Interview with Tori Weston as told to Gilmore Tamny; all Photography by Jaclyn Tyler
Please tell us a bit about your background and how you came to Somerville? How long have you lived here?
I’m originally from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. I moved to Boston to study creative writing at Emerson College and after graduation I decided to stay. I lived in Cambridge for a few years and then moved to Somerville. I’ve been in Somerville for 12 years.
How do you make time for making art? Do you have a particular routine?
I developed my routing during grad school. I worked full-time while working on my MFA in Fiction. So, I would use weeknights and weekends to do work. By the end of grad school, fitting in writing and art just became part of my daily routine.
Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I was always attracted to anything creative. My uncle Glenn was a portrait artist and when he would visit I would watch him draw. I was more fascinated by him and his obsession with Grace Jones, Madonna, and Diana Ross than the actual drawings. I first just wanted to be like my uncle. My first attempts at art were heartbreaking. I couldn’t draw the way he did or at least I thought I couldn’t. However, I was good at making up stories. So, for a while my doodles were in notebooks or hidden in whatever books I was reading.
Tell us about projects you are currently working on that you’re in the middle of/excited about? What kind of writing projects are you working on now? How about visual art?
I’ve been taking lithography classes for about three years now and I am addicted. Right now, I’m working on combining abstract litho prints and tape transfers of family pictures. My goal is to combine my litho prints with some of my personal essays. I am also working on an essay collection tentatively titled Losing My Reclaimed Virginity, which focuses on loss and grief.
Seems like you’re investigating different methods and materials for your artwork. Could you talk about that some?
Since I consider myself a writer first and then artist, I approach images the way I do story: which method will be the best way to convey the story? Sometimes, it’s just a simple drawing and other times it could best be conveyed in litho, and other times it’s approaching an idea for an image with words.
Could you rattle off some art/artworks (writers, painters, dancers, musicians, TV shows movies) that you love most and/or have influenced your work?
Writers: James Baldwin, Ruth Forman, Zadie Smith, Milan Kundera, Jill Lepore and many more. Artists: I love graffiti artists, Margaret Kilgallen, Kara Walker, Ernie Barnes, and Njideka Akunyili Music: Current Obsessions-LionBabe, Prince, Florence and the Machine, and as always 80’s music. TV Shows/Movies: Art21, The Mindy Project, British TV Shows, Valley Girl, the Before Trilogy (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight), and anything John Hughes and I’m obsessed with the voyeuristic quality of House Hunters.
Your job at Emerson involves working with a great many young people. What’s our outlook for the future of the U.S. looking like? Do you find teaching and/or guiding them helpful to your work? How so?
I oversee the Pre-College Programs at Emerson College and have no worries our artistic future is bright. Every summer my faith in humanity is renewed by the teens I meet. One of the highlights of my job is seeing teens begin their artistic journey. They still possess that pure love and it's a reminder of why I do this.
WRITER ARTIST I find this combination of visual artists and writer fascinating.You are both a writer and a visual artist. Generally, from what you said, it’s a complimentary experience. However, do you ever feel the two forms—like children I guess—competing for your time and attention?
There are days I don't’ think about it and am more concerned with getting time into work on something. Then, there are some days when I feel like I’m doing too much writing. I try to pay attention to the process and where I’m at. For example, I am currently revising essays and working on some sketches. The revision process is the best time I can balance both art and writing.
What do you find easier or harder about writing vs. drawing/painting?
With writing first and second drafts are easy. Revision is hard. With drawing, it’s easier for me to let go when drawing. If a line is off or it takes several attempts to get a drawing down I’m OK. It’s harder for me to let go with writing. The self-critic is more vocal in that area.
Have you done visual art using words (like Barbara Krueger for instance)?
Yes. My piece Two Definitions of a Black Woman and My Plus-Size Thoughts include both image and words. This is something I am starting to explore.
There’s a list of artists of varying degrees of seriousness (google includes James Thurber, Charles Bukowski, Sylvia Plath, William S. Burroughs) of writers that were also visual artists. Are there any others you’ve liked or been inspired by?
Not really. Writing and art is too compartmentalized for me to think of it as a combination.
Do you find reading or writing yourself about art (either art history or art reviews) an interesting way of combining your interests?
I like reading about art, the creative process, and essays that give insight into ‘why I do this.’
Do you ever think you’ll combine your artwork and your writing (or have you already?)? a graphic novel?
I’ve thought about it. Right now, I don’t have a story or essay that lends to the form.
Any artists whose work you just…really don’t like? (I find this question interesting but I know not everyone likes to answer).
I think more not understanding the intent than hate. Although I do have a list of writers I think are overrated.
What have been the resources as an artist in Somerville you’ve found most useful? What do you like most about the artistic community in Somerville?
Being a part of Somerville Open Studios has helped me meet other artists and become more aware of events.
Are there any quotations you like to think of about art/art-making/etc.?
“Writing is like giving yourself homework, really hard homework, every day, for the rest of your life. You want glamorous? Throw glitter at the computer screen.” Katherine Monroe
“Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilizations radical voice.” Paul Robeson
What is your favorite diner in Somerville?
My favorite diner is gone. I LOVED Johnny D’s. I miss their oatmeal. The place had a great vibe and it was a place I could go to on the weekend, have brunch, write and draw.
What do you think Somerville needs for stronger if not thriving artists of colors community?
First, there needs to be one. I’ve lived in Somerville for 12 years and I’ve not yet found a writer’s or artists community of color. When I lived in Cambridge, I felt a deeper connection to people of color and there was (and still is) a celebration of diversity in Cambridge that doesn’t exist in Somerville.
How has being a woman and a woman of color affected your vantage point from which you write or make art?
For art, figure-drawing classes gave me a different view of the female body. There are so many contradictions that coexist with the female body and when you add race to it, it becomes even more complex. These thoughts come together in my piece Two Definitions of a Black Woman. It’s one of the pieces that combine drawing and words. My intent in creating the piece was to show how black women view themselves and how the world views us. It also speaks to the fact that the only positive validation most black women receive is from ourselves, society as a whole does not celebrate us.
For writing, my fiction focuses on breaking the stereotypes of black women. My aim is to write fully formed characters that are relatable but also give the reader a view of how certain black women view the world. In my personal essay/memoir work, I am exploring loss and grief.