This week on Tuesday Tours I’m featuring Milwaukee artist Della Wells. I knew about Della before I ever personally met her because I was so inspired by her artwork. When I started curating for the Union Art Gallery, she was an artist that I kept on my short list. In the exhibit Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall: Reflecting Female Interpretations of Beauty I showcased some of her exquisite drawings alongside her mixed media art dolls. Della’s art is integrated into all aspects of her life, and like her life, her space is also integrated, so her studio isn’t confined to one room, but extends into all of her living space.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I like to think of myself as a self taught visual artist who creates my own folk and/or fairy tales. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a writer and I used to make up stories in my head and write them. Now I do it in my art. I grew up with a lot of books that influence my work, like books by Dr. Seuss, Edward Lear, James Thurber, and Fractured Fairy Tales, Grimm Fairy Tales. Also, television shows like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Mighty Mouse influenced me. As a child, I was (and still am) interested in history. I would spend hours looking at my parents old photographs from the thirties and forties of them in their childhood and teen years. My mother had a mental illness. She would tell me stories about her childhood in North Carolina and I loved the stories. But as an adult, I wondered how many of them where true. I work in various media such as painting and ink, but I’m more known for my collages and mixed media pieces. One of the reasons I work in collage is because I like taking old objects and paper and giving them new meaning. I like seeing things in a new or different way. It is sort of like how I look at people, you never know what their stories are or could be if you don’t look beyond the surface. Collage forces me to look beyond the surface.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative medium?
I moved out of the studio space I shared with artist Sonji Hunt in January. However, while I did have a studio, I still did most of my work at home. To be honest, I prefer to work at home. I love looking at the artwork I’ve collected from other artists. Most of the time, when I had my studio, I was too lazy to go there to work, and I had art supplies at both places so I decided to work from home. I also love the apartment building I live in. My landlord, Denise Crumble, has always rented to artists. Currently, there are three artists that live in the building, including Sonji Hunt. I have lived in my current building for about eight years.
Are there any kind of rituals you do before you start creating?
No. I just work when I feel like working.
Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working?
I like creating art while listening to jazz, R & B, rap, and hard rock music. I also like creating while I am watching television. I like watching political shows, programs about history, shows like The Walking Dead, Grimm, Key and Peele, Person of Interest, Law and Order, Shark Tank, and more. Right now I’m watching Saturday Night Live and I’m creating a collage based on the musical guest, Pharrell’s hat. I use pop culture references in my work. I love reading books and magazines on various subjects, and I like keeping up with current events particularly in the political arena. I’m a big fan of children’s books, which influence my work. Currently, I’m reading Walking The Log, Memories Of A Southern Childhood by Bessie Nickens.
Is there any special item in your space that inspires you?
I love collecting interesting things, it gets my creative juices flowing. Some of the artists in my collection are Mr. Imagination, Sonji Hunt, Michael Banks, Evelyn P. Terry, Chris Clark, Anne Grigch, Marvin Hill, Ms. Thang, Chrystal Gillion, Patrick Turner, Calvin Greer, George R. McCormick Sr., Yvonne Wells, Jimmie Lee Schuddth, Sammie Nicely, Sharon Kerry Harlsn, Warrington Colescott, Willie Jinks and African sculpture. Romare Bearden is one of my favorite artists.
If you had a couple hundred dollars to improve your space what would you do?
That is a good question but to be honest, I don’t know.
Are there any new projects you’re working on?
One of the projects I am working on is a documentary about Milwaukee’s African American art scene from 1967 to 1979. I’m working with filmmaker Rubin Whitmore Ill, Mutope J. Johnson, Christopher McIntyre, and Stephanie Comer on this project. Also, I’m collaborating with poet Darlin Nikki on an children’s picture book. I don’t have a website but you can google me to find more information about me and the galleries that sell my work.
Thank you, Della! I’m looking forward to seeing the new projects you’re working on!