Labor of Care

Alumna Ari Brielle's ('16) portraits of Black women, including a new work at the Dallas Museum of Art, are drawing acclaim.
Written by: 
Jessica DeLeĆ³n
Ari Brielle
Ari Brielle

Ari Brielle ('16) captures women in all facets of life.

It could be a simple portrait of a woman cradling a baby, fresh from a bath.

Or it could be an installation about Marsha Jackson, depicting her work as an environmental activist.

At age 28, Brielle is making a name for herself for her artworks that depict the experiences of Black women and their relationship to the world. She's been featured in Texas Monthly and the 2021 Texas Biennial, and her work about Jackson is on display at the Dallas Museum of Art until April 9.

"I'm excited to see what that artistic journey looks like," she says. "I want to grow in my work and deeper in my practice and make work that feels successful."

A tribute to women
Ari Brielle

For Brielle, painting women as her subjects has been natural practice for her since the most influential people in her life have been women, including her mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and her best friends.

"Various experiences we face as feminine people are so special and so challenging and so unique in a lot of ways," she says. "I think it's always been something I've been drawn to. It's like understanding our experiences as women."

Her latest piece is Poisoned by Zip Code, which brings together many of her interests. She says she enjoyed taking the time to research a story that she feels is important to tell the public.

Featured as part of the Rooted exhibition in the Center for Creative Connections at the DMA, the installation focuses on Jackson, who campaigned against a 6-foot high trash dump, called "Shingle Mountain," in her neighborhood.

Brielle uses imagery from environmental racism from the 1980s to today.

"At the center of it is Marsha," Brielle says. "I think this tribute to her is a tribute to what Black women do for social change."

Another artwork, Going Home, features six pieces depicting facets of her own life, from a family portrait in front of a van to digital collages from her computer screen. It includes the portrait of the mother and baby, which was her as an infant with her mother.

"The work was kind of born out me thinking a lot about my childhood and different experiences that shape every part of who I am," she says. "My parents have been separated since I was a baby, so it's interesting for me to see all these images and memories of my life with my mom and her family and my life with my dad and his family all together in conversation with each other."

The piece was featured as part of the 2021 Texas Biennial in San Antonio.

"It's been a great experience," she says. "There's so many artists I look up to. It's surreal to be in the same space as them."

Working artist

Although Brielle is garnering attention in the art world, she never thought of herself as an artist growing up. Her father suggested she attend UNT and pursue art as a major.

And it was at UNT when her transformation as an artist began.

"It's just a really formative time of life," she says. "At that time, everything is shaping your interests, your beliefs, your desires. My education helped form my practice and how I made work and think about work."

Several teachers at UNT helped her along the way. She appreciated Rachel Black's ('06 M.F.A.) drawing class because of Black's kindness. Lauren Cross presented ideas to her she hadn't thought about in her capstone class. And Brielle got to meet artists such as the nationally acclaimed Vicki Meek.

But she experienced a breakthrough in Rachel Fischer's ('08, '15 M.F.A.) painting class. Brielle loved to draw but hadn't painted much aside from working with watercolors.

"I think it's where I realized I could paint," she says. "It was something really fresh at the time."

Now Brielle is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Texas at Arlington and is considering teaching.

Even though she's made art her career, it doesn't entirely feel like work.

"It's both therapeutic and a release -- cathartic, and there's a lot of problem-solving during painting and thinking. What is this work about? That's where the work comes in," she says. "I don't look at work as a bad thing, as a negative. I think we need work. People need something to put their energy toward. It's like a labor of care."