Dallas artist Desiree Vaniecia says that art has always been a part of her life. “My mom jokes that she’s happy she let me paint on the walls a few times. Because look what happened,” she says.
Desiree has had a few careers, from graphic design to teaching art in Dallas. Today, Desiree has a reputation for her powerful, contemporary works that dwell on family history, and challenges stereotypical images of Black women. Her latest work debuted at Legacy West this month as part of their Black History Month celebrations, located between Starbucks Reserve and Amorino.
However, her journey as a Dallas artist started with her son.
When she was four months pregnant, she began wondering about the paths her life had taken, and what mark she would leave on the world and on his life. “I don’t have anything I’d be proud of, how could my child be proud of me?” she asked herself. Finally, she listened to her own advice, and trusted her first idea to be her best one. “I liked the idea of painting, so I put paint to canvas,” she recalls.
Four years later, she accepted an opportunity to join The Cedars Union, an art incubator in Dallas. Artists rent cheap space in their micro-studios, and there, they develop their craft surrounded by other creative minds.
She says many of them inspire her, like Abi Salami, Hatziel Flores, and Jeremy Biggers to name just a few. “They’re always inspiring me. Being in Dallas in 2020, we really built a community. I was never shy about my intention, and I was very open to criticism and feedback.”
Eventually, she started landing commissions, murals, and shows. This year, when Legacy West wanted a mural for Black History Month, they commissioned her.
While she worked on the mural, Desiree considered her own “love-hate” relationship with Black History Month.
“In school, I learned the same facts every time about Black History Month. Nothing stood out. Every year, we got the same information, learned about the same people, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Junior, Rosa Parks,” she explains. “We never learned something new.” It didn’t seem representative of actual Black history.
But Desiree’s relationship with Black History Month has drastically changed, and she hopes her mural reflects her perspective.
“It’s not just about history, but about people who are making history today, and change that you can see,” she says. “That’s how I see [Black history] now, not just something in the past, but something living, breathing. It’s constant. Black women, as young girls, we’re told we can’t do certain things, or that we’re not meant for a certain mold. I wanted to really highlight that in a way and highlight the future.”
She also found inspiration in a quote, which she painted into her work: “Trust the vibes you get, energy doesn’t lie.”
“It stuck with me, because I want people to go with that first idea that they get, because sometimes the first idea you have is the best idea,” she says. “I wanted to bring that to life and highlight our history, but also our future and our present.”
The final result is a mural in two pieces, set at a 90 degree angle. “They told me it would be a flat wall, on opposite sides of the stage. But when I got there, I didn’t have to make changes for it to work.”
The finished mural is very minimalistic and with no shadows or highlights, and shows off Desiree’s background in graphic design. She particularly wanted to portray a confident woman. “Her chin is up, her eyes are intense. You can’t tell her nothing. She’ll do what she wants and be the best at it. She has accepted that energy and has taken that energy on,” Desiree says.
She is a woman of the present and the future, self-possessed and confident.
“I asked myself when creating this piece, what did I want to say about Black History Month?” she wrote on her Instagram. “I came up with the notion that I wanted to just celebrate Black achievement and that Black achievement is not always in the past and present but it can also be in the future.”
History is not new to Desiree’s art. In fact, her own history and legacy were central to her 2018 show I Am My Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams, But My Ancestors Are My Biggest Burdens.
“I wanted to talk about being an outsider as a young black girl and expectations from ancestors to be a certain type of person,” Desiree says. “With that pressure, you lose friends and family, you lose sight of yourself. I wanted to express that and work on that.”
The show is a collection of stark black and white portraits of Black women. “I reflected on what my ancestors wanted me to be,” she says. Desiree comes from a matriarchal family; in fact, her great-grandmother has seen five living generations. “I wanted to talk about how it’s crazy how one generation sees the next evolve and grow, and eventually, be something the first could never dream of.”
Her family is still a source of inspiration and encouragement. “My mom is my biggest hype person,” she says. “My husband is always encouraging me too; he gives the best feedback. My son will always tell me when something isn’t right. I’m always trying to impress them.” She also relies on a tight knit community of local artists.
Desiree has more commissions coming in Austin and Dallas, including a show of only Black female artists, featuring four of her pieces.
As for the Legacy West Black History month mural, she says she’s happy to be done and ready for her next project. “I always think to myself that I was happy to do it, that someone was willing to let me put my ideas out there. I have no regrets.”
For more of Desiree Vaniecia’s work, visit desireevaniecia.com