129 Tyanna J. Buie

Born Chicago, IL, 1984/BA, Western Illinois University, Macomb, IL/MFA, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Lives in Detroit

Decisively and colorfully, Tyanna Buie contends that “getting out of the storm” of an overwrought psyche and easing into a calm demeanor is a crucial prerequisite for conceiving rich, reverberant art. She observes as well, “My art is much louder than I am,” metaphorically describing her inclination to work on a muralistic scale, of limning larger than life figures, and of rendering complex, multilayered images. In response to the troubled, sundered families (her own, and one senses, untold numbers of others) who are often her subjects, such tactics and an exploratory mindset beget deep-seated emotions, ranging from bittersweet to extremes of joy and anguish.

And Sweet Escape, a prime example of her compositional mettle, does exactly that with sweep and drama. The almost three year gestation of the work (2009 – 2012) extended from the death of Buie’s uncle in prison, whose towering mug shot dominates the composition, to its completion and display in 2012. Printmaker Buie subsequently produced a 16 foot wide screen print with hand-applied ink on multiple sheets of paper. Assembling and printing enlarged images of the uncle’s visage, a letter from her mother (which serves as a flowing, calligraphic backdrop), plus a photograph of a gated window, angel wings to evoke the “sweet escape” of the title, and a commemorative red carnation, a long absent family member becomes the unforgettable subject of a monumental memento mori.

The gathering together of telling details in Sweet Escape became Buie’s modus operandi. The process, ostensibly aesthetic, is also research to reanimate a subject (deceased uncle) or trigger recollections of her own unsettled, peripatetic youth as she was shuttled multiple times between Chicago and Milwaukee. Thus, small items take on resonant, even obsessive import—mug shot, lamp, silver teapot, item of clothing, jewelry, toy, hot comb, playground swing, Polaroid photograph—from which Buie’s expansive murals or installations are envisioned and pieced together. An assistant professor and chair of printmaking at College for Creative Studies, Buie also organizes and teaches workshops for children in schools and institutions so that, like her, they too learn creative ways to contend with a world that often overwhelms them.

In the austere Upper MiddleClass (2013), Buie “wall-papered” a gallery at the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee with screen printed panels to mimic a proper, somberly hued, old world interior as background for a display of silver serving ware, teapots, candelabra, and trays, borrowed from the institution’s collection. On another wall, a cluster of Family Mugshots (of Buie family members) in decorous Victorian frames added an audacious ironic edge to her vividly reimagined former family legacy.

Holidays loom large in family memories as well, and hence faded Polaroids of Easter scenarios provide access to joyful but fretful moments.Easter Preparation (2017) reveals a young girl’s hair being pulled and teased into shape. The large scale of this monotype—8 x 6’—implies both the singular and rippling effect of an archetypal moment. Equally anticipatory is Easter Sunday, 4-19-92 (2014) where the froth of the girls’ pink, puffy dresses is offset by the nearly invisible older brother at center standing watch over them. Articles of clothing also perform as paths to the past, as in Buie’s 2018 Church Clothes, School Clothes, Play Clothes. The hand-cut forms of #3and #2 from the series, poised as haunting, hollow fragments on a wall, hint at the potency of youthful attire to summon memories both personal and prototypic.

Another of Buie’s sizable compositions devoted to family members is The Family Matriarch of 2016, an imposing, over life size portrait of her grandmother. In a setting stretching twelve and a half feet wide, the matriarch breaks through the pictorial space and all but enters the viewer’s domain, her relaxed pose and broad smile drawing one in. Buie’s matron, however, is literally tethered, by a metal chain, to the miscellaneous objects on the right, including “Grandmother’s Lamp,” a fancy, ornate lamp (sans shade) that appears in a number of the artist’s works as a key link to previous generations. Here, an ancestor and the objects “tied” to her home and presence personify the often elusive familial harmony that Buie has tendered as her artistic legacy over the last decade.

Recently (mid 2019), the artist mounted “Estate Sale,” a multi-media display of images, screen prints, and three-dimensional objects drawn from the charismatic mementoes that have figured prominently in her art. Buie sees it as the finale to this phase of her artistic career, perhaps a fond, if bittersweet, farewell. “As they say,” offers Buie, ‘”everything must go.’”

Dennis Alan Nawrocki

Copyright Essay’d 2019