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Black Art at Rice: A Conversation with Chabrielle Allen

"Self Portrait #1" by Chabrielle Allen. Courtesy of artist.

By Katelyn Landry     9/8/20 9:04pm


Editor’s note: This is an installment of Black Art at Rice, a Q&A series that aims to shed light on the inspirations, influences, wisdom and work of Black artists in the Rice community. Have someone in mind whose art should be in the spotlight? Nominate them here.

This week, the Thresher sat down with Chabrielle Allen (Hanszen College ’20), an alumna who earned her Bachelor of Arts in religion with a focus on culture and society in August. Currently living in her hometown of Roswell, New Mexico, Allen spoke about her artistic journey during her time at Rice, the intersection of technology and art and the importance of diverse representation in the art world. 

The Rice Thresher: When did you start doing art?

Chabrielle Allen: I've kind of always been making art — ever since I was a kid I liked to draw. I always thought about pursuing art more seriously, but as a low-income student I didn't really feel like that was an option for me. So I chose to start out as computer science, and then changed my major to religion and took an art class at Rice [and someone] told me I should go to art school, so now I'm kind of thinking about doing that. I've just kind of always been interested in art and always trying out different techniques and mediums.

RT: Was it a professor who told you that you should go to art school?

CA: It was actually the beginning painting professor, Natasha Bowdoin, who told me I should try art school. It was the first art class I'd taken at Rice, and she said that I had just had a lot of really good potential considering that I hadn't really taken a lot of art classes before. And then, aside from her, the new magisters at Hanszen also looked at some of my work and said that I should consider pursuing art school as well because they basically said the same thing, that I had a lot of potential.

RT: That’s so exciting, what kind of art schools are you thinking about? 

CA: I've looked at the Rhode Island School of Design, Harvard [University]'s art school, a couple of different art schools in Houston like the Art Institute. I've been thinking about how my experience with computer science and technology could maybe fuse into a more art focused career. So I'm just looking at digital art and animation and those kinds of programs as well as fine arts programs. 

RT: Yeah, I noticed your studies have been very interdisciplinary. In your opinion, what would you say the value is of being engaged in several different disciplines at once?

CT: For me personally, as a woman in tech and as somebody who is still attempting to work in the tech industry post-graduation, it's really important to come from an interdisciplinary background, especially in today's world where we're so focused around data. Thinking about how we can actually use data to help people and understanding the different kinds of hidden biases that [exist] in data. So I feel like my major with religious studies helps me really expand my vocabulary in terms of understanding how people work, how people see the world and understand our place within it. And kind of seeing how we can apply that into technology and how we can see how to actually make human focused technology rather than profit from this technology.

RT: How would you describe your style?

CA: I really enjoy very fine, crisp line work in my art. I've been trying to figure out how to bring more, I guess, "mess" into it, so kind of creating a balance between very fine, crisp, neat work, and more kind of freeform.

"Seashells" by Chabrielle Allen. Courtesy of artist.

RT: Do you have a favorite piece of art that you've done so far?

CA: Ah, I think my favorite piece has been my final painting for my beginning painting class. I feel like it very much encapsulated everything that I learned in that class and it really kind of shows my style and the way I think, and I very much enjoyed the entire process behind creating it. Whenever I look at that painting I just kind of think of all of the different steps that I took to get it to where it was at and that's why it's my favorite. It was kind of my first very serious, more abstract piece of art.

RT: Are there any particular artists or maybe periods that have been particularly influential to you?

CA: I am a huge fan of Charline von Heyl's work. I did my final painting in the beginning painting class kind of based around her work and was inspired by her work. I'm also a really big fan of Jackson Pollock. I try to expose myself to new artists, I've been looking up a lot of Black creatives specifically because as a Black student I feel like I haven't been super exposed to a lot of work outside of the Renaissance era and other very overly famous artists from the past. I feel like I haven't gotten as much exposure as I could to other forms and other periods of art, but I'm trying to expand.

RT: Could you speak to the value of anyone being more exposed to Black artists and Black creators, especially in like academic settings?

CA: Yeah I think that exposure to Black artists is really important, just because it helps to kind of see how Black people kind of think about things and how we reflect on our experiences [...] how we lost a huge part of our own cultures through slavery and things like that and how we've had to build anew.

RT: Do you have any advice for any artists in the Rice community, specifically students of color?

CA: I would say definitely try taking an art class if you get the chance. It's just a really good way to expand on your own creativity and it helps you reflect on what it is to create. Nothing has to be perfect. I know a lot of minority students, we often feel that we have to constantly overachieve and overperform to just kind of be on par with everybody else, but art doesn't have to be perfect to be art. If you make something, it's art.

Allen’s art portfolio can be found at her personal website

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