April Fitzpatrick is a visual artist, art therapist, and founder and CEO of Pineapples with Purpose. Her piece Lamp to My Feet, Light to My Path won third place in our Healing Power of Art in Isolation show. Read on to learn about Fitzpatrick’s influences and her incredible work, both as an artist and a therapist.
Fitzpatrick is currently showing in the "ART 4 EQUALITY X LIFE, LIBERTY & THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS” GROUP EXHIBITION + PUBLIC ART SERIES at Untitled Space Gallery in New York City until November 3rd, 2020.
What themes do you address in your work? Are there any motifs/symbols that you like to use throughout your work?
I typically look at life and liberation, trauma (specifically racial trauma), Black aesthetics, and how the symbolism of the pineapple informs Black aesthetics, narrative storytelling, the societal ills of life, and how those impact us either directly or vicariously, through witnessing them. I focus a lot on birth, and community.
As far as symbols, it’s definitely the pineapple. I also look at the symbolism of color, so I’m not afraid to merge different colors, and I take a lot of risks. I include a lot of West African symbols and patterns in my work, and elements of constant change and redirection.
Can you describe the relationship between your work and mental health, whether it be your own mental health, that of viewers and consumers of your work, general concepts, etc.?
My work was a catalyst that propelled me into addressing some things at my core that I had blanketed with academia. That opened up the door to my own mental health—but I was already majoring in psychology. My art informed my practice, which looks at a root cause analysis, examining the social, cultural, and political frameworks that people are affected by—particularly marginalized communities, Black people.
With my work, I use the elements of creativity (via art) to address mental health issues. I take the preventative approach; I try to equip people with the tools of art making, whatever that may look like for them, because we just never know what my rise against us. But I’m also currently working in an environment where people have already been diagnosed with disorders that have gone untreated, so I’m using art as a sensory, kinesthetic experience, to allow them to feel emotion again. So it’s this idea of taking individuals on a journey through their lifeline, through memory.
I focus heavily on memory, metaphor, and symbols. I look at the impact of how art can realign our memory, can replace negative memory, can ignite more positive hormones within our body, can create a safe space for us, can give us empowerment and hope, and can even help us problem solve, just by problem solving through an art project. So, a lot of the art experiences that I engage people in are in the hopes that they will become practical in their real life coping mechanisms, with whatever issues they may be dealing with.
As a participant of the experience, art can be even more powerful because it creates distance between you and your trauma, or you and that situation. So, a lot of times, when people have been traumatized, art serves as the nonverbal mechanism. People may not have the words to quite describe or illustrate that emotional experience, or they might just not want to, they might be too triggered. Art allows them to project onto something else in a safe way—not on an individual, not with an unhealthy coping skill. But they project and see, and when they see it, they regain control to alter it in a way that speaks to them. Rewriting their narrative, rewriting the situation. Or, just feeling those emotions again but then using the art materials to finalize what they see or what they felt. So, viewing art helps empower the individual, helps get it out, helps project it. It helps them to reintegrate into themselves and reach wholeness again, because they’ve gained control again.
As far as a third party viewing it, it could be an interesting experience, especially on a community level, to get people to see the narratives that are behind the scenes of everyday people who don’t fit the typical stigmatized category of what trauma and emotional breaks can look like. So it encourages community members to start engaging in conversation about the art. You don’t necessarily have to know who created it, but certain issues and things can come up to have critical conversations around.
Viewing art can also ignite your own introspection, because you may identify with things that you see in a painting, or drawing, or sculpture, or whatever it may be. And it allows the opportunity for you to connect, which further informs community.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
For a long time, I was drawing inspiration from my own life. Being a native of Mississippi, growing up in Jackson, the symbolism of racism and racial trauma, and how that just spewed into so many different areas of my life. For a while, I was just reliving memories of my own life, reliving stories that had been passed down to me, and things that I had witnessed or seen other people go through.
That translated into me looking heavily into the Harlem Renaissance era, so looking at artists like Jacob Lawrence. I really love Romare Bearden because I love collaging, and 3D work. That was kind of a cathartic era for me, where I was just vomiting up trauma, and then I asked myself, what do I do with this, how do I turn this into advocacy and activism. So, I started to look into the Black arts movement, and really started to project my work into a purpose-driven era.
