By Chris Mueller

Photo by Charlese Dawson

Ivory Eddins specializes in semi-realism artwork and emotion-based abstract pieces that are heavily inspired by symbolism and spirituality. Her artwork incorporates a variety of different mediums such as acrylic paint, pastels, watercolor, colored pencil, and charcoal on canvas, wood, cardboard and glass surfaces. 

Eddins, 20, has showcased paintings at neighborhood markets around Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Garfield, downtown Pittsburgh and East Liberty. Her previous exhibits include “Schrodinger’s Monochrome” at Atithi Studios (Sharpsburg) and “Lay Bare” at the Brewhouse Association (South Side). In this interview, she expands on the BOOM Universe residency, the deeper meaning behind her artwork, and the critical relationship between creative expression and mental health.

How did you first come across the BOOM Universe summer residency opportunity? What encouraged you to apply for it? 

IE: Well, I wasn’t necessarily looking for residencies. I followed BOOM Concepts on Instagram. Someone DM’d me the application. I thought about applying but was nervous about putting together an artist bio. I also didn’t think I had enough time to complete the application. But then BOOM extended the deadline and said that my application didn’t have to be perfect. So I kind of took that as a sign that maybe I had a better chance at it than I initially thought. I applied last minute on the final day for submissions and luckily got selected.

That’s awesome. What was that first feeling like when you got the call and found out you were selected? What did this opportunity mean to you?

I was literally so excited. This is my first time ever having a legit studio space. Before, I was just working in my apartment and it was getting pretty crowded. I didn’t have as much space as I really needed. So this is huge for me. And it’s also just nice to have some separation between where I work and where I live. It’s motivating to come out here and put my everything into what I’m working on at the moment. 

With that said, what paintings are you working on at the moment? How will the BOOM residency help amplify your creative work? 
Some recurring symbols and themes that can be found in my work include suns, moons, eyes, clouds, tears, waves, plants, body parts, cluttered spaces, and brightly colored euphoric scenes. All of these images are significant to me and they are constantly evolving as I shift through experiences and emotions. Right now, I’m working on a series of paintings called “The Unknown” with several different sub-genres to it. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while. I’m now developing it visually around feelings of uncertainty and transition that I’ve experienced throughout my life. I think a lot of other people can relate to it as well.

Like, you’re wandering through this dark tunnel not knowing where to go or what’s coming next. You’re nervous and you don’t know what will happen, but you’re just holding on to hope that on the other side, something will be there waiting that makes everything worth it. Each painting in the series, while different, ties back to that overarching theme. I think it’s a way I can help others who are experiencing similar situations. I want them to remember that no matter what they’re going through, light still exists on the horizon.  

I feel like that series will really help a lot of people, especially over the winter months when it’s cold and dark and the days are shorter. You are essentially leveraging art and creative expression to shine a light on real-world emotions and help people better understand them in their own lives. Is helping others something you’ve always been passionate about? 

Yes. For my entire life, I’ve always loved helping other people – it’s a passion of mine and lights a fire within me. Expressing myself creatively through art gives me an impactful platform to do so. Finding ways to do that through my artwork is a top priority right now. I’d say my biggest goal in life is to use my ability to spread honest messages of hope and love as a way to uplift people and inspire them to become the most fulfilled versions of themselves.

Where did your initial interest in the arts come from? How did you first get involved with it? When was that point in time that you really decided to take it seriously? 

Growing up I always had a love for the arts and always kept a sketchbook around me, but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I decided to actually take art seriously. There was one class that really changed everything. Initially, I was inspired to become an animator and became very interested in character design. After graduation, I attended the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) for a semester with the intention of eventually transferring to Edinboro for their animation program. I took a couple of courses – one drawing class and one 2D design class – but then had to take a break from school for mental health reasons. I was weathering anxiety and depression and needed some time to step back and reevaluate my life.

Thank you for sharing, that is very admirable and not something everyone would have the courage to speak on publicly. How did that experience impact your relationship with the arts? Did creative expression serve as an important outlet for you during that period of your life?

After leaving school I moved back to my mom’s house, where I had experienced a lot of childhood trauma when I was young. Just being inside those four walls again resurfaced some of the memories from my past. So I ended up entering an in-patient mental health facility, the DAS Program at Wesley Family Services. I was only supposed to be there for 30 days, but I ended up staying for a total of nine months. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made. 

My time there is what made me fall in love with traditional art and painting. It allowed me to embrace and understand the emotions I was feeling at the time. By creating, I was relieving a lot of the stress from my childhood. That is one of the reasons why I feel it’s so important for people to create. It allows you to move energy throughout your body like a form of therapy or meditation. It helps alleviate anxiety and channel emotion in a positive way by unleashing feelings that otherwise stay bottled up deep inside you. 

That period of my life was so important for me and the staff was super supportive throughout the entire process. Like I also learned how to sing there too. I had always been able to maintain a solid pitch and rhythm, but I was still just missing something. A woman in there showed me how to sing from my diaphragm which was a game-changer. 

(Youtube: Ivory’s Story 2023 – Wesley Family Services)

In addition to your artwork, you’ve also experimented with songwriting and performing around the Pittsburgh live music scene. What has that experience been like thus far? Do you plan on pursuing more music-related opportunities in the future?

I’ve written some songs on my own and can mess around with a guitar here and there, but I still feel kind of funny calling myself a musician. My first performance was at the Carnegie Museum of Art for Artist Talk. I also applied for that last minute as well, just decided I was going to be spontaneous and go with music instead of art for the submission. I sang one of the first songs I wrote and people loved it. I’m currently more focused on art right now, but music is definitely something I want to circle back around with eventually. 

You applied last minute for both Art Talk and the BOOM residency … and got accepted both times. Has that helped build your confidence? Are you starting to see the value of stepping out of your comfort zone? 

100 percent. I’m a lot more comfortable applying for things because I’m learning that there’s no harm in trying, right? I definitely feel more confident than I was when I first started focusing on art and music. This is like my second full year, and I feel like I’ve already accomplished so much. This BOOM residency is helping me take my work to the next level, so I’m really excited about everything to come. 

In September, Eddins will display work from her BOOM Universe residency at Trace Brewing in Bloomfield.

Follow her on Instagram @ivory_is_an_artist  

Ivory Eddins is a Pittsburgh mixed media creative and 2023 BOOM Universe resident artist.
Chris Mueller is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. Twitter/IG: @bychrismueller