QUEST SKINNER: BREAKING AWAY THE EMOTIONAL BLOCKADE BETWEEN ARTISTS AND BUYERS
Quest Skinner is an artist who is always striving to find new ways to make her artwork break away the emotional blockade between artists and buyers. As a mixed-media artist, teacher and community activist. Quest is influenced by the energy of cityscapes, music and the personalities she encounters every day. Then, in her studio, she brings them into her world; a world that takes raw feelings, vibrations and various moments in our lives then captures them with flowing pigments. Quest’s artwork tells a story that changes with every person who sees her work. Working with different traditional and non-traditional mediums, her fluid and always interchanging style of work keeps patrons coming back to explore the world through Quest’s eyes.
IN THIS EPISODE
[00:58] On what she's most passionate about
[01:40] On her childhood and how she got her name
[05:12] On her cultural heritage
[06:43] On being an artist
[09:31] On what inspires her art
[13:25] On describing her work
[16:44] On Burning man
[24:29] On her commissioned mural at The National Museum of Women in the Arts
[31:54] On her dream for the future for her goddaughter
Passionistas: Hi and welcome to the Passionistas Project Podcast, where we talk with women who are following their passions to inspire you to do the same.
We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington and today we’re talking with Quest Skinner, an artist who is always striving to find new ways to make her artwork break away the emotional blockade between artists and buyers. As a mixed-media artist, teacher and community activist. Quest is influenced by the energy of cityscapes, music and the personalities she encounters every day. Then, in her studio, she brings them into her world; a world that takes raw feelings, vibrations and various moments in our lives then captures them with flowing pigments. Quest’s artwork tells a story that changes with every person who sees her work.
Working with different traditional and non-traditional mediums, her fluid and always interchanging style of work keeps patrons coming back to explore the world through Quest’s eyes.
So please welcome to the show, Quest Skinner.
Quest Skinner: Thank you guys for having me.
Passionistas: What's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Quest: I think as I get older, staying honest and true to self. Over the years, you know, we compromise just a little and sometimes it really will take one moment and make it eternal. I just want to make sure that I stay true to self and vibe and keep my, my spirit in life and love.
It's so easy to get knocked off of your posts when things aren't always, or don't appear to be what you want or aren't in focus in that moment. So staying focused.
Passionistas: Let's take a step back. Tell us a little bit about where you grew up and your childhood. And, um, in particular, where did your name come from?
Quest: Childhood is one of those sensitive issues with me. I think like anybody who really creates and put your heart in your blood and your mind into it, it's got to come out of something. And I look at my childhood coming out of Pittsburgh, a little like a coal miner's daughter. I was, I learned how to sew. I learned how to hunt.
I learned how to fish. I learned how to live organic and be a part of everything around me. And then I also learned we're fine. And I learned how to dress and walk the part and go to Bible school. And you know, this, I went to Colfax Elementary School, so a little Jewish elementary school, and I learned the world from being in a microcosm that was so filled with culture.
The one thing I can say is those mountain cities, like the one that I moved to now, Seattle, they're filled with so much art, so much culture vibing communities that in the worst of times, really make the most intricate and extreme and brilliant thought process manifest out of nothing. So, yeah, Pittsburgh, that was part of it.
And then about 16. And after my 16th birthday, my mother kind of packed me up and said, we're moving Arizona. And I went from mountains to Val. And it was very amazing. I got really interconnected with, um, one of my cousins and she's just a spirit of fire and life and by vivacious. And here we both are at 43 and we are alive.
I, I think it all comes from being, being in, in extreme different environments and not really knowing what I was getting into, but being a part of that environment made emoted and really created this like international, global little phenomenon spirit. It was everybody to go a little bit deeper into it.
How did I even get my name? I was in high school and I had to write a paper. It was like one of those graduating papers, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I remember choosing to write it about two sisters, one Simplicity, and the other one was Quest. And Simplicity was everything that a parent would want, calm, chill, responsible, this, that, and a third. And Quest was everything that everybody should want to be — free, expressive, full of love, sexy, but not sexual, sensual, but not offensive like me. And I realized in that moment that that is who I would always be. And it wasn't so much, like, I think when we think of artists choosing names, we don't look at the history of the country and look at the tribes always. We didn't really name.
