Marina Esmeraldo talks about Black Girl Magic, her new neon exhibition celebrating the 'goddesses, warriors and icons of music'

We caught up with Illustrator and artist Marina Esmeraldo after the launch of her collaborative exhibition with Honey Dijon and Hens Teeth, Black Girl Magic.

Marina Esmeraldo

In the midst of COVID-19 madness, what was supposed to be an in-person interview with the fabulously talented artist and Illustrator Marina Esmeraldo before the Dublin opening of Black Girl Magic at Hen Teeth Studios became a phone call for health and safety and social distancing purposes and the launch was cancelled. Fear not, Marina is a sounder and the gang at Hens Teeth have got you covered. You’ll be able to see the show in all it’s glory when normal service resumes. 

Tell us the origins of Black Girl Magic as a project? 

Hen’s Teeth and I have collaborated for several years now. Grace Jones was the first print that I did for them, for Hen’s Teeth Store. We’ve always collaborated around music and these iconic figures especially women and then a few years later they commissioned the Sade print. This show has been organically in the making for a while because Greg and I had already discussed the potential of working with neon and at the same time Honey (Dijon) had already contacted me about really liking my work and to try and do something together. So Black Girl Magic, I suppose was a really beautiful way to make all that happen. 

So, why neon? Why that form? 

Well, Honey is obviously an electronic music DJ but Hens Teeth have clubbing and nightlife in their backgrounds as well. They have this power to have community and this nightlife as well and I think it just made sense to use neon as a medium because of the theme of the collection which was music and power and female power or feminine power and yeah background in music and nightlife, it was quite organic and it all made sense. 

I’ve never done anything in neon. We had to adjust everything with the maker, of course, the amazing studio in Berlin and we were always fine-tuning to get the colours right, the thickness of the lines or the tubes correctly and make a drawing that could be reproduced in neon but the guys at Signs who made it was real heroes as well the whole project really came together at the hand of experts. It was awesome.

Image of Grace Jones done in neon lights as part of Black Girl Magic in Hens Teeth

Did the medium have an impact on your illustrative process?  

Yeah, I mean, I already, most of my work uses lots of lines and in this case, we had to remove the solid shapes, right, in a way they became light, the solid shapes. 

And because of the power of the loss of potency of the light, and yeah, I had to adapt to it and it was definitely informed by the medium. The essence of it is still the linework which is all there. 

How has your tropical upbringing in northeast Brazil informed your work?

I think it’s very hard not to be influenced by your surroundings when you grow up. And in Brazil, we have such a rich, folkloric culture. This all came out in my work quite late because I trained in architecture and when I was an architecture student, I really was obsessed with minimalism. And clean white shapes. Then when I started to work with illustration, a lot of colour and pattern and craziness came out and I just kind of rolled with it, let it come through.

But little by little the architectural training took over and more and more, I worked more in geometry and geometric abstract compositions, which are definitely architectural in nature, but I still can’t, I’ve even tried to get away but I can’t really get away from the need to use colour and vibrancy and it’s kind of stronger than me. I think there’s a vibrant quality of where I’m from that finds its way into my work and now I’ve been working long enough to witness it sometimes it takes different shapes or different mediums or different ways, but it is.

Architecture sounds like the perfect previous career for an illustrator! 

I mean, illustration is commercial art, right? So you have to, in a way, solve the problem but the principle of it is all composition and beauty and with architecture, you learn to see, you have to deconstruct the world in order to construct it again. So, I’m very glad I had that background before working with visual art. 

You chose a really beautiful range of artists to immortalise in Black Girl Magic. Did you have their music in mind during the process? 

Oh my God. Oh yeah. I made a playlist of all their work, and a lot of my favourites and the biggest hit and every time I was working on the project, I would listen to it and it was just so joyful and amazing and so positive and every time I did it, I was just, I would just take dance breaks.

Don’t forget to buy online and support local businesses where possible. Hens Teeth are a small independent store, gallery and diner on Blackpitts, Dublin 8, putting smiles on faces through art, food and music since 2015. The Marina Esmeraldo exhibition will launch in Dublin once the gallery reopens.

Their online store is still open and they are offering free global shipping on all orders until March 31. Use the code WASHTHEMPAWS at checkout. Visit Hens Teeth online here for more. 

You can find out more about the work of Marina Esmeraldo online here.


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