Adrienne Gaither and Lynnie Z are two young artists who are starting to get their careers off the ground. Gaither, 30, began working in graphic design as a student at Howard University before painting fell into her lap, and she fell in love with the process. "Since then, I’ve just been deciding what my visual language is and how to find my voice and a distinct style," she said recently. That means she works through painting and installations to explore identity and black imagination, leading to exhibits at the Washington Project for the Arts and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. Meanwhile, Lynnie Z, 29, grew up far away from the American capital in the Scottish borders, and as soon as she turned 17 eloped to London, "just to be amongst it all," as she put it. While she started out as an illustrator, her first job out of Kingston University, just outside the city, was at a small fashion label called Fanny & Jessy, and it led to her current practice—bold and colorful portraits that aim to capture the beguiling complexity of women. "I just wanted to create for the sake of creating and not having to have a kind of constant narrative," she said.
The two of them are among the artists the premium water brand LIFEWTR has selected to advance and showcase, including having their work featured on its water bottles. LIFEWTR, which launched earlier this year, provides a platform to support emerging artists and shed light on significant topics in art and culture. With Series 2, which made its debut in June, LIFEWTR aimed to advance the careers of an often underrepresented group, female artists—including Gaither, Lynnie Z, as well as that of New York-based artist Trudy Benson—by showcasing their work on a global stage and featuring their creations on some 20 million bottles that were on store shelves for several months, a rare and broad platform for any up-and-comer to be discovered. Gaither and Lynnie Z were in Miami for the annual Art Basel fair for a panel, and sat down to discuss the obstacles they face as working artists, especially as women, how they find their inspiration, and what it was like to translate their work to appear on a water bottle.
As you are coming up as young artists, what challenges do you still face?
Adrienne Gaither: I think the challenges for emerging artists as well as just being a woman artist, too, are accessibility to space and resources, also overcoming the idea of scarcity. I think among artists, we lowball ourselves and don’t really value our work so much because we just want to seize the opportunity, but we should really be more empowered to ask for what we want and value our work and respect it as such.
Lynnie Z: I really second that. I think the main struggle is being able to have those resources I think every artist kind of needs, which is a studio and materials and an industry that’s going to really work with you, too, because I think things in London might be a little bit different in terms of getting sponsors and galleries. You’ve got to do it kind of in a grass roots way for a while and try to get up there and make your own shows and do it yourself. I’ve definitely felt like the financial pressure of getting studios to actually create the work that I’d really like to create.
Are there any particular challenges for woman artists?
Lynnie Z: I feel like my experience has been fairly positive as a female artist, but then also, I don’t even know what kind of opportunities that I haven’t known about because I’ve been on the other side. Learning that only three to five percent of women are featured in permanent collections across the United States and Europe was pretty shocking, so that definitely ignites the flame, gets this conversation going again.
Where do you find your inspiration, or how do you stay sharp and innovative?
Gaither: By practicing radical honesty, and what I mean by that is, I allow myself room to grow, and tell myself that I reserve the right to change my mind.
Lynnie Z: I think that’s true. For me, it’s just really trying to just get my head into that kind of centered zone and place, and I think that’s what I’m always striving to do, is to try to find that environment, create the environment where I can just be in that open state of mind to create something and just kind of get past the bravery and just keep on working through the bad drawings you’re going to create and the process is what inspires me.
How did this collaboration with LIFEWTR come about?
Gaither: So LIFEWTR reached out to me and expressed interest in my work, and I was open to the opportunity. I saw that there could be some long-term benefits, especially with mentorship, so I’m mostly interested in that, and it’s a designer’s dream job to have their work all over the place, so that was also my motivation.
Lynnie Z: It was out of the blue for me as well, but it’s definitely been a very unique journey working with them. They first got in contact September last year, so it’s actually been quite a long process, but it’s been good. We’ve just been kind of dipping in and out of each other’s lives and checking up and seeing what ideas we’ve got, and it has felt very collaborative, which I think is just very refreshing.
What do you think is going to be the impact on your careers?
Lynnie Z: I feel like it might have already had an impact, because I’ve got more U.S.-based clients. Generally it’s just kind of bringing visibility to artists, and especially the series of women in the arts, that’s something that’s really worthwhile.
Talk about the work you did for the labels.
Gaither: I saw it as an opportunity to have fun, and I didn’t have to commit to the guidelines of brand identities. I got to show off, and I think this was an opportunity for me to shine, so I tried to do that with my work.
Lynnie Z: It was just a very freeing process because they were just like, 'What would you do with this?' It was just quite fun just to kind of just break that down, and actually, I wanted to make something that was quite informal and not something that you kind of see in a store anyway. I wanted to see something that was kind of a bit rawer and showed a bit more of the creative process. There’s like an explorative feeling about it, and it’s something that you don’t always see.
You're used to seeing your work on canvasses, or other more traditional mediums. What does it feel like to see it on a water bottle, on a much smaller scale?
Lynnie Z: Really good. I think it’s something that like you don’t expect to see. Like, it’s a really unlikely pairing, and that’s what’s so great about it. You don’t expect to see art on a bottle, but I think that’s something that is so accessible, and I think that’s something that I kind of want to move towards, so that you could be in, like, the Nevada desert, and you’ll come across this funny little bottle with a piece of art on it.
Gaither: When I look at the bottle, I see my experiences and this is one milestone that lets me know I have more work to do, so I am appreciating the moment, and being present, but also thinking about the future.
One of the great perks of this project for you is that your work will now be seen by millions of people, so how does that feel? What do you hope all these millions of people will walk away with by having seen your work? How do you think they’ll be inspired by it?
Lynnie Z: Hopefully, they’ll be inspired by just seeing something that’s just different from the norm. I just feel like it’s such a different idea, and it’s something that has broken down that boundary initially, and it’s going to reach so many people in places that you wouldn’t expect.
Gaither: I also would say that I hope that the audience of LIFEWTR can use this to find their own freedom because I feel this is an opportunity where I'm doing what I want to do and I'm just getting started.
That’s very encouraging. Is this your first time at Art Basel? What do you hope to see?
Lynnie Z: Yes. There’s quite a few people I want to see. I’m constantly taking in all these images and all these different artists’ work online and everything, so it’s just been really great to just go around some of the fairs and just place everything together. I really loved the Untitled Art Fair.
Gaither: I was here in 2014. I showed at the Prizm Art Fair. It was a learning experience and I was really nervous, so this time, I was like I’m going to just have fun. I am looking forward to seeing the No Commission show. There’s a lot of artists in the show that I’m fans of their work. Shinique Smith, Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, and I mean, Swizz Beatz is spinning and all, so I mean, I’m really just looking forward to discovering new artists that I want to fangirl over.
LIFEWTR launched in February, 2017 with a belief that art is as essential to life as water and emerging artists need more platforms and resources to breakthrough. The brand works with renowned art curators and partners like the CFDA and Frieze to identify emerging creative talent. LIFEWTR then provides a platform to support and nurture these creatives, helping them bring their visions to life, reach new audiences and inspire with their work. Series to date have addressed public art, emerging designers and arts in education. With series two, LIFEWTR championed women in the arts, as the brand notes that women are still significantly underrepresented in the large museum and gallery collections. The efforts included support of the Frieze Brooklyn Museum Fund and raising the profiles of the emerging female artists featured in the series in an effort to garner greater exposure for the talent and interest in their work.