We didn't look at it as naming. People, pick their names, their souls were picked upon these growth and developments. So to just adjust to my original into who I am now, the name just gave it gravity.
Passionistas: What is your cultural heritage? What's your ancestry. And how does that kind of impact the path year one?
Quest: So how about this love life. Had a little had that I'm about to turn 40 nervous breakdown and made everybody kind of like dig in and do the genealogy by records. And our family is actually a Cherokee, Iroquois, uh, Choctaw, Chickasaw, uh, Shinnecock, uh, and Piscataway natives. You know, you think about it over time in 500 years.
It's so beautiful that maybe not all the tribes got together, but they created together this gorgeous entity and being so, you know, that's why, where my head dress and that's how even Burning Man found me. And it was funny to me, when presented with all these great minds from around the world. And I'm like, yeah, I'm a black native.
You know, I'm a native American. We came in on hues. And they're looking at me and they're like, why aren't you mad? I'm like, man, this is so big. It's so deep. It's bigger than even me. Right. But this is the story that has to be told so that we can heal. There's a reason why it was called the melting pot. We had every color, we had every spectrum and we always have. And when we go back to loving all of our unique ancestry and our, and our spirit, and we can begin to know who we really are, then we set ourselves free.
Passionistas: So let's talk about you getting into art. Were you always an artist?
Quest: I think I was, I think from the little tie dye shorts when I was a kid and the first time I kind of got a hold of a bottle of bleach and understood that I could take my genes and create and alter something else out.
Uh, I made bandanas a little hint. Here's scrunchies for kids in elementary school. Like so poetry, you know, in high school and toured what's up with people. I think I always was this, but it's when we find our art forms. It's when we find our medium or maybe I should say when they find us, when we have exposed ourself enough that we can be a channel and a conduit and really pick up as a vessel, all the possibilities.
I think I always was an artist, but I remember my first art show. So funny. I remember I'm in DC. I'm having this, like, you know, gotta come through big. I've got an art shit right now. Just have one. I get to, so my first opening night, I got two shows. I'm bouncing from here, running down the street to the next one.
And I remember my parents coming and my stepfather looked at me and he. That's what you are. You're an art. Okay. We can take it from there because we didn't know what you were going to be because you can be anything. So that's what you are. You're an artist. And I looked at him and I said, for sure, and always, and now I get it like two decades later, massive amount of pieces done, you know, and, and created.
And somehow to be able to create. 13,000 pieces, but it's so hard for some people to pull them all together and see them as one beam, because there's so many different styles and, and I just, I would get tired. I would get bored of something. I don't want to think the same little lady all day long. I refuse.
And it got to the point where I would tell clients when I'm done with the color it stuck. When red is over, red is dead. When it's time for green. That's right. When it's blue will be true, but when it's over, you will not ask me again for this painting. I think that that one move is what saved my psyche.
Cause I had payment this Africa lady, so cute. God, I still leverage it as day, but I had a dozen women try to get me to paint this painting over and over again. And insanity is doing the same thing over and over again.
Passionistas: How did you take that moment? And what, where did your art go from there? If you can do anything, how do you, how do you channel, um, what your inspiration is into the right piece of art?
Quest: I wish I had that formula. I wish I could literally sit back and go, oh, this is what makes it.
Honestly, I think it's like my neighbor who knocked on a door earlier. It's just having those spirits randomly come through who I'm working on something and they just go, you know what I was thinking? And it amplified being open really, I think creates better pieces. As I get older, I wanted to worry about creating a perfect circle.
Right. That's the ultimate like something so simple. But to be able to do a complete circle is a sign of a very ingenious individual. So how much time do you spend trying to do a perfect circle before you realized you could have just removed everything else around it and made it perfect. And it would have been a circle tip.
Right? So I got to a point where I don't tell my work what to do it doesn't tell me what. I, I literally go in there and have fun smoke a Chile, listen to some Isley brothers or some really good music, maybe Shaka Khan. If I'm having a low day, I want to hear that. Tell me something good. I'm going to have some fun, like, but this was meant to be fun.
