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Tonya Cameron - November 2023

Featured in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Tonya on a stool surrounded by her artwork
Tonya Cameron - November '23 Spotlight Artist

How and where did your art practice begin?

I have a very organic story that included much self discovery. I have been a working hair/makeup artist for three decades, working in the fashion industry, it started in California (home state) and then after a little stint in Europe moved to New York City. I spent 15 years working with top models, celebrities, athletes for advertising campaigns, magazines, catalogs, TV and runway. I moved to the Midwest in July 2013, and got straight to work. My agent in New York had offices in Chicago, it was a seamless transition. Then the world shut down, make up was the first to go with Covid. At first I think we were all thinking, “Okay, I will have a couple weeks off, lets do a puzzle and bake bread”, then weeks turned into months and  the panic really set in. Here is where the self discovery comes into the story, I NEEDED to create. I always have loved my job but I don’t think I thought of myself as a true artist, I did not know that I had to create things in order to be calm. I have always been a music head, I love it, I am passionate about it and its my go to in all situations, happiness, celebration, sadness, anger, anxiousness, I have music for all occasions. So I was in my basement and my hairdresser is nuts about Stevie Nicks, so I decided to try and paint her and if it turned out, I would gift in to her. It turned out, and I gifted it to her. She opened the package on Instagram LIVE and it was being viewed by many people, someone who is a store owner and an interior designer reached out, “Figure out how to make prints, I am going to sell the hell out of those”, I did what I was told, and she sold the hell out of them. Long story shortish, I am now in about 25+ stores around the country, I have had three solo shows, a few group shows, was on the news (insert mind blown emoji) and the most exciting part is that I have had my art in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame for 2.5 years now and they just expanded my line. I have painted 55 musicians to date and I am IN LOVE with painting. I know what I am here to do now and I will paint for the rest of my life and hopefully a few of them sell.

Where do you draw inspiration from for your forms/designs? 

I paint the people that have had a profound impact on my life, and the list is long and varied. I love faces, the fact that we all have the same features, eyes, nose , mouth and ears and yet we are all so different, it never fails to amaze. I love color and using color where “it shouldn’t be”. In makeup I consider myself a “skin person”, I am the master of matching any skin tone and that is much appreciated by the models I work with. FYI, I have a terrible case of imposter syndrome with  my painting, so its nice to be able to speak confidently about my makeup skills.

What draws you to your specific/preferred medium?

I started with watercolor, I was painting cows for a minute, then I tried dogs with acrylic and I painted peoples pets, there are about 100+ people in the world that have one of my dog paintings. I went with acrylic for a couple reasons, first you can control it, the colors are vibrant, you can clean/manipulate it with water and I don’t like all the chemicals that you have to use to clean with oils. I like the way oil looks, and I think you can get effects with oil that you cannot get with acrylic. The last and biggest reason I like acrylic is that it dries FAST, it would drive me crazy to wait weeks for a painting to dry.

Who were you mentors? What resources did you use to learn? 

What didn’t inspire me, I had all the time in the world when I started this process. YOU Tube, I ordered books, I did virtual museum tours from the biggest and best museums around the world, that was one of the cool things you could do in covid, you could enter just about any museum virtually and see all the art, brilliant. Lots of trial and error, lots of painting over canvases with gesso. If I ever get famous, they will find lots of under paintings of my work, “ I wonder why Debbie Harry is under Taylor Swift?” My favorite artist has always been Modigliani, I don’t try or think my art is inspired by his work perse, but I think he was so innovative and unique with his approach to the human face. I am a  nose person and I love his long, elegant noses.  My current favorite is Kehinde Wiley, this man is brilliant. I love his colors, how real the skin looks, his backgrounds, they are so layered with meaning, his works are so beautiful and I could look at them all day. I also love Bisa Butler, she is a quilter and the way she uses color is gorgeous and unexpected.

What challenges do you have?

I have A LOT of challenges, I am self taught and so I mess up all the time. When you are painting famous people you have to get the symmetry correct or it’s a “version” of them. When I first started, I tried to paint Frida. I have painted her three times since. I could not get her eyes and nose placement correct to save my life, but I did create another woman with flowers in her hair, and I liked her face, so that painting is called “Frida’s sister”.  I am not a realist painter, nor do I want to be, I like the freedom of using any color I want, where ever I want, someone described me as “abstract realism” and I like that title. I really admire realist painters and I am in awe when I see their work. The one thing I work very hard on is the eyes, if I get their eyes, I get them. I always take pictures of my paintings through the process because I can see my mistakes immediately in a picture, sometimes its not as obvious when you are staring at the painting for a long time. I can try and fix them before it gets too far. I have had to start over many times and I still have never been able to capture Tom Petty, ugh!, I am going to have a show of all my awful Tom Petty paintings.

Where is your practice now?

Oh, I have very lofty goals, I want to be represented by galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and London. I want to do some of the “fancy” art shows, Art basel would be the ultimate. I love when someone walks into my tent at an art show and say “oh my gosh, I love ‘fill in the blank”. I am madly in love with the Rolling Stones and have been since I was a small person. I have a vast collection of art of the members of that band, mostly Mick. If I ever saw anything and I could afford it, I was the person saying “Oh, I LOVE Mick” so its really cool to do that for other people. I have also had people walk by my work and make a face like they smelled something bad, they keep me grounded. Everyone is an art critic, I could write a whole dissertation about “art critics”, another time.

How do community art spaces like Art Hub enhance your ability to make, distribute, and celebrate art? 

If anyone is reading this and has watched Ted Lasso (highly recommend it) “Art is Life” is something I would say. I love learning new things, I have taken one class at Art Hub and I plan to take more. I take inspiration from other artists, I love meeting them and hearing their process, I love to support other artists. I buy as much original art from local people as I can, especially women artists. I think the Art Hub has such a good vibe and it makes me want to keep creating. I was driving home from Madison and my paintings were in the window, I almost had an accident I was so excited. Art has brought me so much joy and I love being a part of something bigger that is bringing beauty to the world, and making people feel inspired to go and create themselves. There is an artist in everyone.

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