Unlike many visual artists, Briana Lenez didn’t start painting as a child, she started much later. However, upon viewing her pieces on Instagram, you would think that she’s been doing it for most of her life. Explore this phenomenal rising artist’s creative path and some details about her as well in our conversation.
Me: Can you speak on the significance of using art as a form of activism?
Briana: Art is supposed to make the viewer feel something. People have different reasons for why they like to create art. For me personally, I create art to uplift the black community and bring us closer together. It’s such a powerful thing, it can really bring about change.
“For me personally, I create art to uplift the black community and bring us closer together.”
Me: I definitely agree, art can help spark different dialogues. It can be used as a platform to bring awareness about issues within our own community and provoke change.
Briana: Absolutely, I feel like we need a black art basel because there’s just so many talented black artists out within this generation. I feel like we just need to come together and create a community of black art that we want to see.
Me: That’s a wonderful idea, it would be lit (laughing)! Would you like to discuss any of your pieces in more detail?
Briana: Well, there’s one that I did recently of a black couple. I saw an image of these two people kissing and I thought it was beautiful. Many times that’s how I’ll start a piece by seeing an image that I’ll want to recreate. I remember when I painted it and posted on IG and this other black artist who goes by @yesterdaynite on IG spotted it. He’s a really dope artist and we talk on occasion. I found out that was actually a picture of him and his girlfriend. I had no idea that was him when I first saw it so it was such a funny coincidence! (laughing)
Me: (Laughing) That’s really cool! Could you dive deeper into the piece as well? I see the different shades of yellow, orange, and red in the background, is there a particular reason why you used these colors?
Briana: Well, the original picture itself was in black and white. I definitely like to paint in bright colors because they make me feel better. In terms of why I chose those colors, it’s just what came to me at the time.
Me: Cool, it’s a dope piece!
Briana: Thank you!
Me: No prob! I see another piece that you did recently with a mother and her son. Would you like to dive deeper into that one?
Briana: I feel like with my art in general I like to create beautiful images of black people because that’s what needs to be seen. Also, when I paint something, of course it starts out with that particular image but then it goes somewhere else. So, the piece isn’t exactly what the original image looked like, I gave it my own flare.
For the first time in a loong time I can actually see the progression in my artwork! That's a really good feeling. Granted I still painted a snake as her cheek bone 😑and his arm is most definitely broken🙄. Baby steps, Bri 🎨💜 #art #arttherapy #rawsiennaart #blackart #dopeblackart #supportblackart #blackartmatters #love #insomniacchronicles #workinprogress
Me: That’s great, it’s definitely needed! Describe your upbringing, where you’re originally from – when you started painting, family background, and education.
Briana: I’m originally from Montgomery County, Maryland and I currently live in Silver Spring. I grew up with my Mom, Dad, and my older brother. My Dad is from the country, Rocky Mountain, North Carolina and my Mom is from DC. My Dad was an artist, I say WAS because he won’t even touch a paintbrush anymore. I think it’s really sad because I would love to paint with him. I went to Hampton University and graduated with a degree in Psychology in 2014. I didn’t start painting until my senior year of college.
Me: Wow, that’s incredible that you’ve started painting that late because usually people start as a kid. You’ve blossomed as an incredible artist in such a short period of time.
Briana: Thank you. During my last year in college, my grandmother passed away and we were very close. I was actually the only person with her when she passed. For some reason, something just came over me and I wanted to paint an image of her. So, I went to Michael’s got some paint brushes, canvases, and acrylic paint and painted her. That was my very first painting and ever since then I haven’t stopped.
“For some reason, something just came over me and I wanted to paint an image of her.”
Me: I’m so sorry for your loss. So, she was basically your muse.
Briana: Thank you. Yea she was, I’ve never thought about it like that.
Me: You mentioned that you went to school at Hampton, what was that experience like going to an HBCU? I didn’t go to an HBCU myself so I always like to get perspectives of those who went.
Briana: I loved my experience at Hampton! I learned a lot both educationally and culturally. There is something very unrealistic about going to an HBCU because you’re immersed within this who black community for four years of your life, then you go back to real life and you’re like ‘damn there’s just white people everywhere!’ (laughing). But, I really appreciate Hampton. They instilled a lot of values into me. I know that experience is something that I’m probably not going to get at another point in my life.