It wasn't meant to break me down and worry about anything. It wasn't something that I chose so that I lost sight of like a beautiful sunny day and getting out there and enjoying it. It was something that I picked because it was cathartic, it was loving. And it allowed me to heal people that I love. They literally, even in like the worst times going through the pandemic, I would occasionally get like little emails and texts that said, like, just being here with my piece of art.
I've made it like my little cuddle corner. It's where I'm finding my safe space. And that was the goal that when we have to go into our homes or go into our deeper selves, you have these totems around you to live your spirit and to carry you on to make you move forward, to think of yourself in that higher light.
So when you flow like that, do you get to tell God what's. No. Okay. Do you get to tell angels how to like bless you? No. Okay. So art doesn't get to, I don't get to tell arc what to do. I'm lucky to be in a presence and to be a vessel up. And I seem like that defeats a lot of artists trying to found something that is endless and boundless without you in beautiful. And you're just here to transcribe for the audience.
Nobody worries about the little lady in the, in the courtroom who actually puts all the words down forever. But in hindsight, she's the most important person because most people will be lost with her emotions instead of following a stenographer and understanding her words are creating the whole play out of everything that has happened in front of us.
When we lose sight of that. So in sense, maybe I'm just that little humble stenographer for, in a corner, just typing away on the keys and nobody paying attention. Other jobs. I've had people go, that's your job. You're a flight attendant. I walk in the room as an artist and people are looking at those, you did that. Yeah. Yeah. I built that thing and it's like two stories high, in my apartment.
Passionistas: You create in many different mediums, in many different styles. You say you don't want to create the same piece twice. But is there a, is there a common thread if you had to describe your style to somebody, what would you say?
Quest: Regrounding, elegance, alchemy magic, fun, free, cocoa, sexy diva. And that's just what I get to live in and bring out of me and drop on a world. But I realized like my cocoa divas are my cream divas and my golden girls, and they are everybody in between. And there is no spectrum on it. It's a, it's a spirit on it. So I think I create for us as divine, feminine, as placed in a little zones where we can go.
Like you see the pieces. We can go and smoke a cigarette over by miracle mile in Chicago, if we need to, or go ahead and like, you know, become warriors and battle dragons. But whatever it is when I was growing up, little girls had Barbies. And that was like the rate of our consciousness. Right? Little miss Barbie.
And I love her. She got more adventurous and stuff, but she didn't always equate all of them. And the brush gives me what it, what it wants and the space and the canvas or the boards, they give me what they can bear. So some of the time, my little divas off might be pencil thin and other times they might be thick as rockstars and look like they go kick down a door and I love that.
Like it is every woman and as somebody who's been 240 pounds to 150 pounds. You know what I'm saying? It's like, I'm all of them. We go through so many stages in our life. We deserve to have little, little dolls that really do fit all of us. We deserve to have gorgeous little warriors that still in our heart note, if they're going to, like, after the war is over, go sit under those, some underneath the bullet bath and read books with kids.
We still have to be the mother, the warrior, the festival, the nurturer that everything. But we, we need more variety in our attitude about how we accept that. You know, we're not every little girl wants to wear the little tube, pink release, gargle nights. Some of them want to put on her little Carhartts and go out and get sustainable and ground themselves. And they don't want to be considered less because of how they, they find their, their, their speeds.
Passionistas: We’re Amy and Nancy Harrington and you’re listening to The Passionistas Project Podcast and our interview with Quest Skinner. To learn more about her art visit QuestSkinner.com.
If you are enjoying this interview and would like to help us to continue creating inspiring content, please consider becoming a Patron by visiting ThePassionistasProject.com/podcast and clicking on the patron button. Even $1 a month can help us continue our mission of inspiring women to follow their passions.
Now here’s more of our interview with Quest.
How did you get involved with burning man and what does that experience mean to you? Cause it seems like it's a very significant experience to people who are part of that movement.
Quest: It's like when you say burning man, the first thing you got almost in your heart as welcome home.
