Exhibitionists·In Residence

This is why you should never stop playing with pencil crayons

Peek inside Curtia Wright's sketchbook. The Toronto artist is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence.

Peek inside Curtia Wright's sketchbook. The Toronto artist is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence

Curtia Wright. Deng 2. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)

Unless you're, say, Mr. Dressup, most people don't make pencil crayon sketches intended for a national TV audience. So it goes with Curtia Wright. But on the new episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, we're excited to let this Scarborough-raised artist open up her portfolio. We're trying something different for the Exhibitionist in Residence segment this week, turning things over to Wright to show off a selection of her drawings (which you can also check out below).

Here are a few interesting details she shared about the work.

Do any of these faces look familiar?

Wright graduated from Toronto's OCAD U in 2015, and she was still trying to find her voice when she started making this series of drawings. "Before, I wasn't really thinking critically about who I was painting or drawing," she says, "and I would paint or draw whoever I saw in magazines throughout high school and stuff. It was mostly white bodies, white faces."

"I would always show my father what I drew, and what I'd painted. And he spoke to me one day, I remember. 'Curtia, why do you only draw white people?' I think I was 16 or something."

"I didn't really notice. I was so influenced by the media that was in front of me that, I didn't really question it. I just absorbed it without any critical filter."

"But as I started going to university, meeting other people, meeting other Black artists, and thinking more critically about who I depict, I decided to just draw Black people."

Wright doesn't personally know any of the men and women in these pictures, but you might recognize them. "I would scour through the internet and find these beautiful — literal models," she laughs. "I think I drew Ajak Deng, she's a Sudanese model, the most out of any other person."

"My work now is more self-portraits," she says. (Wright works as multidisciplinary artist in Toronto. She's a painter, but also works in collage, digital and video art.) "They're all pictures of me in various ways, speaking about things that are very personal," and she explains that she's currently exploring topics such as gender identity and mental health, especially as it relates to the Afro-Caribbean community.

Never stop playing with pencil crayons

While Wright was a student, cash was tight. "Oil paints were not really accessible to me coming into school," she says. So she scavenged whatever art supplies she could grab around the house, settling on the old pencil crayons and dry markers she'd been scribbling with since childhood. "Mostly Crayola, Laurentian. No Rose Art. Rose Art is cursed," she laughs. "I never throw away any of my supplies, even if the markers are dead."

There's something about the texture of pencil crayon, doubled with Wright's neon palette, that screams childhood (or maybe just '90s) nostalgia. And if you remember the exact hue of "Hollywood Cerise" that's probably especially true.

Wright says she was trying to make the pencil appear as painterly as possible in the drawings. "I was trying to lay down textures and shapes you would get when you use oil paint, for instance — different glazing and layering techniques."

Think (hot) pink!

"For some reason, I cannot shake the neon," says Wright. Electric pink and purple and blue is everywhere in her work, not just these early portraits. "I think the reason I use so much pink is because it makes me feel very comfortable and very warm. There's not much symbolism behind the colours I use — I can only describe it as a natural attraction I have to it."

Back to the future

Since digging out this series for CBC Arts, Wright says she's thrown herself back into drawing again, and some of her new works in pencil crayon are featured in "Converging Passages," an exhibition that's on now at Toronto's 918 Bathurst.

"The work I made for that show is focused on Jamaican and African mythology, which is something I really want to get into with my new work. Throughout the years, I think I worked very outside of myself, so now I'm trying to get back to me and what fantasy means to me and how it related to me on an ancestral, personal level." The show, which also features work by David Chinyama, is on to February 15.

Check out her drawings.

Curtia Wright. Toasty. 2016. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Top lads cry too. 2016. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Deng 3. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Serve. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Swayy. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Aloe mother and child. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Pucker. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Smok-em/Got em. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Bosso. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Spaceman. 2014. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Deng 1. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Hott head. 2015. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Flame. 2016. (Courtesy of the artist)
Curtia Wright. Top lads cry too two. 2016. (Courtesy of the artist)

For more from Curtia Wright, visit her website. Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television, Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (4 NT).


Leah Collins

Senior Writer

Since 2015, Leah Collins has been senior writer at CBC Arts, covering Canadian visual art and digital culture in addition to producing CBC Arts’ weekly newsletter (Hi, Art!), which was nominated for a Digital Publishing Award in 2021. A graduate of Toronto Metropolitan University's journalism school (formerly Ryerson), Leah covered music and celebrity for Postmedia before arriving at CBC.