“But, I really appreciate Hampton. They instilled a lot of values into me. I know that experience is something that I’m probably not going to get at another point in my life.”
Me: That’s excellent! Could you give a deeper perspective of how being immersed with a variety of people of the African diaspora affected you?
Briana: Having grown up in Montgomery County Maryland, I would have never dived as deep into my culture as I did having gone to Hampton. There’s definitely all types of black people that I’ve met there that came from areas such as Alaska and Hawaii. We became a community of people who shared a common understanding of who we are no matter where we come from.
Me: That’s great you mentioned that you’ve met different people from across the country like Alaska where people wouldn’t normally think would have black people living there.
Briana: Definitely! It’s given me a better view of just how diverse the African diaspora is.
Me: Were there any types of organizations that you were a part of at Hampton particularly those that may have played a role in the type of artist that you are today?
Briana: I actually spent three years as a Nursing major and at that point in time it took over my life. I didn’t really have time for anything else. Once I got to my senior year, I decided to change my major to Psychology. I was actually very happy with that choice. In terms of what I want to do, I want to go into Art Therapy. I just think it’s funny how Psychology became my major in my senior year and that’s when I started painting too. The two just came into my life at the same time. Once I changed my major then I started becoming more involved and I participated in a research team.
Me: Yea, I definitely understand that you were so consumed with Nursing, that’s a very difficult program to be in. What inspired you to pursue Art Therapy?
Briana: It’s something that I personally noticed within myself, the healing effects of creating art. I’ve always wanted to do a career based on serving others but I wasn’t always sure in what capacity. I did an Art Therapy course with 8 girls and it was such a beautiful experience. That’s something I can really see myself doing as a career.
“It’s something that I personally noticed within myself, the healing effects of creating art.”
Me: That sounds like a rewarding type of experience as well. Art is definitely therapeutic just being able to have an outlet to express your thoughts and different emotions in a constructive way. Is there any particular group that you’d like to work with?
Briana: I would be very happy working with the youth. I worked in the school system for the past 2 years. I worked in a Spanish immersion elementary school in Wheaton, Maryland as a teacher’s assistant. I worked with kids that had multi-behavioral issues from Kindergarten through fifth grade. The group was very diverse, I had white, black, asian, and hispanic kids. I miss those kids so much!
Me: That’s awesome! Describe how you approach your creative process, what’s your ideal environment to bring out your full range creativity?
Briana: Frida Kahlo is like my soul sister (laughing). She was physically limited to painting in her bed, she would be laying down. I kind of do the same thing. I create almost everything in my bedroom often playing music.
Me: Speaking of music, what’s currently on your playlist that helps spark those creative vibes?
Briana: I listen to all types of music! I love J. Cole’s new album. I like Jazz, R&B, Rap, some Trap, and even Classical music. My iPod has the most random stuff you’ll probably ever hear. You’ll hear some Future then you’ll hear something from Duke Ellington.
Me: Wow, so where does that varied taste in music come from?
Briana: It definitely comes from my Dad, his music taste is very eclectic.
Me: That’s cool. Is there anything else like a specific routine that you do in order to get into that creative mood?
Briana: Not really. I never have to sit down and think, ‘okay I have to do this specific thing’ in order to get the vibes flowing. When I get home from work, I just go to my canvas and start painting. It’s like an energizer for me, it’s something I’m almost always wanting to do.
“When I get home from work, I just go to my canvas and start painting. It’s like an energizer for me.”
Me: That’s great that you can just instantly get into that mood to create.
Briana: It’s almost sometimes a bad thing though because I may have somebody over and they’re like “I want you to hang out with me” and then I’ll be like, “Yea, but I got to go finish this painting real quick (laughing)!” Don’t get me wrong, I love doing live painting though. It’s one of my favorite ways to paint.
Me: Nice! Can you tell me more about some of those live painting events?
Briana: Sure. I just had an event called Pure Poetry. It was an open Mic type of event where they played music, and people sang. It was a very expressive atmosphere. I was at the front doing the live painting. I was vibing to the music and listening to people express themselves. There’s just something about being in a room full of people, their energy just helps me paint better.