So that would have went. That's really what it was for the outgoing autodidact. Little little diva who pretty much speaks multiple languages has traveled the world, but always can be seen in one dimension, depending on the United States where I'm at. Right. I get there. Everybody's like, it's going to be different.
You have an nymity, people will just let you be quests. And it's like, I walk on Playa, no anonymity rockstar. And from the moment I get there and it was. I at least found kids like myself who were still trapped in her older they're adults, but needed to run around in our moon boots and our little tidy whities and be free.
One last time before the lights go out, I needed to be around other artists who love their work, but were afraid of the spotlight at the same time, too, because if you don't feel that anxiety and those butterflies, how do you, I know you're real. Like it burn. Okay. Going back. So, um, man, it's so crazy how my labs have always crisscrossed.
Right? So my neighbor across the hallway, his name is Jr. Rest nexus. Um, we go to burning man together. He had been a burn a couple of times before we'll come in, show me the videos, the whole nine you're born with me next year. And I'm like, yeah. Okay. Well next year and he called me and I'm sitting in new Orleans.
Getting ready to get on a flight. And he goes, what are you doing at the end of August? Beginning of September asset? I don't know. He says you want to go to Burning Man? And I put so many H-E and hockey sticks behind it and Y-E-SSSSSSS that I figured my heart was in it. So I ended up, um, getting ready to go to burning man announcing it at Eastern Market, finding out that I couldn't like, I, I.
It was almost like blacklisted, right? It's like, you're going to, you're going to burning man. And you're leaving the fine art world of Eastern Market that you have been over here building, and you want to go party in the desert with people. And I'm like, no, I want to go to build art. I want to learn how to like be with the baddest engineers and see some of the most epic art pieces in a world.
And that was my goal. When I started this. Just to see a life of art, where else in the world, can you go and see that much art and make a life out of it? So the whole thing with these star market, I remember calling one of my mentors for burn and he said, so, okay, most people lose their job coming back from burn.
You lost your risk before you left. And I was like, he goes, so do you still want to go? And I said, If that's all they can do is try and stale me. Yeah, my dream I'm gone. I will always be able to make the artwork, sell the pieces, find a new fucking venue. And only when I come back, went back, talked to them, basically told them you guys have gone way too fucking far.
We're looking at lost wages, restitutions and gag orders for the whole group. I think we should figure this out. Got my job back everything. Right? Like life was normal again. And I'm still on my way to Burning Man. I got to give them my ticket through BurningMan.org. They were looking to bring more people of color would project radical inclusion.
And it was really, it was a, it was a blessing, not in disguise, announced in loud to be able to venture out. And when I got there realized. They were just as intrigued. And I think had spent just as much time learning about me, my art, my spirit, to make sure that I was a fit it's different when you're invited somewhere and people don't take the courtesy to understand who and what they're dealing with.
I got pulled in with such, um, a nurturing spirit and I went from one camp my first year and I'm at the camp and everybody's like, Quest, it seems like you have a job. And I was like, yeah, I kind of do I'm working with foam camp and stuff and doing a front of house. And it was awesome. And they were like, you're the only person we know who came on vacation and picked up a job.
I say, because even in my playland, I still got to have something to do with them. I'm not just going to be here on debaucherous is I'm damn near 40 and y'all some of y'all are my kids' age and I want to make sure you're safe. You know what I'm saying? It's not, it's not for me to go backwards. It's for me to go forward and be futuristic while forgiving those things that were backward in life.
So end out on Playa. Next thing I know the next year, that camp, um, That I was working in front of the house with, I get called until you took one of the hardest jobs. And most people get yelled at screamed at the whole night and you just worked at, and we would love to have you mentioned your come out with us.
So that relationship blossomed, I ended up doing costume, makeup, artistic design for them, direction shows with Alison and Alex Gray at Burning Man. It just was going home. Where, no more improving of yourself and what you can do, but in the right spirit in spaces where people were able to obtain, see, and you can grow and make these connections.
