Painter Cameron Meade works from spontaneous photographs of people he knows. His vibrant portraits, many of which focus on his extended family of homeless youth, feel honest and insightful while maintaining a sense of playfulness and joy. A recent graduate from the MFA program at Pratt Institute, Meade is one of several young artists profiled in ALL ARTS’ “Rising Artists” series, which shines a spotlight on the works and personal stories of students striving to make a difference through creative pursuits. On the occasion of the release of Meade’s episode, we caught up with him via email to discuss his practice, works-in-progress and life after Pratt.
Can you talk a bit about your work as an artist?
A large motivation for my art practice is my work as the co-creator and grant writer for the Tampa, Florida nonprofit Starting Right, Now (SRN). SRN ends the cycle of generational poverty for homeless unaccompanied youths. Through my time engaged in this social practice, I have cultivated a large unconventional family and realized the immense value of intimate connections. SRN students defy the stereotypical representation of a homeless youth. They are warm, compassionate, determined young people who prevail over profound inherited inequalities. Because of this experience, my hopeful art practice intends to challenge the symbolic violence of pain narratives that pervades discourses around oppressed groups.
What are you currently working on?
I am continuing my series of portraits, called “Affirmations.” These paintings cultivate intimacy by making the real people who are portrayed feel important. A friend recently told me that the painting I gave her (a portrait of herself) is probably the best gift she has ever received. My art is about this kind of meaningful connection. My work makes other people happy, uses creative projects to deepen relationships.
You recently graduated from Pratt. Did anything surprise you when you left school and began this new chapter in your life?
I attended Vermont Studio Center and the Millay Colony for the Arts shortly after graduating from my MFA program. I relished the time spent singularly focused on my work, surrounded by other dedicated and delightful artists. I would not have known about the extensive list of artist residencies all over the world had I not attended school and been advised by faculty.
What are your professional and creative goals in the next five to ten years?
I have a whole spreadsheet of artist residencies, grants and awards for which I am continuously applying. I am excitedly working towards certain items on this list. Aiming for these concrete benchmarks will lead to other opportunities. I would like to participate in group shows and eventually have a solo exhibition in New York. I want to be represented by a New York gallery and have my work included in noteworthy collections. These ambitions facilitate my main aspiration — to have the means to keep making work.
What are some of the challenges you face or anticipate in achieving those goals?
I think it’s important to find enjoyment in the actual making of the work — the time I spend painting in my studio — and not let the slog for credentials spoil my spirit. I have a healthy understanding of the fact that I am a young, fledgling artist who is going to have to remain patient and persistent to make opportunities for myself.
What’s one of your favorite pieces you’ve created, and why?
My favorite paintings I have made strike an even balance between representing the likeness of the subject (they can see themselves represented) and allowing space for playfulness, imagination and spontaneity. I want my portraits to be my version of the person I am representing.
What advice do you have for current students in your MFA program?
First and foremost, make what you want. I think it’s really that simple.
Also, find mentors. While in my MFA, I interned with Ellen Harvey, Derrick Adams and Stanley Whitney, and at the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts Studio Program. From these invaluable experiences I was able to observe and hear directly from working artists who have sustained successful and rich art practices.
Are you currently living in New York City?
Yes, I live in Brooklyn. I work as a studio assistant for Derrick Adams and have a studio at Trestle Art Space. Although I am often back in my hometown of Tampa for activities and work related to SRN.