“There’s just something about being in a room full of people, their energy just helps me paint better.”
Me: That sounds like it was a great environment just being able to paint in just being surrounded by all the creative energy. What painting did you do at that event?
Briana: It was a painting of Taraji P. Henson and it has geometric shapes in the background. I literally had no idea what I was going to paint that night until a few hours before I got there (laughing)! It was nerve-racking. I saw the picture of her before the event and decided I was going to do a portrait of her.
Me: Wow, that’s dope! Is there any particular reason why you put the geometric shapes in the background as well?
Briana: Well, that was just more of me experimenting with what I could do with lines and shapes. I haven’t had any formal art training so I feel like a lot of my artwork is very raw. I always like to see progression within my art.
Me: When did you first start selling your artwork?
Briana: I first started selling my work about 2 years ago at a RAW Artists showcase at Howard Theatre in DC. It was a big deal for me because I had just started painting like a year and a half ago prior. Just to have that opportunity was something I was very proud of. I remember going to that event feeling like I wasn’t going to sell anything, but then I ended up selling 4 paintings that night.
“I remember going to that event feeling like I wasn’t going to sell anything, but then I ended up selling 4 paintings that night.”
Me: Wow, congratulations! I can imagine that the event just sparked a new level of confidence within you.
Briana: Thank you and yes it did!
Me: No problem! Can you give me more details about RAW Artists?
Briana: RAW Artists is an organization that does showcases across the country. You send in your artwork and they select a limited group to show at the event. I actually found out about it from my cousin. After I sent in my work, it took months for them to get back to me but when I got that response I was so happy. I was like, ‘wow, they like my work?’ (laughing)
I've been putting in a lot of work but it will all pay off. May 6!!!! The Howard Theatre. Raw DC presents Sensory! A showcase for Visual Art 🎨 Film 🎥 Fashion 👠 Makeup 💄Dance 👯 etc. Tickets are $15 online/ $20 at the door. Sound cool?.. Help support by going to the link on the flyer (or in my bio) & purchasing a ticket through my profile. I'd love to see your faces! Thanks in advance & Stay blessed 😉 #DC #art #RawDC #RawArtists #TheHowardTheatre #painting @rawartistswdc
Me: Cool! What was the experience like?
Briana: RAW Artists is for creatives of all aspects – there were painters, photographers, musicians, and fashion designers there. The fact that there were so many different artists in one space put me in the mindset, ‘Briana, you’re an artist now.’ I got to meet and network with so many creatives.
“The fact that there were so many different artists in one space put me in that mindset, ‘Briana, you’re an artist now.’”
Me: That sounds phenomenal! Just being able to meet so many different types of artists, and create those types of relationships is going to push you forward as an artist too. Kudos to you!
Briana: Thank you!
Me: If you could collaborate with any artist on an upcoming piece who would it be and why?
Briana: The guy that I mentioned earlier, IG: @yesterdaynite, he is so awesome! I would love to collaborate with him. It doesn’t even have to be painters though, I could make a mixtape cover for an upcoming music artist. I’m open to collaborating in many different ways. Here’s other really dope artists I’d like to collaborate with as well – @creator_crj, @bcjxart, @mjharrattan, @zo_leartistae, and @kbj_artz.
The beginnings of a very large project 😬 Super excited! Who gave me permission to paint on walls?! That was their first mistake 🎨💜 #trouble #wallpainting #muralpainting #muralartist #art #painting #love #blackart #dopeblackart #rawsiennaart #insomniacchronicles #blacklove #themakingsofyou #thebeginning
Me: I could definitely see you and @yesterdaynite collaborating, whatever you guys create would be incredible. What types of mediums can you use and what do you prefer to use?
Briana: I mainly use acrylic. I’ve used oil as well and there’s a vast difference between the two. I definitely like the look of oil but I’m not as knowledgeable about oil painting as I am with acrylic. I love that acrylic dries so quickly.
Me: Cool. I’ve painted before in school but I’ve never dove deep into it. I just let it go and used colored pencil.