So the following year, which would have been my third year, I got asked to have my artwork, artery in everywhere. And that is the heart of the Playa. That's where they put out all the artwork. And of course it's mind blowing. When some of the best artists in the world really do come up and, and go not, oh, I know you you're like for real, like, dude, you're, you're pretty decent.
Like it's mind blowing and the pieces that they create with heart and salt, you know, I wish more people understood how artists truly do sacrifice and put everything in it to be able to have. Such a small glimmer on a window of opportunity to showcase and show like, you've got to love this thing. You got to love, like staying up, you know, like us, when I told you guys I'm up till five in the morning, this morning working on a mermaid, like, I'm sorry, I'm going to be 15 minutes late.
You got to put it all in here. And sometimes you got to know like one thing may cost or, you know, go slightly undone because of, but it's worth it. Burn showed me. In a, in a whole nother capacity. Like I now know how to do plumbing. I know how to run solar panels. I know how to build an infrastructure in a middle of a desolate environment.
I know how to help people who may not know how to help themselves. It almost is like being cute. Sparkly. By the time you pack up all your gear, your bags, your headlamps, all this, that. And the third, I feel every year, like I am almost like an itty bitty Marine worn out there in my tutus. And ready to go.
Passionistas: Tell us about the commission, the mural you were commissioned to paint at The National Museum of Women in the Arts last year.
Quest: During a pandemic after months. Um, you know, isolation, yeah, one of my best friends hit me up. Her daughter is my goddaughter, love her little like amazing lightning and a little yoga at nine years old, like best.
And her mom calls me and she goes, babe, you know, we got to board up the museum and you know, I want to put one of your pieces up there.
Would you be willing to do. And I was like, dude, okay. Yeah, actually I'll do it for you. What can I do? What should we do? And she said, it's all up to you. And I said, then I want to do Octavia Butler quotes. And we went drum and we picked some Octavia Butler quotes, and I just did the words and some little stencils and stuff on the side of the two doors.
And while out there she walks up to me and goes, I need you to do one. Come around. It shows me the front of the women's museum. And I said, I know what to put there. I got it. I'm going to do it real quick and just need like two hours. So I put the woman with the headdress on and it said, um, in order for a Phoenix to rise, we must first burn.
And that's the truth. Like we literally left one old world last year, one. Thousand year link and it was great, but it's over. And some things now must be put to Ash and sense to be able to rise to true potential. And a lot of that is people's fears and our hurt and our pain. And that was just one of my favorite pieces last year.
And I started crying because when I think of the people that I love, they're the ones who will actually get me out to go. You know, to make these things into create these pieces don't fall. And Malani her name is Malani Douglas. I think that's who I would like you guys to work as your neck as my next Passionistas it's out there.
Um, she's just an amazing spirit and her energy. We have been friends since we were in our twenties. When a great woman called her shoe, you get on a phone and you go to, and that's what, one of the greatest women that I know, and to be able to put that up at the Women's Museum, all of the women walking by, and then to see those who are indigenous people, black, indigenous Aboriginal Americans, who don't even know that.
And go, we got a little Cherokee in us, or we got a little Choctaw in our family too, and it's like, we are, and I love you all for that. And to give you a total man for you to start seeing that it's a natural progression where we are, who we are, it just makes it all simpler. It makes it better. It was a fun piece.
I really did enjoy doing that one, but more than anything, I just love doing it because Melanie.
That's pretty hard. He's just like, when it comes to me doing pizza, she's like, dude, whatever you do, whatever you need, whatever you want to do, rock out so supportive.
Passionistas: While you were doing that, the people walking by were part of the Black Lives Matter protests. Right?
Quest: It was everything, you know, I'm down here and I'm realizing like you've got black lives matter.
People walking by, you have people who are out of uniform, walking by who are down there, holding them back. It was so just pose because you have people who it was their job, and they did not want to be there. And you have people who were fighting for their lives. And that was now their new job in a pandemic.
When your people have to come out and plead for civil civil rights, like plead for food for better education. Because now they understand that their children have been defeated for the last five and 10 and 15 years. When they, when they realize that they believed in something and they were looked down by their beliefs, it said to think that out of all the so-called, um, first world country, We had, uh, we had a 10th world approach.
