By Nicanor Gordon
Kristen Woollery’s bold, simple shapes coalesce into something beautiful every time. Her work possesses an enviable quality that intersects beauty and simplicity, with each piece beautifully celebrating black femininity.
With no formal training, history and heritage have been Kristen’s teacher. Her color choices capture the revelry and jouvert spirit of Trinidad, her parent’s home country, she notes. And, the patterns and subjects she depicts are inspired by the masks, body paints and patterned fabrics that are found across the African continent.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Kristen was able to reinforce a deep connection to her culture. “West Indian culture was all around me and it was in everything I did,” she reflects. “Most of my teachers were West Indian. I never had to explain myself, and I didn’t have to code-switch. I could just be me!”
It was impossible to come up in the cultural melting pot of Brooklyn and not have art penetrate you to your bone. However, Kristen wasn’t given room to explore her artistic side. Her story mirrors that of many Caribbean immigrant families… Her parents sacrificed a lot to move to a new country and establish a stable, comfortable life for their children. Like most, they envisioned a thriving, financially stable career for their daughter. “They focused on academics, and academics…and academics,” Kristen sighs.
So, she excelled in her field. Kristen graduated from the NYU Silver School of Social Work in 2010, but knew something wasn’t right.
“For many years it felt like I was missing an appendage,” she says of her life proper to fully embracing her creative side. “I was very despondent and unhappy, and it was showing up in so many different ways.”
She went through life under a haze of disenchantment, until one day she decided, screw it, she’s going to paint. “I realized that my heart started beating!” Kristen smiles. “I was showing up in my household with my children, with my husband. I was a better version of me.”
The pandemic further pushed things into perspective. Up until last June, Kristen balanced her day job with a burgeoning art career, becoming more and more comfortable in her style as she studied from the school of Instagram. But, like many Americans, she lost her job, and that pushed her into art full time. “I felt like I couldn’t ever go backward. I had outgrown my old job, but I certainly didn’t know that art would pay off for me,” she beams, counting her blessings.
So what’s next for Kristen? She’s still figuring that out.
Now in the DMV area with her two kids, she thinks about the effect growing up in Brooklyn had. It isn’t Trinidad, she notes, but there was still Caribbean energy she doesn’t have in the DC area. Brooklyn made her, and she plans to pay homage through a collection highlighting her Caribbean/Brooklyn roots. From there, Kristen is considering working with textiles and print. She also envisions a brand deal at some point.
Regardless, Kristen’s goal is the same… She wants her art to connect with people through whatever medium and whatever method she uses. “If you have that beating in your heart, it was placed there for a reason,” she affirms. That purpose, she goes on to say, is instilled from birth and once you find it, it’s always best you dive in fully.