February 28th marks the end of Black History month, which honors the contributions that African-Americans have made to American history. With that in mind, meet Jasminfire, our #ArtPowerWomen for the month of February. Jasminfire is gifted visual and musical artist whose work explores spirituality, sexuality, politics, and mental health.
Her paintings embody a childlike energy that’s joyful and candid, yet unapologetically honest. While her music, which she perfected while playing in New York subways for six years, is otherworldly and hypnotic. Her next exhibit Ok, Make Another America challenges the “MAGA” motto, will celebrate the beauty in the complexities of being an American — blended race, gender identity, social order, and economic conditioning.
We caught up with Jasminfire to discuss her practice, background and the experiences that shaped her craft.
Art Zealous: Zodiac sign?
Jasminfire: Libra, Sag rising, Sag moon. Lots of fire on my chart 🙂
Art Zealous: Background on your phone?
Jasminfire: a quote about the beauty of talking less
Art Zealous: Instagram handle?
Art Zealous: You mentioned that you don’t know what you’re doing till it’s over, sounds like an artistic blackout. Tell us how that works.
Jasminfire: I’ve been making art and playing music all my life, so it’s a habit. Habits are subconscious. I still work to keep my technical ability sharp by doing yoga, practicing exercises from my violin books, painting and experimenting any chance I can get between recording sessions. I practice gratitude and welcome mistakes because many things come from happy accidents. This is how both music and art effortlessly flow from me.
Art Zealous: You’ve been candid about some of the difficulties during your childhood and growing up, can you share how your childhood has influenced your work?
Jasminfire: I am from a place where they don’t want us to have anything, born to a single mother no one wanted to acknowledge because of her mental illnesses and economic instability. I understood I was poor before I understood I was Afro-Latina, but that intersectionality didn’t hold power over my spirit body because I had a fierce imagination I fed with all the books in the public library. It’s only now in my adult life that I look back and say, damn, what would I have been able to achieve if I was born into money? But that’s totally subjective, so I don’t dwell on that, either. I truly believe that having dreams bigger than life and lacking external resources to see them out was the perfect challenge. I’m actually creatively uncomfortable when all my needs are met, so that means I need to always dream bigger than what I can afford to keep my flow going.
Art Zealous: After your mother’s passing, your world went dark, figuratively and literally. You’ve started painting in black and white, you stopped smiling and you were forcing art out that you necessarily weren’t proud of. Talk to us about that time if your life.
Jasminfire: The first six months after my mom’s death felt like one week. My hair fell out in chunks. The only thing that got me through was going to Tokyo for two weeks, drinking wine and smoking with my live-in ex in Atlanta, freestyling lyrics and violin for hours on my loop station, sharing songs on Instagram stories and watering plants. Painting went out the window. Music had to heal me. I moved to LA in Feb 2018 and forced myself to paint, but everything that came out was bullshit except for one piece called “The Onlookers” I have never shown. I felt like I lost my mind and I filled five whole diaries in one year.
Art Zealous: Coming out on the other side of that trauma, How has your work evolved and what’s the driving force behind it now?
Jasminfire: LOVE! TRUTH! I have always been a bit of a comedian. I do explore serious themes in my art and music, but I always add a bit of humor in there. I have been through so many unspeakable things, and I just laugh at life. I am very confident now.
Art Zealous: You have a type of synesthesia that makes you experience music in color. Can you tell us how music enters your painting process?
Jasminfire: Mostly in the way I choose colors. A color wheel looks like the circle of fifths chart. They have similar rules. Complimentary this, supplementary that. Any major or minor chord can be augmented to sound brighter or darker depending on what unnatural notes I choose to add. Same with painting in color, I love using complimentary colors and adding some neighboring hues to make the vibe funkier. Imagine these colors beside each other: red, hot pink, blue- see it? Now imagine hot pink, sky blue, teal- same idea, different vibe.
The opposite is that my mind assigns color to music in the moment, and when I need to memorize something quickly, I focus on the color sequence that my mind produces when I hear it for the first time. That’s how I got into Berklee; one of my tests was to play back lines that a professor played at me on his bass. I was able to test into Ear Training 4 using colors to help me answer questions about music theory that I didn’t understand. I always did well on tests in Counterpoint but could never explain my work so I couldn’t score high. It’s wild. On professional gigs where we only have one rehearsal (or none at all), I depend on visualizing the music in order to anticipate what to do next. In recording sessions where major artists refuse to leak anything from the studio, I rely on this skill to compose things within the allotted studio time block.
Art Zealous: Do you listen to your own music when you are creating art? Do you listen to anything at all?
Jasminfire: Yes, if I’m in the process of writing my own compositions. Yes, if I want to absorb from classic recordings pre 1980s, but lately I have been zoning out to nature sounds because of the overstimulation.
Art Zealous: You’ve worked with some big names, how has your interaction with such innovative creators influenced the way you make art?
Jasminfire: Being that close to excellence informs me that I am on the right path. I carry those experiences very close to my heart and continue to dedicate all of my time to my craft, worrying about nothing less.
Art Zealous: Is there an artwork of yours that is particularly important to you?
Jasminfire: My upcoming music project, Baby Jazz. All these life experiences led up to its completion, so it’s deeply personal because it marks the beginning of Jasminfire’s evolution. Any album after this is pure fun and games.
Art Zealous: You’ve said that you make art because you’re compelled to. Is that where the process stops for you, or do you have hopes for the viewer’s experience?
Jasminfire: I mean anybody hopes people love their stuff and that’s inevitable if it’s good. This is the art industry, the music business, and my bread and butter — so being excellent has to be a habit, not a goal. I don’t care about people at all while creating, but I do know how to separate what I make for myself and what I share with others.
Art Zealous: Talk to us about the first time someone bought your paintings
Jasminfire: I was giving them away to friends (I still do). When I moved to NYC in 2011 with my roommates from Boston, the dudes downstairs robbed all the new tenants in our building through our fire escapes. They took everything except my violin and art. My life’s work on a laptop I had to take a loan out for was gone. I cried while playing violin in the subway trying to make money back to buy another one, but New Yorkers weren’t sympathetic to the tears. Suddenly my bridge broke, and my fingerboard needed repairs, totaling $500, and a neighbor happened to inquire about a piece I had. (Obviously, he wasn’t hit.) I told him $500 and was back out in the streets starting over. My friend got me another computer on her credit card, and I paid her in installments every month until more collectors found my work through Catinca Tabacaru and Helen Toomer, allowing me to pay my friend back in full. I did this interview on that very computer.
Art Zealous: Is there an artistic project that you’ve been wanting to do for a while but perhaps haven’t had the time/resources to complete?
Jasminfire: Yes, I describe it in my artist statement: an exhibition called Ok, Make Another America. I need a space in NYC to paint and some simple materials like flat screens and a lot of paint and a sewing machine to complete it. I also would like a small budget to pay people to help me film for it.
Art Zealous: What’s next for you?
Jasminfire: Figuring this exhibit out, for now. Releasing Baby Jazz. Going to Europe and West Africa. Staying open and ready for whatever comes from those things 🙂
You can purchase Jasminfire’s work on Curatious