(photo by Pete Dulin)
The Kansas City painter enjoyed a ‘jam-packed busy 2022,’ with work in Kemper Museum’s ‘Women to Watch 2024’ exhibition and showings in Miami, Los Angeles and London
Self-described “athletic painter” Bianca Fields examines “how Black women should comport themselves” in society, including herself, addressing this potent subject matter through kinetic mark-making, texture, thematic elements and composition. Working in the solitude of her East Crossroads second-floor studio, Fields applies vigorous movement and dynamic colors that activate her paintings on Japanese-manufactured yupo paper mounted on panels. She deploys thick swabs of acrylic and oil paint and gauzy spray paint in black, lilac, copper, magenta, cadmium yellow and electric blue.
Fields, born in Cleveland, Ohio, studied at The Cleveland Institute of Art College. She moved to Kansas City with her partner, who works at Garmin. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Fields gained “a deeper understanding of Kansas City.” She decided Kansas City was the best place to live and produce work after graduation.
During a visit earlier this fall, illumination from a skylight pooled and bathed white walls in a cramped section of her studio. Fields prefers to work in that tight space, where seven works in progress formed a tight cluster on two walls. These paintings represented the last of her flurry of work in September of 2022. Deadlines loomed for her to complete paintings for exhibitions in Miami, Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles and Carl Freedman Gallery in London that wrapped up a “jam-packed busy 2022.”
Fields’ paintings have already appeared in galleries in Kansas City, New York, Los Angeles, Seoul, South Korea, and Paris. Last year Fields was one of five artists featured in “A New World — Women to Watch 2024,” an exhibit at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Part of her “mirror” series, six vivid paintings feature energetic brushwork. Details reveal the intense glare of eyes, a coppery maw and the figurative lines of legs, feet and claws of a mandrill.
Fields chose the endangered species, a “figure both prominent and vulnerable,” to represent “the way society attempts to sculpt women of color into performative roles.” Some works include pop culture references to vintage cartoons, such as “Tom and Jerry,” a callback to her childhood. Recurring elements prompt examination of how social forces impact representation of a figure and memories of the subject — how women of color become icons and archetypes, often without consent.
Fields explores this theme from internal and external vantage points. That exploration expanded from “the vague experience of childhood, the darkness of nostalgia” during her art school studies to unflinching introspection throughout the pandemic.
Referring to her most recent paintings, Fields says, “These works are reaching inside to grab components of myself. The disgusting core of myself.”
Indeed, the paintings on her studio walls project an exaggerated sense of the human form turned inside out for all to see. Much like the physical antics of cartoon characters that defy physics and biology, Fields unleashed her own method of portraying the body.
She explores how Black women, their bodies and their conduct are portrayed in media, social media, culture and in our individual thoughts — often outlandish and cartoonish — become imagery for consumption and entertainment, and, for her, a study of the grotesque.
“It’s a slapstick way of imagining myself in space and a theatrical portrayal of women as hysterical,” Fields says. The paintings are “a caricature of my own mental processing. I’m still processing and figuring out where it’s going.”
On a given day, dozens of cans of spray paint stand in loose formation across a table. A mound of acrylic paint tubes and rags rise against a white wall. Splotches of paint as colorful as the smeared dust of butterfly wings adorn brown work pants.
Fields’s striking color palette creates tension and conveys unease, visceral yet harmonious in its emotional weight. For her, the colors evoke the imagery of a bruise, or “picking at a scab and it dries up.” She says, “I’m trying to really explore tension in the paintings.”
Working with color produces a physical sensation within, “a boldly humming noise, a vibration, a feeling of a clash between rotten decayed things.” She likens it to painting a bruise with makeup, knowing what lies underneath.
After a prolific year of painting, 2023 ushers in a welcome opportunity to work at a slower pace. Fields heads to Margate, a quiet seaside town on the north coast of Kent, east of London. “Being by the sea, I’m curious how it will affect my work,” she says. Invited by prominent British artist Tracey Emin, Fields will spend a three-month residency with no pressure of exhibition deadlines and ample time to work at her own pace.