We left our children out there. We left our elderly out there. We left Black Lives Matter for sure. You know what I'm saying? But we left everybody last year. Scared, exhausted, fighting for love, fighting for rights. When in all honesty, it's almost appalling when you think of the other countries that literally.
In your bank account tomorrow, you will wake up and there will be $10,000 or $20,000 because that's honestly, and we know because we have accountants, we have eco economists. We know this to survive for six months. As we're asking you to please stay home so we can keep you safe. You are workforce, you are our doctors.
We need to lessen the burden on everybody. Last year. It was a perfect piece to put in front of everyone.
Given a chance though. I would probably now put a mirror there and let people know that year was supposed to be for you to focus on reflect on and change yourself. What excuse can you have while watching someone's child shot dead in the middle of the street? What validity can you give me? What communication can you tell me is important over here?
And if you can find that there is something perversed and sick with you, and we need to call it out. Like we are so geared to call out everyone's atrocities and offenses, but we won't call out the simple fact that this has been atrocious and offensive for just the global community outside the United States. I have to bear witness and watch every day.
It's interesting. How many people, I think, lost focus of how much of an opportunity this was, you know, too, we did it smart. There would have been free classes. I'd have yarn, a Yale, Harvard, Duke, and. For everyone so that you can get skills trades, do physical therapy, be able to, you know, talk to counselors. We literally left a whole world almost abandoned and abated here without any guidance in any care.
Passionistas: So what's your dream for the future for your little granddaughter and for your little goddaughter?
When I was young, I used to say every morning when I woke up, God make me strong. Cause yesterday I was. I probably wasn't the best one in the world. And I know there are hundreds of little girls and then one day I realized after like worshiping and post covers, that were thousands of little girls looking up to me as great as she is the little girl who surpass it's me, that she stays elegant, refined, beautiful unapologetic about her spirit, her body, her mind operated.
We opened the flood gates for every little girl where they can walk. And be safe and protected instead of disrespect, rejected and raped by people who were supposed to be there for them. I pray that she knows none of the pains in which I, as a woman have had to endure because we should be the last ones.
I pray that she gets to walk on golden like bricks and, mm. Ever knows anything but joy for her. And I've told her that before and my goddaughter, my other goddaughter is coming to visit me this week. And you know, these were little girls who got dropped off by my stands by their parents. And some of them, their dads would just go, this is what a real black woman looks like in an entrepreneur.
And they started their business. It's my other little goddaughter now she's in her twenties, 24, right? He came in and all my clients are in there and they're like, oh, we want to buy in advance the guys. She looked at me and she said, no, I'm buying a van. She said, that's where you pulled us to the side and made us women and made us go.
People will not argue in public. You will not disrespect yourself or anybody else out here. We're going to figure this out. I will show you how to battle and be mad because people don't understand that you have a right and you shouldn't be picked with, I will show you how to protect yourself, but we will not disrespect us.
I want them, I want them to constantly know that every woman was ever had to stand on her own for self up by the bootstraps, you know, put everything in a perspective. I did it not just for me. I did it for you because at 60, I do not want to be sitting in a room and somebody disrespect him again, lady.
And at 60, I got to get up and go say something. These days should be in the buckets. If men do not know how to conduct themselves around women, you probably shouldn't work around. Period. If you do not know that you came from a woman, then you probably shouldn't have one period. If you can't get over the fact that not everybody was perfect.
And half of the people didn't know what they were doing, you probably.
I hope that we can give them everything, everything, every starring role, every center at a stage, I hope that she is Misty Copeland. I hope she has the presence of Lena Horne. I hope they're endowed with the greatest gifts of knowledge. I hope that thought and emo tap and everybody touched their grace from, from here on out.
I want them to be able to live a full life and not die from exhaustion, racism, fear. I want her to know what it's like to be a human being and not marginalized by color or financials or this, that and the third. And if I get my way, I want to make sure they get a big coin before I go. Then when you got a nice little trust fund, one day.
Passionistas: Thanks for listening to our interview with Quest Skinner. To learn more about her art visit QuestSkinner.com.
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