Artist to Watch: Britney Noriega

(photo by Jim Barcus)

Human behavior, feminism and storytelling drive the Kansas City artist’s compelling figurative surrealism

With a background in psychology and art, Brittany Noriega draws inspiration from the complex social dynamics governing human behavior.

Intelligent and empathetic, the Kansas City artist wears many hats. In addition to making art, she’s a zine creator and curator, community activist, psychology student, business owner and recently, the new project manager for InterUrban ArtHouse.

Noriega’s figurative style and use of graphite lend themselves to large-scale drawings on paper or foam core. Centered, she says, “in personal stories of abuse, trauma, and overcoming challenges,” her aesthetic embraces a vulnerability and versatility most artists wouldn’t glance at sideways.

In conversation, the artist conveys peace and poise. “Experimentation is how you grow, but also how you see new things . . . I’ll try anything, and if it looks fun, I’ll do it,” Noriega says. She has worked with graphite on dresses — notably at the Kansas City Artist Coalition’s “Coalesce” Fashion Show in 2021 — experimented with lighting, and created a video installation for the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

Noriega’s 8 x 4’ drawing “Silver Lining” was displayed at the KC Streetcar stop at 12th and Main for the Art in the Loop project. (private collection)

Noriega’s work combines the figurative and the floral, seamlessly blending surrealistic elements with a unique brand of punk rock feminist attitude and emotionally articulate photographic realism. These disparate elements converge until the lines distinguishing them melt away into more subtle suggestions. “My goal is to create a spark that starts a conversation about what women go through every day — the good and the bad,” she related in a recent interview sponsored by the UMKC Women’s Center.

Noriega’s prolific output encompasses images of breathtaking craftsmanship, minute complexity of form, and fantastical content, as seen in her series of meticulous graphite drawings of female forms and faces entwined with vines and flowers. They include “Silver Lining,” a large-scale drawing that graced the KC Streetcar stop at 12th and Main for the Art in the Loop project. The piece addresses human resilience with elaborately interwoven ethereal detail synthesizing the fragile, phantasmal, the speculative and the familiar to convey both social commentary and meditative acumen.

Brittany Noriega, “Grow,” 30 x 40”, graphite (from the artist)

Born in Kansas City, Noriega grew up abroad, living in countries as diverse as Turkey and Japan before landing in South Dakota. She attended the University of South Dakota and Black Hills State University, where she studied studio art and sociology at both institutions.

In South Dakota, Noriega worked as an apprentice at a tattoo shop, and within the decade, became the shop’s owner, honing her illustration and technical skills and adopting a “Do It Yourself” ethos and community sensibility.

In 2015, Noriega moved back to Kansas City and has since racked up some significant accolades, including an ArtsKC Inspiration Grant, a studio residency at the InterUrban ArtHouse, and a Rocket Grant from Charlotte Street. She has exhibited in both solo and group shows at Missouri Western State University, Beco Gallery, the Smalter Gallery and others. She is represented by Cerbera Gallery in Kansas City.

“It’s all very interesting to me why people do what they do in a group setting, societally, individually. I’m just interested in why people do what they do,” says Noriega, who is finishing a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southern New Hampshire University. Rather than expecting viewers to extract a specific message from the heady psychological nuances at play in her work, she wants them to speak uniquely to each individual.

Noriega characterizes herself as a blend of formal, academically trained artist and self-taught artist. “I’ve been an artist forever,” she says, “and I like to combine my studies (in sociology and psychology) with my art . . . a lot of it is based in human behavior, feminism, storytelling. I’ve always been fascinated with human behavior and that end of human existence.”

For more about Noriega, visit bmnoriega.art.

Core. cover by Chico Sierra


KC zine highlights local artists

Brittany Noriega comes from the tattoo DIY subculture, known for producing many zines shared among industry professionals, artists and patrons. Her history in this culture served, in part, as a catalyst for Noriega to kickstart the quarterly Kansas City arts zine, core.

Core. is motivated by Noriega’s entrepreneurial spirit and her desire to uplift the “core” of the Kansas City arts scene — the artists themselves — by providing them with higher visibility, opportunities for networking, and sharing of their works, lives and practices.

Founded in 2021, core. has primarily been a solo endeavor by Noriega, who does the bulk of the grunt work — soliciting, curating, desktop publishing and fundraising. The publication received a Rocket Grant from Charlotte Street in 2022. The cover artwork and the inside of the zine are all about local artists, who are paid a fee for their contributions.

Thus far, there have been eight issues, with the next due out in June. Typical contents include interviews with artists alongside headshots and pieces of their work curated by Noriega from a series of submissions. Kansas City artists including Chico Sierra, Terri Pollack, Cesar Lopez and Tanith Kartman have done core. covers.

Noriega also expresses her social and creative vision through her writing for the zine. “I wrote an article about having more diversity in institutions throughout the metro and in the arts community,” Noriega said, “and sometimes I think that needs to be said but isn’t often said.”

Core. has brought together multiple disciplines, from visual art to music, literature, poetry, design and more. “I kind of watch what’s going on,” Noriega says. “It’s fun . . . (to) let other people get their voice out.”

Now that the zine is becoming increasingly visible, it’s finding a warm, appreciative home among artists. Core. is available online at https://bmnoriega.art/core, and there are distribution points for hard copies throughout the Kansas City metro area, including InterUrban ArtHouse, The Smalter Gallery, Beco Gallery, and other artist-oriented shops, studios and institutions on both the Kansas and Missouri sides of the state line. In June core. is presenting a group show at The Smalter Gallery, which plans opening and closing receptions, a discussion and possibly a performance segment.

For more information, bmnoriega.art/core.

Alexej Savreux

Alexej Savreux is a poet, satirist and critic and the author of five books of poetry, including "Graffiti on the Window." He divides his time between Kansas City, Missouri, and rural New York, and his work has won international awards.

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