Artist of the Week

LaNia Sproles

August 15, 2023

American, b. 1995 — LaNia Sproles lives and works in the segregated city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin where they also graduated with a BFA from Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2017. Their body of work spans several disciplines including: printmaking, drawing and collage. The philosophies of self-perception, queer and feminist theories, and inherent racial dogmas are essential to Sproles’s work. They examine the works’ of feminist artists and writers such as Octavia Butler, Kara Walker and Rebecca Morgan. In 2020, They completed their year as a 2019 Mary L. Nohl fellow, continued as a teaching artist-in-residence at the Lynden Sculpture Garden and guest curated an exhibition hosted by NADA art fair with Green Gallery. Most recently Sproles has exhibited several artworks with Elijah Wheat Showroom hosted by David Zwirner’s online exhibition space, Platform

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

I am a multidisciplinary artist with a printmaking background. I love making work about the relationships I cherish and creating narratives that explore the depth of each person I portray in an art piece. Each piece is created in the action of having the privilege and challenge of seeing the subject’s essence exactly how it is. I genuinely enjoy sifting through all of the complex parts of each subject and looking at them up close. I feel as though through this great curiosity I am able to see my loved ones as the mystical complex people they are.

How did you first begin making art, and how has your work evolved over the years?

I have been drawing since I was a young one, I didn’t really start taking it seriously until high school. I think going to an arts based high school really nurtured my natural competitive spirit as I realized how advanced everyone in my class was. I truly think how I approach and interact with material has significantly changed the most. I have a much more informed and confident approach to experimentation-i see it as essential to my process. It’s all very drawing and portrait based still but I think more poignant in tone.

“Fancy Nia’s Amulet” Flashe, metallic watercolor, adhesive paper 42x30in 2023

Much of your work is figurative. Do you consider your work self portraiture?

I would consider my work partially self portraiture, as I contemplate the structure of others it’s natural for me to want that for myself as well. It’s all about the investigative dissection that I obsess over, it’s thrilling uncovering parts of myself or someone else I hadn’t recognized before. People ebb and flow between different archetypes, feelings, roles, etc for me as I do.

How do you create your compositions? More intuitive or planned out?

Compositionally my pieces come together where I coast the line between spontaneity and  rigidity. I’m constantly sampling photo references I take myself, testing out materials, color schemes and backgrounds sort of like a stage set up. But overall creating is very much a space where I welcome intuitive experimentation. I typically start with a person or either myself as the subject and then I dig through my archive of photo references. Most of which are saved from social media or things I come across on the internet in general that catch my eye aesthetically. It’s a game of matchmaker for me where I put most of my effort into creating a highly curated environment best suited for the subject. And at times I am using a conglomerate of the references I’ve collected and using it as a guide to build or collage an image together.

A bit of salvation with cake (EV not editioned) Copper etching & iridescent watercolor 5x7in 2023

Where do you find models / people for your artwork?

The people I chose to depict in my work are almost always going to be people I have shared a significant level of intimacy with. Whether romantically or platonically, they all at some point have meant the world to me or still do. I have a deep desire to capture any evidence of intimacy I experience for fear of ever losing it. 

What role does community play in your practice?

Because I am using actual people that have played a role in my life I feel as though community is a crucial part of my art practice. I do in a way see my work functioning as a case study of who has poured into me. I have a lot of traumatic experiences with keeping my feelings and my needs almost undetectable and that in itself is extremely isolating. Unfortunately I am hardwired to embody isolation but find myself soften in the care of my queer companionships the most.

Much of your work references antiquity (ex: fountains, vases). What do these symbols mean to you?

If anything the inclusion of such objects are representations of things I would actually have or someone could find in any home. In my recent solo show at Goldfinch Gallery, “Objects of Affection”- I turn my natural but potential obsession for idolizing my chosen community into physical adaptations of objects. Things I have or things I wish to have as an attempt to forever possess the ownership of those said items as a means of keeping those subjects in my life forever. It’s something I recognize as completely impossible but indicative of my insatiable craving for intimacy and fear of abandonment. 

“Sweetooth” Colored pencil, flashe, acrylic goauche 6x6in 2022

How did you begin designing tattoos?

I came across Doreen Garner’s website and instagram one day and was honestly so moved by her work! I think that’s what sparked my overall interest and fascination with tattooing. I was encapsulated by her devotion to preservation of Black femme bodies and the lack of autonomy associated with fetishization of the Black femme body as well. I started to see tattooing as a genuine avenue for clients to claim ownership of their body on their own terms. That really felt like an important value I saw being reflected and practiced in the construction of my own artwork. So I began to draw things that I liked with much less emphasis on connotation and impact. It was totally freeing!

Do you have a most memorable tattoo that you made?

It would be so hard to just pick one tattoo but I will say that every year I learn how to do things much more efficiently. I think what’s more memorable for me is how much tattooing has improved my mark making skills immensely. I feel the constant drawing and the hyper focused state I have to enter while tattooing. I’ve noticed how much quicker I can put together a composition and a figure’s form.

How has working primarily in Milwaukee influenced your practice, if at all?

Cunt Shaped collage, colored pencil, gouache, chalk pastel, pencil 33.5×26.5 inches 2022

I think growing up in such a segregated city for so long has sincerely birthed my innate curiosity.  I feel thankful for the foundation I’ve laid down in my hometown and wish to come back to it later in life with much more gratitude.

Have you seen any exhibitions lately that are exciting to you?

Yes! I went to the Sarah Ball Allis museum in Milwaukee a few weeks ago and got to see a dear friend’s solo exhibition. Siara Berry just finished up the museum’s first AIR program and the show was a culmination of new pieces Berry made. Berry’s work focuses on the American housing market and culture and playfully challenges our conditioning of land ownership and obstructed experience of belonging. The pieces range from beautiful stained glass art works and large outdoor sculptures. I am truly proud of her and feel incredibly lucky to know such a sharp woman!

Any guilty ( or not so guilty) pleasures?

Spam sandwich with sliced cheese and mayo on trader joe’s whole grain bread for $2.99 (Milwaukee prices) You have to fry and slice up about 3-4 pieces of spam for this to taste like heaven and Real Housewives of Potomac.

What are you currently listening to?

I’ve been listening to a lot of BADBADNOTGOOD and this alternative rock band called Momma! I discovered Momma last month and really have fell in love with their sound. Both sooo good and always Nicki Minaj <3

Sara’s Locket collage/screen printing ink, pencil, watercolor crayon, vinyl 10x10in 2023

Any upcoming projects you would like to share?

Right now I am focusing all of my energy towards moving to Chicago this August and basically starting my life there soon. So I am excited to make new friends and live my life on my own terms. I will have a solo exhibition in Milwaukee this fall at the Lynden Sculpture Garden ,tbd!


Interview conducted by Ben Herbert and edited by Emma Kang James.