Phoenix artist comes home with work celebrating the people of the city | Phoenix New Times

Visual Art

“Where will my greatest impact be?”: Why this artist came home to Phoenix

Antoinette Cauley's "I Do It for the Hood Pt. 2" paintings depict the Black, Latino and Indigenous communities of Phoenix.
Artist Antoinette Cauley poses with a piece from "I Do It for the Hood Part 2."
Artist Antoinette Cauley poses with a piece from "I Do It for the Hood Part 2." Courtesy of Antoinette Cauley
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The faces in "I Do It for the Hood Pt. 2," the latest exhibition by artist Antoinette Cauley at Modified Arts, are Black, brown and Indigenous. Some are children and some are young adults. Some of the subjects live in Phoenix and some abroad.

What ties them together, besides their shared creator, is their power. Whether it's an Indigenous woman wearing an "America's Rent Is Due" shirt staring defiantly at the viewer, a Black man gazing pensively off into the distance or a young girl depicted in profile, Cauley's subjects are both visually and thematically compelling.

"I Do It for the Hood Pt. 2" is the second exhibition Cauley's had in the Valley since she returned from a three-year stint in Berlin; the born-and-raised Phoenician spent three years in Europe to develop as an artist and is now back in town, ready to continue making an impact on her community.

The show will be on display during February's First Friday as well as two other events. First, Modified will host a Valentine's Day pop-up this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that includes light bites, live music and gift bags for the first five people to show up. Then, a closing reception will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. on Feb. 10.

We recently spoke with Cauley about the show and her time in Berlin and why she came home.
click to enlarge
A painting from "I Do It for the Hood Pt 2."
Antoinette Cauley

Phoenix New Times: You lived in Berlin for several years. What was your time there like?
Antoinette Cauley: I think to best summarize it, my time in Berlin was super transformative for me as a person and for me as an artist. It allowed me time to get to know myself better and who I am by being put in such an uncomfortable and isolated situation, because it was during COVID when I moved there and they were much stricter and harsher with their rules.

But it also allowed me to understand my voice as an artist more because I was able to experience an entirely different culture and compare it to my culture back home in the States and start poking holes in certain issues I either already knew was there or I started to see new issues that I wasn’t so clear about before living in Germany.

What prompted the move back to Arizona?
It was a combination of things, but ultimately it came down to my legacy and my impact. It took me about a year to decide – I knew my German visa was going to expire, and a move across the world isn’t a small thing, so I had to plan way ahead. The question I asked myself was, “Where will my greatest impact be?” And I felt like it was going to be in my home city on the soil. When I’m here, the way that things move, the energy, I’m able to do so much more for the community and create an even bigger blueprint for the artists, especially the young black artists that will come up after me.

I know the "I Do It for the Hood Pt. 1" took place in Berlin. Can you tell us about the exhibition and the one in Phoenix?
Part one took place in Berlin and it was a way to share some of my culture, like Black American hood culture, with the people in Germany. And to talk about real issues that we face in America that they don’t have to think about so much. So I was spreading awareness about different cultural issues that we experience in Black, brown and Indigenous communities through, it was a smaller version of this show, but it was almost a preview of what would be coming to Phoenix.

At Modified, this body of work is really colorful, it’s really dynamic and it’s a cross-cultural story that I’m telling here. Ultimately what the show speaks to is the consequences of slavery and colonialism in the United States and how the impact of those things, how it affects Black, brown and Indigenous communities today and what that looks like.

So on one end, the show is a celebration of these marginalized communities and on the other end it is forcing some of my viewers to confront their own inherent biases, their own inherent racism, confront some of what their ancestors created here in this country. So people can expect to see visually beautiful work, but also they can expect to be challenged and maybe feel a bit uncomfortable in ways I feel are necessary for people to grow.

Who are the people in the paintings?
Some of them are people from the south side of London, some of them are from Berlin and the majority of them are native Phoenicians who were born and raised here.
click to enlarge
Cauley and one of her subjects smile together at Modified Arts.
Courtesy of Antoinette Cauley

How do you pick your subjects?
It’s kind of a gut thing. Sometimes I just see people and there’s something that draws me to them, so it’s instinctual – I feel like this is someone I should paint. Some of them are friends who I’ve known, and because there’s a relationship there, it feels sort of effortless to paint them.

But there has to be some sort of connection. It’s typically not just a random “I just need someone to paint” thing.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the show so far?
The show has gotten really great reviews. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about people connecting to the stories in the work. A lot of feedback from Black, brown and Indigenous communities where they’re just feeling very seen. That was a big goal of mine, especially with the Indigenous community here in Phoenix, I really wanted to paint the power I feel they represent, so that was sort of a new thing for me – to hear so many people from so many different communities, not just the Black community, express how empowered they felt and how appreciative they were to see images of themselves on the walls.

Not everyone can afford a piece of art, so I love that you also sell things like prints and candles so that people can have something that shows your work.
The art will always be accessible as in, my exhibitions are free and I want everyone to come, but as far as taking pieces home, I know the paintings are out of some people’s price ranges, so I try to have something for everyone, whether it’s a sticker or a candle. If you want to leave with a piece of something, I make sure there’s something for you.

What are you working on right now?
What am I not working on? I am out of the studio right now taking a bit of a break, but I have a lot of different projects in the works. Some sports teams that I can’t talk about. Some commissioned works. I’m working on an album cover right now, so lots of different projects.
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