Words: Trish Richter | Photography: Deogracias Lerma
Practiced at managing the creative talents of others, abstract painter Khalilah Birdsong’s career in business has been defined by the intentionality and pragmatism that often comes with that path. She finds herself in a proverbial pool of creativity in her current role as Director of Communications and Engagement for Tyler Perry Studios where she has held various positions for the last eight years. Even with her practical mind juxtaposed to this hub of creation, Khalilah had never seriously explored an artistic medium. But just four short years ago, guided by impulse or intuition, Khalilah left the office and found herself in the paint aisle at Michaels®, the art supply and hobby store. With the difference between oil and acrylic paint lost on her, she chose a wooden bird as her first canvas.
“I remember the first stroke across the bird’s wing: August 4th, 2012. I was hooked, transcended,” Khalilah told me. After the bird came small canvases, which eventually yielded to dimensions of seven to ten feet. She laughs and tells me that the six-foot canvases surrounding us are babies. “I’ve always wanted to paint big. I guess I’ve always had a lot to say; my soul had a lot to get out,” she said.
An endeavor that began as a data dump thrust her into the discovery of the depths of her own creativity, rather than that of others.
Khalilah’s studio is based at The Goat Farm Arts Center in Atlanta where she grew up, but she was born in Ohio and tells me that being here feels like coming home. We met at Cincinnati Art Underground where her exhibition, Amalgamation, is on display. The collection of abstract paintings is striking in both scale and saturation, but the physicality of her work offers another dimension for those who seek out her work in person. There’s intentionality to the layering and stripping away of paint, almost reflective of her pragmatic mind, which creates texture while revealing glimpses of “older, more forgotten colors.” There’s a viscerality balanced within the stratum that keeps your eyes from resting for too long. Because of this spatial relationship, the viewer’s physical presence adds another layer to her work. While interpretation of any work can be influenced by light, hers can transform with a particular angle.
If you look closely enough, between these layers you’ll find anything from pages of scripts to chunks of charcoal. She follows this layering process and as the materials shift, so do the outcomes. These densely layered pieces are a stage or a layer in their own right within her creative process when viewed alongside other works that embody earlier phases of creation, all holding relationship with one another. Each piece holds its own place in time, its own place in her process of growth. With every added layer and with every layer your mind strips away, the piece takes new form. The spatial relationship transcends to a temporal level for Khalilah. “This amalgamation of time represented is the unification of both materials and the different spaces you find yourself in while creating,” she said.
This amalgamation—this process of combining or uniting—can only be experienced in person.
In just four short years, Khalilah’s paintings have taken their places among major national galleries including Bill Lowe Gallery in Atlanta; on the set of Tyler Perry’s drama “If Loving You Is Wrong;” on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network; and in the personal collection of Barack and Michelle Obama. Additionally, Khalilah works with RH Contemporary Art (Restoration Hardware) and Loupe Art on Apple TV.
You can experience Amalgamation at Cincinnati Art Underground, 1415 Main Street. The exhibition will show through January 21, 2017. Also, find her work at www.khalilahbirdsong.com.