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An Interview with Portland Book Festival Guest Artist Jarlisa Shunte

Jarlisa Shunte, a south Mississippi-born multidisciplinary artist, is our 2022 Portland Book Festival guest artist. We recently spoke with Jarlisa about their work and more!

Who are your inspirations and influences when creating art? Has the pandemic impacted your process?

I can’t say that there are any specific person(s) who directly influence my art. However, there are artists who I look up to and respect immensely for their impact and creativity: A’driane Nieves, Bisa Butler, and Vanessa Brantley Newton are probably at the top of the list of living artists who I admire. Generally speaking, my art is heavily inspired by myself and the Black women and femmes who have poured into me during some of most difficult moments in my life.

The pandemic has impacted my art practice a lot. I prioritize rest more these days, and have deprioritized social media. Social media is such a beast to conquer as an illustrator, and the pressure to always be creating is a lot. I’ve set some boundaries with myself and only post when I feel like sharing. I create when I can, and don’t guilt myself when the well runs dry. I also create for myself. If I love the piece, then that’s all the validation I need. I do create a lot less now, but I’ve never felt more confident in the work I’m putting out.

Much of your art features illustrations with stories of the Black community, gorgeous textures, and whimsical scenes from nature. What draws you to this form? Is there a particular project you’re excited about working on?

I’ve always been obsessed with fantasy, especially as it pertains to how magic and nature intersects. Whether it comes from books, role-playing games, cartoons—I just love it, and I can’t learn enough about the lore behind it. Black women and femmes are typically at the center of my work because that is who I am and what I know.

I am not currently working on other projects at this time, but I’ve been a lot braver about putting my work out there. So, I’m excited to see opportunities unfold for me. I would love to illustrate children’s books.

How long have you lived in Portland? What do you enjoy about working and living here? Are there any organizations you’d recommend in town?

I’ve been in Portland for about 5 years. I’ve enjoyed being able to operate at a slower pace compared to living on the east coast. I’m also super grateful for the stability and opportunities I’ve been able to find, here. Most of all, I really enjoy Portland’s proximity to nature. There are so many great organizations to support: Brown Girl Rise, Children’s Book Bank, and SHED are a few that come to mind.

You’re a multidisciplinary artist with a background in communications and arts administration. How do your pursuits inform each other? Do you have advice for other multidisciplinary artists?

Even though I don’t really use my formal education in any direct capacity these days, I was able to gain some key insights about the legal/business side of things. Which has become really handy in the last couple of years.

I used to get really stuck on the thought of my work needing one specific “look” or aesthetic to grow as an artist, which isn’t really a unique experience. So, my advice to other multidisciplinary artists is to bypass all that mess and just make the thing. The adaptability you learn from trying different/new techniques, mediums, and styles is invaluable.

“My advice to other multidisciplinary artists is to bypass all that mess and just make the thing. The adaptability you learn from trying different/new techniques, mediums, and styles is invaluable.”

JARLISA shunte

Do you have a favorite author? What about an all-time favorite book?

This is actually really difficult question since I read almost daily. I can’t just name one, so I’ll list some of my favorite authors from a few different genres: Octavia Butler, Tomi Adeyemi, Toni Morrison, & Taliah Hibbert.

What’s a book you have read recently? Do you have any recommendations?

Everything Everywhere All At Once made me bawl my eyes out in the middle of the movie theater, and Nope had me on the edge of my seat. Both are definitely worth the watch.

Tell us about the artwork you created for Portland Book Festival 2022. We’d love to
hear more about it!

The best way I can describe it is that I want it to look like it’s come straight from a storybook.

Please enjoy Jarlisa’s incredible art for Portland Book Festival 2022:

About the Artist

Jarlisa is a south Mississippi-born multidisciplinary artist with a background in communications, operations management, and arts administration. Their creative work is an expression of their multifaceted identities with an emphasis on gender, body, neurodiversity, and more. Thematic elements drawing from nature, science-fiction, and fantasy are highlighted in their work, which also encompasses the myriad of beautiful ways other Black women, femmes, and NB`s express their own individual identities.

Jarlisa holds a Bachelor’s in Marketing and Communications from the Rochester Institute of Technology, and a Master’s in the Business of Art & Design from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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