I’m still in a very exploratory phase. I recently began studying Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. They explore African American artists from the deep south on up, and the influence that they had. These narratives were often not told, these people were often forgotten, slipped through the cracks, weren’t even credited; so for a while I couldn't put a name to where I was drawing my inspiration from, because I wasn't really surrounded by Black artists. I knew they existed, but I didn't know where they were. So I’ve recently been spending time with that.
Carolyn Norris is also another artist from the Mississippi Delta who I recently found out about, and when I read her biography, it clicked for me. My art also doesn’t really fall into a specific category, and sometimes I've felt the pressure of, why can’t I paint a specific thing. I always jump—it all makes sense to me, but from a fine arts perspective, I’m all over the place. So when I read her story, she talked about the natural intuition of going with what you felt that day, or what happened that week, or wherever your memory took you, and I identify more with that.
A Flower of Many
Can you describe your artistic process?
It usually starts with different concepts that I piece together in one picture. I’m generally working on about three or four paintings at a time, and I’m drawing from different things. I go through this phase of beating down my own imperfections, so I become really vulnerable. I’m usually playing gospel music, or soul, R&B music, something that’s going to get me in a vulnerable state; and then I try to paint without questioning myself. I really try to take creative risk, and just allow it to be what it will be.
I start with a theme, those concepts come from the themes that I talked about earlier. I just try to tell the story through the art. A lot of my pieces end up being cohesive in the end, but there are different hidden elements within my painting that, if I don’t speak about them, some people would never know about them, because I don’t go out of my way to make them plain all the time—other than the pineapple.
What is your most notable piece? As in, your favorite, or one with an interesting story behind it, or a piece that especially frustrated you, etc.
Rooted Reflections hits me in a different way. Some pieces really force you to go back in time, and spend time with things that maybe you thought you’d gotten over, or that you’d suppressed. Rooted Reflections is like a rediscovery of viewing myself through the lens of my mother. It’s about the relationship between women. The generational lineage of maternal relationships. So me as a child, reflected on and looking at my mother’s mother, stories about her grandmother.
And allowing me to use art to give my mother grace, and forgive her in areas where I thought there may have been harm done, and understanding her narrative through the information that I knew, and accepting that there may be some information that I may never know. And then finding my own peace, and strength, and grace, and forgiveness that I'm giving within myself, and the woman that I've become. There’s definitely a lot of symbolism in that particular picture.
What do you hope that your work conveys?
I usually say, make room for your crown. And that’s rooted in allowing yourself to grow, advocating for the environment that you need, and having empathy enough to understand another person’s journey and story beyond your own space. Definitely giving hope, and I think in the climate we’re in right now, giving voice to those stories that have been silenced in so many ways. And decreasing the stigma around mental health, and how we have these conversations, and who can have these conversations. I’m making it accessible to everyone.
Initially I was working on a project titled The Pineapple Metaphor. That was an exploratory phase of different paintings. I was set to have my first solo show, and so Covid cancelled that. The solo show was scheduled on my 30th birthday, so I was really amped and ready. I had put myself in a very chaotic bind because I did twenty pieces in two months, all different sizes—I’ll never do that again. I was met with the same thing I advocate to help people with. I go through spells of depression myself, and it’s usually triggered from external stimuli. Covid definitely did that for me, so for like a month, I didn’t paint at all. Maybe almost two months.
Somehow I regained my sense of creativity, or maybe I just needed to not paint. So I’m still hoping to do that solo show. I’m applying for residencies. I definitely want to do community work; with my business, my hopes are to get to the place where I can begin executing the art interventions. Because, there are new efforts to discuss racial trauma, but in the past, that has not been a thing. So I think art can be very powerful right now, to start highlighting racial trauma and offering different aspects of it. I’m working on that project through my Pineapples with a Purpose business.
I’m about to start a jewelry line, transferring my paintings onto jewelry. I’m applying for exhibitions, and getting visibility so that I can share this narrative, push it out.