corey wash's colorful art explores our toxic relationship with social media

In her latest exhibition, Conversation Derelict, the artist employs bright colors and conversational doodles to satirize our reliance on digital technology.

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May 10 2019, 6:26pm

Artist and model Corey Wash makes artwork that is meant to make you stop in your tracks and pay serious attention to it. In her latest exhibit, Conversation Derelict, at ABXY Gallery in New York, the Baltimore-born creative has employed bright canvases and satirical doodles she hopes you’ll stop and take a deeper look at. “I try to strike a balance between making something digestible and then slapping you in the face,” she admits.

Showcasing a new collection of paintings, a site-specific installation, and a video work, Wash’s comic-style characters and speech bubbles serve to poke fun at the ways in which our language and communication skills have faltered all thanks to our over-reliance on digital technology. In a time when our lives are full of screens, emojis, and hashtags, Conversation Derelict poses the questions: “Why do truth and knowledge feel so inaccessible in a world where we can share ideas and information farther and faster than ever?” It is the artist’s hope that this exhibit, open until May 15, will inspire people to do some much needed self-reflection on their own language and communication skills.

i-D spoke with the artist about why she employs doodles to discuss serious topics and what she hopes people will take away from seeing this exhibition.

When did you start making art?
When I was younger my mom used to paint and draw as a hobby and she always had us doing arts and crafts. I also liked writing short stories and poetry. After high school I moved from Baltimore to New York to pursue photography and modeling. That’s when I really fell in love with art making. At one point, there was this spark that told me to go to the art store and just buy canvas and paint. I wanted to express my frustrations as a New York transplant. This was around 2012, I was about 18, turning 19. I realized I really enjoyed doing it and I wanted to do it full time. So, I dove into it and started creating and painting all the time. I didn't really have a signature style or anything.

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What kind of subject matter have you been exploring in your work?
At first it was abstract expressionism then I started focusing more on social issues and things happening in the world, such as the environment, deforestation, how we treat the planet, and how we treat the ocean. I began asking myself things like: what's going on in the world? What needs more attention? What are we ignoring? What's happening in my personal life? What's happening in the lives of my family and my friends? I was looking at my surroundings and figuring out what stories that I could tell and giving voices to people.

Now, I'm talking about communication and social media in the advanced technology age, exploring issues such as racism, sexism, prejudice, and class. I’m trying to find this balance between making something digestible but kind of like smacking you in the face with it.

How did your current exhibit come about?
The exhibit that's up now focuses on the importance of healthy communication. I started paying attention to different examples of unhealthy and poor communication. And that led to my curiosity in the evolution of language. I really wanted to dig deep and once I did, I realized that with the advancement of technology, the rise of social media and our vast access to information, we are struggling to use them in ways that benefit us.

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How are you using doodles to talk about these issues?
I wouldn’t say it was something necessarily done on purpose. At first, I didn't really have a signature style and I was exploring so many different ways of making art. At a certain point, abstract expressionism got a little boring to me and I started stripping away details and that's how I eventually got to these characters that I draw today. And somehow it all just fell into place that these cartoons were the way that I express myself. They allow me to be playful, you know, there’s some humor in it, but also to still be serious about whatever it is that I'm talking about.

I also wanted the freedom to speak from a voice and standpoint that anyone could relate to and not necessarily specify that I was talking from the standpoint of a woman or a black woman. I didn’t want to disguise that but I wanted to expand it and make it approachable to anyone. With the speech bubbles, I aimed to represent verbal conversations we have and how we speak to each other, whether that be the tones we use or the words we choose. I wanted to play around with those things but also highlight body language.

There are some pieces that are cryptic messages and I'll never tell what those messages are. Not everything is written out for the viewer. Sometimes I'm super direct with what I'm saying in a piece. But with this show, I wanted to play around with the idea of being very indirect and making the viewer spend a lot of time trying to uncover and figure the puzzle out.

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Why did you choose to make an installation out of newspaper clips?
I see it as a research room. I chose to bring in newspaper because I felt that a lot of time things that come out in the press tend to be very misleading and I wanted to change the direction of what was being said. I wasn’t really specific in the newspapers I picked, but I tried to make it look like I was specific and the ways I added random messages. There’s one part that’s censored because I believe a lot of the truth is often hidden from us. So, I'm just pointing out things about social media and how it’s kind of killed us in a way. It also represents my research and development process and all the documentaries I've watched and books I've read. It’s my own version of note taking.

What do you hope people take away from seeing this exhibit?
My job as an artist is just to make the art and however someone digests that is up to them. I don't have any real expectations for how people take it in or what they do with it. I'm just making it and putting it out to the world. But I do hope it makes people do some self-reflection and think more about how they communicate and the parts they play in creating these healthy and unhealthy communication, and what they can do to unlearn and relearn toxic behaviors.

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