Splashes of tea on paper, crayon scribbles, sketches of telephone poles and construction sites, cutouts of flowers and tasty plates of food – all of these things create the curious, artistic world in which artist Rae Pleasant lives. Rae pulls inspiration not only from the trappings of suburbia but from African-American history and heritage.
“I think that’s not something people expect,” she said. “I think sometimes when our history is thought about or talked about, it can be negative, but there’s aspects of it that can be very romantic and lead to really great storytelling and imagery.”
Rae, a resident of Lewisville, was a featured artist-in-residence in December and January at the Plano Library’s 18st AIRSpace program, and her work graced the walls of the Courtyard Theater in downtown Plano. She studied art history and dance performance at Southern Methodist University before moving to New Zealand to study art history at the University of Auckland – a choice inspired by her desire to travel.
When Rae returned from the beautiful landscape of New Zealand, she felt the jarring difference of scenery between the island surroundings she had grown accustomed to and the suburban sprawl to which she returned.
“Coming back to North Texas was visually shocking,” she said. “The landfill in Lewisville tripled when I got back. It was kind of depressing, boomeranging back home, but I decided to look at where I am with an artistic eye. The reality is that you are where you are.
Rae’s approach to her own work is combining something beautiful and unexpected with something mundane — grabbing imagery of everything from junk mail to construction sites. Aside from a few classes during her adolescence, Rae is completely a self-taught artist. She said she always liked creating as a child but dance took up a lot of her time. Once she let go of practicing dance, she dove into making art and projects.
“I kept this to myself a long time, so I thought it was time to share,” Rae said. “After studying art history, I was able to look at art a different kind of way — academically. It is a way of expressing what I was experiencing with a hands-on component.”
Her time in New Zealand also sparked the characters in her illustrated children’s book, “Introducing Patti and Kitta: Adventures in Tea Time,” which features two cats that live with their grandmother in a cottage. They build quilt forts during tea time and end up in a traveling show in their dreamy adventures.
When Rae was in New Zealand, she spent her semesters off as an au pair, and the children often asked to her to make up stories for them. There were a lot of cat colonies and lost cat signs in the area. The idea of a secret world of cute animals inspired her to create Patti and Kitta. It was also important to Rae for the characters to resonate with children of color.
“I wanted to create cute kittens with darker fur because most cutesy, feminine animals in storytelling are pure snow white. I noticed that as a child,” she said. “I wanted darker cats to relate to more diverse kids on a subconscious level.”
When not creating her artwork, Rae Pleasant operates the gallery at the Dallas Public Library Central Branch and coordinates the permanent art collection for the Fine Arts Division. Her artwork can be seen on her Pleasant Folk Press website.Adventures in Tea Time Book > Pleasant Folk Press >
Feature image of Rae Pleasant at top is by Jenice Johnson Williams.