Richmond’s Black Art: RVA Magazine highlights local voices responding to the BLM protest movement. Let’s take a closer look.
In this time of widespread protest, the spirit of resistance has gone far beyond the daily marches and gatherings in Richmond’s streets. All it takes is a scroll through Instagram to see an influx of art made in response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests, police brutality crisis, and everyday racism in America. Here at RVA Mag, we wanted to spotlight some Black artists from the Richmond area who are participating in this online renaissance. We spoke to several local artists about their process and what inspired them to create this work. Today, we present the first of these artists: Ky Williams and Tori Cherry.
Ky Williams is a senior Communication Arts major at Virginia Commonwealth University. He works digitally, mostly on long-form graphic novels featuring eccentric characters who live in cluttered, familiar-feeling spaces.
Williams, a fan of superheroes and the Marvel universe since childhood, blends these influences with his love of slice-of-life storytelling. He takes notes from comics like Real, a manga series about wheelchair basketball and, more specifically, living with a disability and caring for friends who do. “I just found that work very powerful,” he said.
His most recent instagram post, a bright magenta cartoon featuring Lady Justice, is a departure from his usual. “I usually don’t do reactionary pieces, just because morally I feel like it’s a grey area. It can sometimes feel like I’m trying to exploit an issue,” he said.
In light of the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, though, Williams made an exception. “I just felt myself getting more invested in what was going on, whereas before, I felt like maybe I was trying to keep it at a distance a little bit,” he said. “Because I didn’t want to feel all these feelings.”
When he couldn’t focus on anything else, Williams got to work. He finished the cartoon in a day. The caption reads, “I have a lot of thoughts. Not a lot of answers. But this is how I feel.”
The result is something only Williams could make. “Whenever I make fan art, or I draw a character that I really love, no one ever likes it!” he said, referring to Instagram. “But whenever I put my original ideas out there, people seem to love it. I think for me, that’s a sign that I need to keep going with what is more original, rather than chasing trends.”
He encourages others to do the same. “We should all be open with our feelings and how we are reacting to things, because it opens the door for relation among all of us.”
Tori Cherry is a Studio Art/Cognitive Science double major and Miller Arts Scholar at the University of Virginia. Her most-used materials during quarantine are a MUJI 0.38 gel pen, India ink, watercolor, and gouache.
Cherry keeps a sketchbook with her at all times. Lest she forgets an inspirational image, she takes notes with whatever she can find. “That way I have a long list of ideas to refer to when I hit the inevitable creative block,” she said in an email.
This method is practical for Cherry, who chases the impermanent; conversations and moments of intimacy. “For most of my life, my art has served as a means of chronicling what’s going on in the world and my life. I think that’s why I’m mostly a sketchbook artist, working relatively quickly on pieces,” she said. “Because everything happens so quickly.”
“That’s been painfully true of this year as it feels like life-changing events are happening every five minutes,” Cherry continued. “To be honest, I’m struggling to keep up.”
Her latest instagram posts, a collection of articulate line drawings and richly-colored gouache scenes, alternate between depicting moments of exhaustion and strength. Captioning a drawing of protesters, she wrote, “I’m feeling very hurt, very sad, and very tired.”
Cherry soldiers on. This week, she’s taking on six new portrait commissions, and requested that customers donate to their choice of three charities: the Freedom Fund, the Black Trans Protesters Emergency Fund, or their local bail out fund.
In addition to supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, Cherry said, “at the moment, I’m working on bringing my art outside of my sketchbook. I’m trying to use the ideas that are there and translate them into larger works. Exploring what it feels like to plan a piece. I’m also trying to push myself to do things that scare me, like sharing my art online and submitting my work to galleries and publications.”
Follow Cherry on instagram at @f.errovia.
Top Image by Ky Williams