A little over five years ago, Charlene Mosley attempted to breed monarch butterflies.
To hear him tell the story in his studio in North Park, the process of sustaining the creatures through their life cycle proved too difficult. The experience, however, ended up inspiring the work she is currently producing for her very first solo exhibition.
“It’s about pollinators in both the literal and symbolic sense,” says Mosley. “It’s about focusing more on the things that are so small and that we think are fragile, but are so important to everything else.”
Yet it’s also easy to see the paintings Mosley is producing for his exhibition, aptly titled “Pollinators,” which opens May 15 at the Sparks Gallery in downtown San Diego, as something representative of his own journey. of the artist – a multi-year metamorphosis that took her from a working-class childhood in Germany to a hustler artist in San Diego.
“If you don’t have a lot of money to lean on, to give yourself time to discover yourself and just paint, then you have to be creative in your work and your practice,” says Mosley.
Combining methods of portraiture and figurative art with elements of nature and fantasy, Mosley’s work has appeared throughout the city, from group shows in galleries to murals in storefronts and at San Diego State University. A look at her artistic resume reveals someone who has rarely turned down a show or a job, a testament to her diligent work ethic since moving to San Diego at age 17 and growing up. ‘she almost immediately had to find a job to help support her family.
“I’ve definitely been through some of the toughest times, and it’s not exactly the best career choice for a child of a single mother when we could barely get rent together,” says Mosley, who is born and raised in Berlin before her. her mother took her and her sister to the United States in 2008. “My mother was very supportive of me throughout, but she had doubts.”
One of those doubts arose about seven years ago when Mosley, who had just graduated from Cuyamaca College and SDSU in art and museum studies, saw a trailer on YouTube soliciting painters for a film. animation on Vincent Van Gogh. She says she submitted her portfolio and three weeks later received a late night phone call from an unknown international number.
“They told me I looked like a good candidate and asked if I could be there on Thursday,” Mosley recalled of the call, adding that although she quickly told them “yes”, she didn’t quite realize what she was doing. for. “They gave me the address and it was a Polish address.”
Mosley ended up asking the person on the phone if they could have 24 hours to decide. She finally decided to go, but had a hard time telling her family.
“The next morning I had to say, ‘Hey mum, maybe I got this job in Poland and I have to be there on Thursday.’ She thought I was kidding.
Mosley barely raised enough for the one-way airfare, but the project she ended up working on was “Loving Vincent,” a groundbreaking and ultimately Oscar-nominated animated film about the iconic painter. Along with over 60 other artists, Mosley worked tirelessly for six months in a Polish warehouse.
Once back in San Diego, she immersed herself in the local art community, showing work whenever possible, attending exhibitions, painting murals, and ultimately making enough of a connection to where she was. she made a name for herself.
“It’s tough. You absolutely have to be active and go out and look for places; go to gallery events and meet people who are interested in art,” Mosley says. “You have to be on it all the time. “
Mosley considers herself German-American, a fact that often baffles those who meet her for the first time, but since moving to the United States she says she’s had to re-examine what it means to be biracial in a culture different. For the past two years, Mosley has collaborated on “Kayla: A Modern Day Princess,” a series of children’s books written by Kentucky-based author Deedee Cummings. The books feature a black girl navigating the world around her, and while the character isn’t based on Mosley, it’s easy to see parallels between the titular character and some of Mosley’s own experiences.
“Deedee is biracial too, but I have this thing where I grew up in this white German culture and so I don’t have that fatherly side of me, so sometimes I struggle with that,” says Mosley, whose the father was not in the picture as she was growing up. “I had to tag myself since I arrived here. You never have to do that there. So in many ways, it was like a catalyst for me to learn more about black culture and black history in America. I had to train myself. »
So, in many ways, Mosley’s work reflects a uniquely American experience—an artist of color who believed in her work enough to persevere through language barriers and financial hardship. She was recently approached by the makers of “Loving Vincent” about potentially working on a new film, but says she may be too busy with her own art and commitments. She views “Pollinators” not just as the culmination of years of hard work and commitment, but as a unique opportunity to represent her fully formed identity.
“I don’t remember growing up and seeing black people or brown people in the foreground of the exhibit,” Mosley says. “So I want to put this in the window of the Sparks Gallery.”
“As far as symbolism goes, it’s the idea that we as people are pollinators of new concepts, new ideas that evolve,” Mosley continues. “Especially women of color. After dealing with people with racial issues I started to look at myself and wonder if I had just overlooked things that happened to me over the years and thought it was normal not to get something. Just being more aware of things, looking ahead, because we all know that historically black women didn’t get the credit they deserved.
‘Charlene Mosley: Pollinators’
When: May 15 to July 3
Or: Sparks Gallery, 530 Sixth Ave, Downtown San Diego
Call: (619) 696-1416
In line: sparksgallery.com
Combs is a freelance writer.