Between Art and Academia These Artists Are The Role Models Their Younger Selves Needed
by Lilac Burrell·
From the moment art and academia engross a person, guidance becomes significant because, like academics, an artist’s path is often shaped by their first steps.
Art and academia are lifelong practices that require astute observation and attention to growth. They overlap in humility. Humility operates in these faculties by encouraging the pursuit of more, which commits their practitioners to continuously develop. Rebecca Marimutu, Demetrius Wilson, and Corey Lovett personify the intersections between art and academia at different stages.
Their intersections unify and shape them as models whose paths inspire, drive, and guide the following generations to find agency in similar paths. Marimutu stands alone among the group as a practicing artist and educator . An adjunct photography professor at the Academy of the Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Parsons, and Towson University, she remained in academia after graduating from MICA with an MFA in Photographic and Electronic Media.
Marimutu’s self-portraiture reclaims the power of seeing by reflecting on her position as a neurodivergent, Black woman professor. Her manipulation of self-portraits with paint and collage protects her by choosing who has access to her. Her artistic practice imbues agency around visibility. As a professor, her focus is guiding students to think outside the box.
Rebecca Marimutu in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Painter and Hunter College MFA candidate Demetrius Wilson builds meaning by balancing color through his mark-making. He received his Bachelor of Arts from College of the Holy Cross, where he studied Visual Arts and Art History. Wilson’s journey started in fashion design, which gave him access to emerge in fine art as a painter.
His abstract paintings are inspired by Vaughn Spann, Mark Bradford, and Cecily Brown. Wilson’s artistic journey started when he was a sophomore in college and blooms by translating how his experience in art started differently due to a lack of resources. His path exemplifies using school as a safe space to gather tools and expand in ways that were unavailable otherwise.
Demetrius Wilson in the studio at Hunter College. Photo courtesy of the artist and Hunter College.
Corey Lovett is a practicing artist and senior at Pratt Institute getting his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree . His use of oil paint and airbrush are means of self-exploration defined through elements like texture, rhythm, and light to affect emotional responses. His process calls him to imbibe the sense of levity that surrounds “professional” art. Lovett’s concept of professionality engages with a personally intimate visual language that transcends Western artistic values to contextualize his Black experience.
Corey Lovette in the studio at Pratt Institute. Photo courtesy of the artist and Pratt Institute.
From the moment art and academia engross a person, guidance becomes significant because like academics, an artist’s path is often shaped by their access point. Mentors and teachers function by expanding the limits of possibility that can be conceptualized by developing artists and students.
What’s most important is how these artists grow into the space their younger selves lacked needed to be seen and heard most authentically. In conversation with the artists, we talked about how their first steps to developing their practice as artists came from feeling seen through art, teachers, and mentors.
BURRELL: How has academia impacted your art-making approach and process?
WILSON: “I graduated in 2018. Why I went back for my MFA is to get back into that space of being challenged both intellectually and within my practice. Having other like-minded folks within the same kind of environment and also being with professors who are a little bit more versed in the field. My professors in undergrad told me, “Your community is where you go to school,” and I went to school in Worcester Massachusetts. I recognize that the majority of my community was no longer there because everybody was pretty much in New York already. Okay. So the only next logical thing to do was to find a way to get to New York. So yeah, that's where I'm at.”
LOVETT: “School gave me a set of lenses and ways of looking at art from a technical standpoint. In a not-so-positive light, but in an eye-opening way, it's given me boundaries that I sometimes place over myself. I'm so conditioned now to look at art from an academic standpoint and not just looking at it as art. It hit me recently after going to an exhibition of an artist who was self-taught. ”
Demetrius Wilson’s Freak Hit, 9 x 12 in, Oil on Canvas, 2023. Courtesy of the artist and Good Black Art. Photo by Arturo Sanchez.
BURRELL: How do you strike a balance between teaching/ learning and practicing art?
MARIMUTU: “Teaching gives me some space because it's not like 40 hours a week to go to the studio and make work. I think that working part-time is ideal for people who are creative.”
LOVETT: “A lot of my pieces start mentally. Lately, I've been having this ritual every weekend, making sure I go to either the MET or the Brooklyn Museum to expose my body to art. You expose your body to things that give it joy. I made sure to try to implement these things that I'm learning visually that I'm picking up on in a painting. I try to look for an influence and let that influence push me to create work. When I’m learning new skills I almost immediately want to try it in the next piece.”
Rebecca Marimutu’s Portraits, Contact # 98, Archival Pigment Print Edition 1 of 5, 24x30, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Good Black Art. Photo by Arturo Sanchez.
BURRELL: How did the presence or lack of mentors impact your pursuit of art and academia?
LOVETT: “When you talk about mentors, I'm thinking more so of people who have been there long term. The influence my mentors have had on me is getting me to simply believe that I am a great artist and that I can take on this career. Aside from actually doing the physical work that you have to do as an artist, business-wise and creative-wise, in this industry, you're an artist, simply because you say and believe you are.”
WILSON: “Communication, stability, and trust and belief. I don't think a lot of us experience somebody who really believes in us and is willing to take us far. I think that was key in my development. Those are the main horsemen that I needed when I was younger.”
Rebecca Marimutu’s Portraits, Contact # 15, Archival Pigment Print Edition 1 of 5, 24x30 in, 2021. Demetrius Wilson’s Blistering Terror Keeps Me Awake At Night, 48 x 36 in, Oil on Canvas, 2023. Courtesy of artists and Good Black Art. Photo by Arturo Sanchez.
BURRELL: How did the presence of established artists impact your pursuit of art and academia?
MARIMUTU: “I like Paul Mpagi Sepyua. I’m influenced by his work, and I look up to his artistic practice. He experimented with a frame of photography a lot. He takes post photos of himself or himself with partners and sometimes prints the photographs and cuts them out. I find that really inspirational and inspiring for the work that I make. I also appreciate Carrie Mae Weems’s work.
In unique ways, each artist is a mentor who reflects and affirms younger generations to start on their paths and carry the torch. Mentors and teachers function by expanding the limits of possibility that can be conceptualized by developing artists and students. Mentorship, like academia, like art, is a practice that leads people by example. Most specifically, art leads by filling absence to expand on how people are and can be seen by the world and posterity that lives beyond their grasp.