Art Comes with a Playlist

British artist Joy Yamusangie specializes in illustration but, within that category, experiments with a range of processes, such as drawing, painting and collaging. The artist, who uses they pronouns, is a strong believer in how art can foster and express community.

Their many accomplishments include a public art installation commissioned by Tate Collective, a London Borough of Culture award, and creating the cover for the 2021 Penguin edition of C. L. R. James’ Minty Alley. Their clients include Spotify, Gucci, and Michael Kors.

Here, Yamusangie talks with Absolut Art about the way art can come with a playlist, the way a suit can be just as expressive as a painting, and how they hope their art may appeal to those who might never set foot in a gallery.

Your artwork A Blues Night is emblematic of your interests in both visual art and music. A few of your recent exhibitions come with Spotify playlists, which I’ve never seen an artist supply before. How did this innovative idea come about?

I always have music playing in the studio. It informs some of my brush movements and the rhythm and flow of my lines. So when I had my first exhibition, I didn’t want the paintings to be viewed in silence. I wanted them to be seen as they were in the studio, with sound and noise, for the paintings to have full feeling and come to life.

Kite Dreams, on the other hand, focuses on your clothing choices in a childhood photo. You’ve created ceramics that feature clothing designs, and the lead image on your website at the moment is a merman in a snazzy suit and hat. How do the two art forms complement each other in your work?

I find fashion interesting, both what people wear and how they wear it. It’s just as expressive as painting itself. The suit at first may appear as a bland item, but it’s something that I’ve always been drawn to, and it appears in a lot of my works. To me the suit is far from dull and can be vibrant and elegant like the sapeurs of the Congo.

Blacks and Blues, meanwhile, is a self-portrait, a genre that you say is partly about self-appreciation and self-acceptance. In this incredibly challenging year we’ve lived through, how has your artistic practice overall helped to continue to ground you?

Self portraiture is something I return to frequently. The process of drawing myself is grounding. It’s a way of taking time to observe myself, recognising my feelings and thoughts.

You have a lively practice on other kinds of creative projects, such as clothing designs and book covers. Do you think of these projects as very different from your self-directed art projects, or are they more complementary?

Different, yes, but all still extensions of me. I enjoy making work that lives outside the gallery and engages with audiences who do not visit galleries for whatever reason but may enjoy art in its many other forms, whether through literature, fashion, music, or film.