Briana: I love drawing as well. I wouldn’t be able to use the images that I paint if I didn’t draw. When I draw, I like to use whatever materials that I have available at the time. If I have ballpoint pens, copic markers, and crayons then I’m going to use them to create whatever I want to.
“If I have ballpoint pens, copic markers, and crayons then I’m going to use them to create whatever I want to.”
Me: That’s too dope! So, you’re really a mixed-media type of artist.
Briana: Yea (laughing). I actually got a chance to do a show a few months ago called the Saint Pablo Art Show which was such a cool event. I didn’t realize until the very end of the show that 5 young black guys coordinated it. I feel like that’s what we need to do as a whole to uplift each other as a community and build platforms that cater to us.
Me: Definitely! That’s another reason why I started this platform as well to highlight these emerging black artists with diverse talents and create an online community.
Me: Could you give me more details about the Saint Pablo Art Show?
Briana: Yea, the Saint Pablo Art Show featured a group of 20-25 artists. Everybody had to bring in at least one Kanye West inspired piece of art. The event was held in Baltimore. They made a huge profit as well.
Me: Cool. This is actually a great segway to the our next question, In your opinion, what do you think young black visual artists can do to create more opportunities for themselves?
Briana: We need to learn to work together to build masterpieces, and by masterpieces I don’t just mean works of art. It’s about building masterpieces like events such as the Saint Pablo Art Show. I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who have said that they wanted to start a blog but you actually did it and I think that’s really dope. I think it just takes that initiative to go out there and make it happen.
“I think it just takes that initiative to go out there and make it happen.”
Me: I agree! It may not work out but at least you tried, and plus a project may seem like a failure but you may be able to save that project, revamp it and take a different approach with it.
Me: What’s your favorite piece you created?
Briana: My favorite piece is called Frida. Whenever I go to different art events I’ll always bring that piece with me. People get mad at me because they’ll ask, “how much is that?” but then I’ll say, ‘I’m not selling this one.’ (laughing) That was one of the first portraits I did in oil. In my opinion, oil is a very difficult medium to use so I was proud because it came out very well. It’s based on a painting that Frida Kahlo did. It’s a self-portrait of her but I put my own spin on it. I put a moon in the background because in Astrology, the moon is associated with the sign Cancer. Both me and Frida are Cancers.
Me: Wow, that’s great! Also, which do you prefer to paint – portraits of celebrities or other iconic figures or those that are more imaginative?
Briana: I enjoy both. However, the more imaginative paintings are the ones that are more therapeutic. Whenever I do create, I want there to be a story behind it or at least something explainable about my art.
“The more imaginative paintings are the ones that are more therapeutic.”
Me: I also enjoy those who can tell stories with their visuals. Some artists have that great ability to depict a certain moment in time or evoke certain types of feelings within their work. I think that really goes well with the story aspect of art, just being able to communicate certain messages across different types of people. I know you mentioned your father earlier, but are there any other artists in your family?
Briana: My father actually got his degree in art from North Carolina A & T University. I think since he’s been working as a Graphic Designer for so long, I swear he’s scared to go back to physically putting pencil to paper again. I literally tried to get him to draw again but he won’t do it (laughing)! My cousin is also an artist even though he creates more disturbing type of art (laughing)! I’m sure that’s what he’s trying to do with his art though to make you feel uncomfortable. Those are the only two artists within my family.
Me: That’s interesting that you mentioned your Dad and the fact that he won’t go back to using traditional mediums anymore.
Briana: Yea, it’s crazy because he has all this old artwork down in the basement and it is amazing! He did stuff that I could never do. I hope I never lose my drive to create art.
Me: Yea, I feel you! What was the most challenging piece you’ve done?
Briana: It’s a piece I did of the back of this girl’s head and she has Bantu knots. Sometimes as an artist I’m not as patient as I should be. So, it was challenging in that regard because I actually sat down and painted each individual strand of hair the way it actually looked in the original image which is not something that I always take the time to do. But, I was very happy with the end result of it.
Me: That’s phenomenal! Go head girl!
