and sang along to and the down to Earth conversations we had are unforgettable. Each day different people brought us food and water just to help because we were out in the heat. There was a strong sense of community and so that in itself made us comfortable.
Tell me about your background – when did you start creating art?
I really began being an artist when I was six years old. I remember one day my dad brought home books, art supplies, and journals…I was (of course) attracted to the art supplies. He would actually bring home pastels, canvases, paint, tutorial books, sketchbooks, graphite sketch pencils, etc. He did this often to help my siblings and I be productive around the house instead of being on the computer or playing video games. I remember being bored and I just grabbed stuff off of the table and started sketching. Sketching is mainly what I did for years and I perfected the medium over time. I saw art as a hobby for a while back then and it's something that I would do when I came home or while I was at school. I found myself drawing all the time. My oldest brother Jabari was the biggest artist of my siblings first and seeing his artwork filling multiple 3-ring binders when I was a kid sparked my interest in wanting to continue. His art was the best I had ever seen at the time and I wanted to be just as good or even better. All my siblings were artists growing up and we’d all say our dad and brother were the cause.
Art obviously became a true calling for you as you took high school and college art courses. When did you decide to take your creativity to the next level?
I realized that I actually didn’t like being in the classroom setting when it came to art, I just liked creating my own thing. I would do the assignments, of course, but I just did not enjoy it at all. All the teachers I had were interested in their own medium and it felt very limiting. There was no freedom of expression, which is what I need when it comes to my art. I don’t just have one medium, one style, or one process. I took my creativity to the next level in high school when I found myself experimenting with other art tools and mediums. I was doing art all the time, and was just like wait, I'm actually really serious about this! I kept creating and drawing, and that's when I started using watercolor, inks, mixed media, acrylic paint, etc. I really took my art seriously at that point and realized it’s not a hobby. I am super passionate about it! I literally draw every day.
What is the relationship between your different styles and mediums? How do you decide which medium to work in?
I never get comfortable with just doing one thing; I always want to do more, and experiment with more to improve my experience and skills. When it comes to traditional art specifically, sometimes I just choose based off of what I have not experimented with the most. There are days when I'm just like you know what, let me get out my inks and my watercolor brushes and just do some mixed media. I'm a huge fan of mixed media art because sometimes I don't like to stick with one type of material. I can never decide so I just use different tools to create artwork. I don’t paint often but when I do it’s usually because I haven't done one in a long time, and I do it to keep my skills fresh. I try to be as consistent as I can with all these different tools so I can become even better at using them.
I started digital art in February this year. Digital art is so clear and crisp, easy to save and share, and CHEAP to create from and there are so many different things you can do with it. I downloaded Procreate, and I love it! It is my child. That's what I use the most and where I also practice my drawing skills. The more I practice digitally, the better I get traditionally, and that gives me more motivation to do work traditionally in general. Digital tools free me from spending a lot of money on materials. That’s something I struggle with especially because I use everything!
When you work digitally you draw freehand? You're not tracing images?
Yeah exactly, I definitely draw from scratch. I just try to match the proportions as best as I can, but I don't like to completely match a photo because then it wouldn't really feel like my own art. For example, if I choose to keep the same pose, I’ll change the features and/or colors. If I keep the colors and features, I change the pose and/or background. Sometimes I’ll completely reference a photo but change a few things here and there so it feels like my own. Nothing I make is an exact copy. Many things I create have also come from my imagination. I did use tracing paper when I started drawing as a kid because it helped me with proportions and accuracy. I think tracing can be very useful that way and artists can definitely benefit from it if they don’t rely on it exclusively.
Who or what is inspiring you lately?
Definitely other artists I follow on Instagram. I love art in general, so I love having a constant gallery I can go through on my phone and take in inspiration. It’s so inspiring to follow many people who are great artists. It keeps me motivated to do more. 90% of the people I follow on my art Instagram are other artists. I follow a lot of digital artists and traditional watercolor artists. I am also a huge fan of anime and follow a lot of concept artists. I think concept art is really cool because one art piece instantly tells a story in itself. When it comes to reference photos, I am attached to images with a lot of emotion. I get so inspired when I see photos that look like they are telling a story.
Tell us about the work you created for the Human Family Virtual Festival.
This whole piece is really about supporting and holding a person up, and being there for someone when they are down. That's something that is lacking in our world. Many people think about themselves too much; almost all of our world's problems come from a lack of empathy and compassion for others. When I think of family, I think about the words care, nurture, uplift, support, and present.
Click below to purchase your very own 8” x 12” archival print of this beautiful work by Amira Caire!
Author: Augusta Brulla