Saturday, January 28, 2023

From the Magazine: Following the Thread

Michelle Drummond was burnt out. Living in Washington, D.C., as a federal contracted project manager for 17 years with an art hobby on the side, she decided, circa 2018, that it was time for a career change and a lifestyle change. She favored Florida for its tropical climate, but the connection she would soon establish to Delray Beach was nothing short of kismet.

“I found Arts Warehouse before I came down, and I spoke to Grace [Gdaniec, now the Warehouse’s manager],” Drummond recalls. “When I clicked on her website and looked through it and called, Grace said, ‘How did you find us?’ She said, ‘I just hit publish [on the website].’ That was a sign that I was making the right move.”

Four years later, Drummond still maintains a studio in Arts Warehouse, but her reach extends throughout the city and county. She also runs a pop-up gallery of her work in the SofA District, and she was selected for the final exhibition curated at the Cornell Art Museum in 2021. In March, she premiered her first public art installation, “The Metamorphosis,” inside the Mandel Library in West Palm Beach, becoming the first Black female artist to be awarded a solo, permanent public art commission by the city.

Drummond’s specialty is three-dimensional fiber art whose bright hues echo the Pop Artists of yore—Kandinsky, Lichtenstein, Warhol—while occupying a space between representation and abstraction. In “Life’s Rhythm,” blue yarn conjures a heart monitor with its ebbs, flows and spikes, suggesting life’s peaks, craters and surprises. In “Let it Roll,” perhaps Drummond’s most meta piece, spools of yarn tumble off an outstretched tongue, suspended in midair. “Navigating the System,” with its swirls of teal and white bands converging into a vortex, resembles both a question mark and a river—an endless flow of uncertainty, a metaphor perhaps for life itself.

“I create based on what manifests itself to me,” she says. “The colors I pull from my culture, the Caribbean; I create vibrant art to uplift me and evoke some sense of happiness and joy and peace.”

To tour Drummond’s work is to experience her life story, as her biography and her corpus are intertwined. “Risk Taker 1,” for instance, which displays a hand pressing a button that opens a new opportunity, was completed a year after she left a financially sound career to make art full-time.

A native of Jamaica, Drummond took her first risk in 1995, leaving her family behind to attend St. Lawrence College, in upstate New York, on an academic scholarship. She played field hockey in college, achieved her bachelor’s in mathematics, and studied computer science and French. She didn’t have the opportunity to explore art seriously until her senior year. “I always liked art, but culturally, that’s not a career to pursue,” she says. “Jamaica is a very conceited environment. If you’re not a doctor or lawyer, your career path is not very respected. It’s a lot of status, money, classism.”

So Drummond played the corporate game for nearly two decades, only to find that as a woman of color, she faced hurdles in America too. “There were a lot of biases in corporate. I was tired of fighting—trying to earn recognition when I didn’t necessarily need to earn it. I didn’t think I was being fairly treated in most of the corporate arena, and needed to fight to keep my position, and for respect and acknowledgement. I said, what am I fighting for?”

At the time, she made art on the side and gifted the finished works to friends. One of them coaxed her into following this passion full-time, which ultimately inspired the web search that led to Delray Beach and Arts Warehouse.

These days, her C.V. includes more than 25 group or solo exhibitions in just four years, a remarkably swift ascent. In addition to her original artwork, she sells prints of her work, handbags emblazoned with her imagery, and textiles derived from her finished pieces. She would welcome gallery representation to handle the business side of her art.

“My work is so unique, it’s not the traditional oil on canvas, or sculpture,” she says. “I’m using untraditional material … and for a lot of people, it’s more of an acquired taste. I’ve exhibited tremendously, and everyone is fascinated by my work, but I need to find the right audience, and the right person, who would want to collect my work.”

This article is from the November/December 2022 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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