Art Talk: A Q&A With Former Forge Artist in Residence, Romelle

As part of our new series, Art Talk, current Forge Artist in Residence, Sara Marie Barron, sat down with one of The Forge's first resident artists, Romelle, to chat about painting, music and the magical combination of the two. Enjoy! 

Sara Marie: To start off, can you tell me about your background as an artist? What was your first love, what are you spending most of your time doing now?

Romelle: I have been making art for as long as I can remember, but it’s always taken different forms. When I was really young I thought I wanted to be a clothing designer, so I was always sketching fashion models and styling my little sisters for self-funded photo shoots - thanks, guys. But my first love of art was probably in the form of music. I remember dancing with my family in our living room before I could talk, being completely lost in what I was hearing. Luckily my parents have really solid music taste so I turned out okay - Bowie, Talking Heads, Duran Duran, to name a few - but music was something that definitely grabbed me right from the start.

As far as visual art goes, I was really impacted by graffiti and the process of tagging as an art form. I had always been drawing and painting, but when I saw graffiti in Detroit, it changed my mind about what I wanted to do. I was around 12 or 13 and I wasn't sure of what I wanted to do exactly, but I was so massively in love with what I saw that it took over. Everything I have painted since then has stemmed from the influence of seeing tags on Detroit’s outdoor walls Now, I spend most of my time between both painting and making music. Right now, with painting, I am really enjoying collaborating with friends and other artists around me. I have a lot of fun bringing my work out of the studio a little more and working with people that might think in a different way than me visually. As far as music goes, I am in the middle of writing an EP with my band from Colorado. We will be recording soon at Assemble Sound here in Detroit. Stoked!

When did you decide to pursue your art full time? Or was there never really another option for you?

That’s a good question. Up until about a year ago, I feel like I was still toying with the idea of getting a “real-job”, something with a salary and finding something that could maybe help fund my art projects in a more sustainable way. But I soon realized that anything with a real 9-5 schedule would inherently take me away from making artwork to the degree that I wanted to be.

From then on, I knew the focus for me had to be making art full time. Even when I was coaching swimming or working at a restaurant, I would come back to the studio and find a way to paint and produce music full-time, too. Working towards my own vision of what I want to create is what is really important to me and that’s when I stay motivated.

Can you tell me a bit about one of your more recent pieces -- what inspired it, what was the creative process like?

 I had this crazy dream the night before I painted it, but all I could remember when I woke up was that it involved finding this certain shade of light blue. So I went straight to the studio trying to replicate what I saw in the dream. The creative process itself involves lots of layering and waiting for paint to dry. That remained true for this piece too.

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In general, do you have a creative process you stick to when making art, or does it vary from piece to piece?

In general, the process stays pretty much the same. I will often just start painting and make it up as I go. Other times, I will be really into a certain color scheme and want to make a piece around that, or even just one particular color. But yeah, most of the time my process stays the same as far as working on canvas goes, finding balance within the constraints of the frame.

You're a visual artist as well as a musician -- do you find that these two art forms compliment each other/bleed into each other in some ways?

Definitely. I feel like art and music bleed into one another for sure. But for me, I can also use one form to kind of escape from the other. Using both as forms of expression can be really nice to help me feel refreshed, and I can come back to each with a new set of eyes.

I have also always loved album covers and band t-shirts as art forms, and that's a perfect combination of music with visual. One of my favorites in that regard is Peter Saville and the work he did for New Order and Joy Division during his time at Factory Records. His translation from music to visual is so seamless, and it never fails to impress me. It’s also a good reminder that while art and music can live in separate worlds, really good things can happen when they are combined in a conscious way.

Who are some artists -- living or dead -- that inspire you the most?

Art: REVOK, RETNA, POSE, HENSE, the whole MSK crew… José Parlá, Elian Chali, there are really too many good ones to name!

Music: Debbie Harry, Henry Rollins, and Jessica Hernandez from Detroit as of late.

What was your time like living at the Forge and in Detroit? What did you learn/take away from this experience?

I feel so incredibly grateful to have been included in The Forge, especially in the first crew living at the house. Something that was really reinforced with this whole experience is that taking risks is always rewarding. In this case, we all weren’t really sure what would happen with The Forge and how long it would take to get the house ready for shows & other resident artists, but it was something we all had a passion for, which was the most important part. When I moved into the house, literally day one, I was encouraged to paint the walls from top to bottom and just go crazy in making the house feel like a truly creative space in any way I wanted. I would constantly be asking The Forge (Anna & Caroline) what they thought about hosting a jam session the next weekend, or “what about a punk basement show on Friday?” and next thing I know there's forty people moshing in my basement. I feel really thankful for the liberty that I had to execute my own ideas, as wild as they were.

The amazing thing about The Forge is that they are incredibly open to new ideas and that has really influenced me as I pushed my own artistic boundaries while I was working there. I feel like this place is truly a testament to the idea that your environment affects your creative output because I felt so artistically motivated having a studio there. Being around other creative people on a mission is the fuckin' best.

What’s next for you artistically? What are you most looking forward to in art and in life?

Whatever I am creating artistically always comes from where I’m at personally. To me, it’s one in the same, and in order for me to make art or music honestly, I have to be real with myself and check in with what makes me happiest as a person first.

I just returned to Detroit after spending a month all across Thailand, and that really opened my mind to what’s next for me. Before I went on the trip, I knew I loved to travel, but this was really a testament to my nomadic tendencies and what makes me feel the most alive as a human. I would love to find a way to travel more often and continue to make art and music while doing so. I think that’s what I am looking forward to most in life as well -- figuring out creative ways to keep doing what I love with the people I love, and seeing the world along the way.