Briana: Thank you! (laughing) Another thing about me though as an artist is that I am a professional starter, I love starting pieces. But, once I’ve worked on painting for a complete night, I almost hate going back to it because I’m never in the same place that I was when I started it. So, I have a lot of unfinished paintings that I need to go back to. I feel like I’m going to ruin it if I go back to it.
“Once I’ve worked on a painting for a complete night, I almost hate going back to it because I’m never in the same place that I was when I started it.”
Me: I definitely understand where you’re coming from because it does feel different when you come back to work on a piece the next day as opposed to when you were working on it the day before. Plus, I don’t know if you ever had this experience before, but I know one day I’ll have a piece that looks one way and then the next day it’ll look different. It’s like your eyes are playing tricks on you.
Briana: (Laughing) Yes, I definitely know what you’re talking about. It reminds me of when I took a random art class in High School. My teacher always told me to “look again.” When you look at a piece once you’ll see one thing but once take a second look you’ll see more details. It was the simplest advice but it was good advice that I still use till this day.
Me: Yea, that’s true. Describe a time when you experienced a creative block, and how did you overcome it?
Briana: For me, I’ve always been a doodler so you can put a piece of paper in front of me and I’ll create something. But, there are definitely times when I just hate everything that I’m creating. The great thing about painting though is that there’s nothing that you can’t just paint over. I’ve painted some of my favorite pieces right on top of some of my ugliest pieces (laughing)! At that point I’ll keep creating until I come up with something that I like.
Me: Nice! It’s good that you try to persist, but sometimes you just have to start over. How has your artwork shaped you as a person?
Briana: Painting has done a lot of healing in my life just from when I started. It’s a very great outlet and it’s given me so many different opportunities. I’m glad that I found art, it’s brought a great source of joy in my life.
“I’m glad that I found art, it’s brought a great source of joy in my life.”
Me: It definitely looks like it! (laughing) Everytime I look at your work I get joy from seeing the beauty of our people with our many hues represented across the spectrum.
Briana: Yes! Brown is actually my favorite color that’s why I call my IG page Raw Sienna. Raw Sienna is my favorite color of paint that I feel like is closest to my skintone. Every single painting that you see of mine has that color in it.
“Raw Sienna is my favorite color of paint that I feel like is closest to my skintone.”
Me: That’s dope! It’s a great name! What is your most proud achievement so far as an artist?
Briana: That Raw Artists showcase was my a proud moment for me because I was able to invite my family and friends as well as sell my first paintings there.
Me: That’s great! Do you still talk to some of those artists that you’ve met at the showcase?
Briana: Yes, there was one girl that I met at that showcase and I run into her all the time (laughing). I do a lot of art events in DC mainly and I just always manage to run into her. I think that there are just certain artists and others that you were meant to meet for a reason. Maybe one day we could collaborate.
Me: That’s awesome, yea that’s what it’s about connecting with other artists. Those relationships are important.
Briana: Right, and it’s never been about competition for me. If I see a black girl doing her thing and making the most phenomenal art, I’m going to feel proud and want to congratulate her. I’m going to build her up. We need to be down for one another.
“If I see a black girl doing her thing and making the most phenomenal art, I’m going to feel proud and want to congratulate her.”
Me: I feel you, it’s so critical for us to be supportive of each other. Unity is powerful. Would you like to share any upcoming projects/exhibitions?
Briana: I just started a piece recently and it’s actually painted over a piece that I didn’t like that much so I got a fresh start. I’m still not sure which way I want it to go though. I have two live painting events coming up. One is a benefit fundraiser for Haiti in DC where I’ll be auctioning off a live painting. The other one is at a music coffee house here in Silver Spring.
Me: Praises to you Briana, you’re doing your thing!
Briana: Thank you!
Me: What’s your vision for the future in terms of your artistry?
Briana: My biggest vision for the future is to have a full-time career in Art Therapy. I just did an art therapy event and I wasn’t expecting it to get as deep as it did. People were in tears and the art just allowed them to have an outlet to release those emotions. That first event that I did was a baby step but I’m really glad I took that step and I hope it leads to bigger things.
Me: Excellent! Well Briana, thank you so much for taking the time to interview with me! I wish you much success in your future!
Briana: Thank you and I appreciate your being featured on your blog as well, this was dope!