Genesis Tramaine is a self-taught painter who has drawn ever since she was a child. She is known for her expressionist portraits of Black people, complex visages infused with New York subway graffiti mannerisms that include multiple overlaid facial parts. These large paintings often hint of Basquiat, but take his style in another direction, having religious content and being very focused on the portraiture format.Read More
Tramaine has spoken of her love of community church music, in particular the Sunday gospel choir, and its importance to her image construction as a source of spiritual energy and provider of references. However, it goes further than that. These gutsy and energetic constructions showcase her beliefs in Southern Baptist Christianity, and so she is on a proselytising mission, as evidenced by the short sections of Biblical text written occasionally on the canvas, but more often on the sides of the paintings.
Made with oil and acrylic paint with paint stick and spray, her jumbled and dextrously underpainted physiognomies present a West African sensibility that suggests a host of different personalities seemingly trying to take control of a single speaking head. Within each silhouette, Tramaine renders a facial 'explosion', where various repeated body parts are drawn within the contours of the main portrait. This forms a sort of 'speaking in tongues' where the main character is a conduit for other voices striving to be heard, and the intricately inserted eyes and mouths mingle with scattered slashes, winding streaks, dissolving patches, and coloured fragments—all the while tightly controlled in their design and deeply cognisant of the canvas edges.
These paintings clearly have an evangelical purpose. She wants to convert the viewer, and in her studio practice she uses prayer and summons the Holy Spirit. She states that, 'Each piece is a gospel song.' Sometimes works are titled after colourful personalities in the Bible, or members of her family, and usually the word 'Yeshua' is listed as a material. It is a Hebrew version of 'Jesus'.
In a conversation with the Rev. Jonathan Evens, she volunteered, 'I pray for the presence of the Holy Spirit. I pray to be used. And I do it all in the name of Jesus.'
Tramaine's working process is an act of worship, and during it she is also remembering stories of saints and angels she studied in church, that God's love will sustain her faith, and that the fragmented faces hidden within her imaginary portraits are from past and future lives.
She also believes that God is transgender; important for a Queer woman like herself. For—despite the belligerent abuse she and her wife have experienced during some church services—she is very positive, praising God 'for every test, and obstacle—it's all for my good!'
Tramaine's solo exhibitions include Worship Works, Almine Rech Aspen (2021); Parables of Nana, Almine Rech, London (2020); God is Trans, Richard Beavers Gallery, New York (2018); G E N D E R Neutralized: Power in Pride, Newark L Center, New Jersey (2017); and I PAINT FACE, Midoma, New York (2012).
Her group shows include Salon de Peinture, Almine Rech, New York (2021); Wealth Surrounds Me: God, Gold, & Kinfolk, Richard Beavers Gallery (2020); Painting Someone, Almine Rech, Shanghai (2020); Give Me Body!: Femme Re-Divined, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), New York (2019); Seat at the Table, Brooklyn Fête, New York (2018); Urban Strategies, Art Front Galleries, Newark, New Jersey (2017); Black American Artist Collaboration, The Salt Space, New York (2011); and No Biting, 320 West Show Room, New York (2010).
Tramaine's work is featured in multiple public collections, including the Rubell Museum, Miami; the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Miami; and the Contemporary Art Foundation, Tokyo.
In 2020, she was awarded the Rubell Museum Artist Residency in Miami.
John Hurrell | Ocula | 2021