“The one thing I can count on is being able to make something no matter what’s going on around me,” says Atlanta visual artist Ingrid Yuzly Mathurin.
Known in art circles as Yuzly (a name her mom gave her because she looked unique), her creativity in acrylic and oil painting, graffiti art, drawing, film photography and printmaking is much like her temperament. She’s strong, vivid and soft at the same time. A survivor, for sure — two miscarriages and a divorce in the midst the COVID-19 pandemic. She went six months with no income and, in the past, dealt with a transient ischemic attack, sort of a mini-stroke.
Mathurin, 36, is a first-generation Haitian American. She grew up in Orange Park, Florida, near Jacksonville, and spent many years in foster care. She lived in Brooklyn, New York, before coming to Atlanta. She still finds it interesting that her art took off once she moved to a “Black city.” In 2019 her work was part of Journey to South Africa, an exhibition at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum of Art in Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Her art thrives despite the pandemic, and includes Journey of a Black Girl as part of Art on the Atlanta BeltLine’s Southside Trail, art activism with Power Haus Creative, murals and, during voting season, commissions (see them on her Instagram page).
Most recently, Mathurin taught free virtual art classes through a grant from Fulton County Arts & Culture. She called them “Becoming Omiyale” and says Omiyale is her spiritual name.
“I taught people how to paint and, more importantly, how to use storytelling in art,” she says. “I shared how I come up with ideas, photographing subjects, and my painting techniques. Classes were formed for Fulton County residents, but I also had someone from Texas and from the U.K. The mix of participants was really cool. Some never painted before. I also had a grad student, a professor and someone who is color-blind.
Mathurin set her paintbrush down long enough to chat with ArtsATL.
ArtsATL: What are some of your earliest creative memories?
Ingrid Yuzly Mathurin: Drawing Minnie Mouse as a child was my thing, but middle- and high-school art teachers helped me develop skills. And my foster mom, Malerie, helped cultivate my craft and make sure I had all the art supplies to do whatever I wanted. When I was 16 I kinda got bored with black-and-white drawings. I mainly learned by reading a lot of books and getting tips from different artists. I saw an oil painting from this guy. I was like, “Oh, my God, I want to learn how to do that!” I taught myself how to paint with oils. I helped teach kids mural painting in 2013 at a nonprofit in Miami. It was a great experience.
ArtsATL: Had you always desired becoming an artist?
Mathurin: Initially I was doing it to help me escape from my everyday life. I didn’t really think I was going to make it into a career. I’m a single mom of an 18-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son. I was 18 when I actually sold my first painting. Art helped bring in extra income and that gave me the encouragement that I could actually do this. I first started painting abstract work, which sold like crazy. I then started to paint portraits. I have a fashion design background, too. I’m slowly going to be implementing my art into fashion this upcoming year.
ArtsATL: How would you describe your style?
Mathurin: I’ve started narrowing my work, my style. It’s pretty much about sharing stories. When I paint a portrait, I’m sharing a story of that person or sharing a story of myself. The week of the presidential election I showed the start of a monochromatic-toned painting of James Baldwin on Instagram and it sold before I finished. I chose Baldwin because he was part of the civil rights movement and always fought for equality for people of color. It’s so relevant right now.
ArtsATL: How do you know when life situations need to become art?
Mathurin: We live in a judgmental world. Artists, especially, can show things that need to need to be uncovered. One of Dalai Lama’s quotes is powerful, “Love is the absence of judgment.” You can look at me and see I’m super stylish every time I go out, but deep down I’ve been like a diamond. I’ve got a lot of rough edges, but it doesn’t look that way. That’s part of the journey. We don’t have to look like what we’ve been through.
ArtsATL: What keeps you going?
Mathurin: African spirituality helps me. It’s helped me be the best version of myself and helps me heal. I’ve gone through a lot growing up and as I parent. My daughter has a mental disorder and was sexually assaulted. I really just want to share my experience in hopes of helping someone else.
ArtsATL: What’s next?
Mathurin: I plan to go to Nigeria and will be documenting my process of being initiated into African spirituality. In the fall, I’ll be doing a solo exhibition and a book. I’ll share what I’ve been through and how certain people in my life impacted and helped me by showing a different way of life. If you study African spirituality, you’ll notice certain symbols or colors in some pieces. The first painting I’m doing is a self-portrait. I won’t be sharing any of my art for this show on social media. People will have to come to the show and purchase a book.
ArtsATL: What’s a surprising aspect of your newer work?
Mathurin: In my solo show I’ll be doing abstract pieces that represent my dealing with people who have mental illnesses. I mentioned my daughter’s illness, but my mother was diagnosed with a mental illness when I was 12. It’s important to share my story. I hope it makes people look deeper at what’s happening with children.
ArtsATL: If you could have been in anyone’s studio, whose would it have been?
Mathurin: Frida Kahlo. I feel like my life’s a bit similar. I love her art and how she continued to work through physical pain. I can relate to her miscarriages and heartbreaks. I’d would’ve also liked to have hung out with Picasso. Dude had tons of work, and I want to get to that level. You know who I’d love to have been around who’s not a painter? Maya Angelou. Her life story is what encourages me to share my story. She was so open about life’s pain and struggles making her who she’d become. That’s freaking amazing and so inspiring.
ArtsATL: Why is it so important for you to speak your own truth?
Mathurin: I want to create art and share lives of people I know. Everyone has a story. I feel I can help inspire someone else. There are many things that aren’t spoken about. I went through abuse. That’s heavy, right? You can’t brush that off. We need to stop holding things inside and take off the masks. Period.
ArtsATL: How has art helped you understand this world better and what needs clarity?
Mathurin: One of my favorite eras is the Harlem Renaissance. Art, in all its forms, showcased everyday lives of people of color. Nowadays, a lot of that isn’t happening because we’ve been so focused on the negative. It’s important to showcase the beauty and style of people of color. Look how celebrated the movie Black Panther was. We have to represent the greatness of our culture. That’s just what I’m trying to do with my work.