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2022 TORCH Visual Artist: Dawn Okoro

Multidisciplinary artist, Dawn Okoro has been featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest, Hyperallergic, USA Today, W Magazine, and Essence.

Dawn Okoro is a multidisciplinary artist living in Austin, Texas. Her desire to make art sparked from her love of fashion illustration and design. Her work is influenced by punk, hip-hop, and the composition techniques used in fashion photography. Okoro has collaborated with Pepsico, with her art on the company’s LIFEWTR water bottles. Okoro’s work has been on set for productions at NBC, Sony Pictures, HBO, and BET. She is featured in Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest, Hyperallergic, USA Today, W Magazine, and Essence. Okoro’s work was recently exhibited at Christie’s New York, and she made her UK debut with her solo exhibition, “Mad Explosive Spontaneity” at Maddox Gallery. Visit Okoro's website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

Vamps and Riffs, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 36x36 inches, 2022

Unbounded, acrylic and silver leaf on canvas, 40x60 inches, 2022

Reminiscence, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 36x36 inches, 2022

Hydrokinesis, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 40x60 inches, 2022

Hang On, acrylic and copper leaf on canvas, 40x60 inches, 2022

Audrey in Pink, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, 20x20 inches, 2022

Artist Statement:

I use fashion as a means of aesthetic expression and resistance. My work incorporates ideas from hip-hop and punk culture and is informed by the compositional techniques used in fashion photography.

My art embodies space, movement, pattern, design, texture, and color, as well as lived experiences and self-reflexivity. Self-reflexivity is a process by which I critically examine the experiences (exterior and interior) that shape my everyday life and those that surround me.

Through my work, I aim to celebrate human differences and commonalities. I often feel like an outsider, never fitting in. With my paintings, drawings, videos, and fashion, I hold space for myself and others who share a similar experience.

The Interview

Conducted via email in December 2022 by Amanda Johnston.

When did you know you were an artist?

I’ve loved creating art since I was a child, but it took many years for me to feel comfortable calling myself an artist. I think after I graduated from law school is when I finally started saying that I am an artist. Instead of practicing law, I decided to reroute and follow my heart. Naming it and claiming it was a big step for me.

Tell us about an early defining moment in your career.

An early defining moment for me was when I had my solo show, “Punk Noir,” at the George Washington Carver Museum in Austin in 2018. It was the biggest solo show that I’d had, and it was amazing to receive such positive feedback from the Austin community and from people all over the world.

Your portraits are full of movement. From large sweeping motions to subtle gestures, the subjects in your pieces are vibrant and full of life. What was your thought process behind capturing them in this way as opposed to traditional stills?

I have been inspired by fashion editorials since I was a kid and that shows in my portraits. I think that the sense of movement, color, and patterns in my work can be impactful in different ways.

You’ve incorporated unexpected materials such as Kool-Aid and gold leaf in your pieces along with acrylic paint and pencil. With each having different meanings and values across cultures, I’m curious if they held a specific intention for you and why you chose to include them in your work.

I first painted with Kool-Aid in my 2021 series “Stir It.” “Stir It” is a series of pieces that recount my efforts to find psychological comfort by recreating experiences associated with pleasant memories. Kool-Aid is a source of comfort for me because it is associated with warm memories of family meals and gatherings. I don’t drink it anymore, but it was interesting to see how the Kool-Aid powder took to the texture of the paper.

I started using gold leaf many years ago to refer to my experiences of erasure. I often use metal to obscure parts of the body in my portraits. Sometimes, I will surround my figures with gold or copper leaf because I like the way the warm metal color looks next to brown skin.

Your work can be seen in television, film, and has been part of a major campaign for LIFEWTR. Do you feel Black representation, as creator and subject, is improving in mainstream media?

Black representation in mainstream media has been increasing in spurts for sure. After the uprising of 2020, many organizations had promised to do better, but 2-3 years later, those efforts seem to be trickling off.

You’ve recently ventured into creating NFTs. What has that experience been like? Do you feel more artists will move to include NFTs in their portfolios?

I have always been interested in creating art in a digital space. In 2022 created a series called “Freaks and Beams,” which includes physical and digital paintings. The physical paintings are made with a pigment that glows under black light. This is reflected in the NFT art too. Each NFT has a daytime version that starts at dawn and a nighttime version that starts at sunset. What I am really interested in though, is using an NFT as a certificate of authenticity for my physical paintings. There are some companies out there that are experimenting with making that possible. I do believe more artists will start to incorporate NFTs into their work, but the technology has to become something they feel comfortable with. It’s going to take time.

You are active on social media and you’ve shared your progress in learning to skateboard with followers. What advice would you give to others thinking of trying the sport?

I’m still learning and having so much fun seeing my progression. It’s been great for me mentally and physically. I hope I’ll be jumping over things with the skateboard in the next few months. If you are interested in skateboarding, the best way to learn is to find a friend that can show you some basics. You can also get some tips on YouTube, but the best way to learn is to get on the board and get comfortable with it.

As a local Austinite, what are your favorite spots to eat, chill, and see the best contemporary art?

One of my favorite places to eat is Hoover’s Cooking because I love soul food. One of the best places to see art in town is the George Washington Carver Museum.

You can choose one of the following: tacos or barbecue.

Barbecue. My favorite bbq spot in Central Texas is Cooper’s.

What are you looking forward to in 2023?

I am looking forward to making new work and experimenting with different materials.

How can people support you now?

People can support me by telling their friends about my work. I also have paintings available through Maddox Gallery.

Name another Black woman artist people should follow.

Tyeschea West is a talented Austin-based artist who works in photography and other media.


Torch Literary Arts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit established to publish and promote creative writing by Black women. We publish contemporary writing by experienced and emerging writers alike. TORCH has featured work by Colleen J. McElroy, Tayari Jones, Sharon Bridgforth, Crystal Wilkinson, Patricia Smith, Natasha Trethewey, Elizabeth Alexander, and others. Programs include the Wildfire Reading Series, writing workshops, and retreats.


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