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Local Artists Live: Toni Toney
July 11, 2020; 10:00 AM–10:30 AM CDT
Toni Toney is the featured artist on Local Artists Live this coming weekend, and in preparation for her live stream segment, she has shared some insight about her journey in becoming an artist. Toni, a public school art teacher for 16 years, surprisingly only began identifying as an artist herself just two years ago. Less surprisingly, this born-creative recalls that in her youth she was constantly doing something artistic, from fashioning clothes for Barbies using mismatched socks and making custom bedding out of dryer lint to designing paper dolls with brightly colored clothes.
Toni grew up in Compton, California, before moving to the East side of Long Beach with her family when she was in 8th grade; creating was her escape from the chaos around the neighborhood outside her home. Toni’s love for art flourished through drawing and coloring after her father started taking her on weekend visits to the California African American Museum. After moving to Alabama in 2000, Toni continued her artistic pursuits at Troy University, earning her Bachelor of Science in Art.
As an adult, Toni’s main focus shifted from nurturing her personal creativity to helping her students grow through making their own art. Throughout all of her years of teaching, she has found herself focused on her students’ artistic evolutions. Toni says, “I’m always doing something, if not for myself, for somebody else. I enjoy bringing my own ideas to life and helping others do the same…it’s like my superpower.” This superhero teacher has received continued encouragement from her family (much like that foundational introduction to art visiting the CAAM with her father) and from artists whom she met at an ArtWalk event organized by the local nonprofit art organization 21 Dreams. Fueled by a community of encouragement, Toni has been able to return to putting energy into her own art practice.
Toni recently collaborated in the creation of the Black Lives Matter mural located around the Court Square Fountain downtown. She states that taking part in painting the words ‘Black Lives Matter’ at the same location where Black people were once bought and sold as slaves was an overwhelming experience she will never forget. Continue reading to find out more about Toni, her artistic inspirations, and her belief of how consistently putting energy into creating is an important part of her own process. Don’t miss Toni’s feature on Local Artists Live this Saturday, July 11, at 10 AM on the Museum’s Instagram account, @MontgomeryMFA.
Left: Toni Toney, Pink Ponytails, 2019, acrylic
This program is part of the series:
Meet the Artist
What is your favorite thing about living in the South?
My favorite thing about the South is the history and culture. My son is able to visit where historic events have happened, events that have shaped our history as we know it.
What excites you most about the growth of Montgomery’s art scene?
I love that so much has changed! You actually see that art is here in the city! That wasn’t the case a few years ago.
What is your favorite work of art from the MMFA’s collection, and what specifically about the artwork speaks strongly to you?
My favorite piece from MMFA’s collection is Negro Baptising. It’s the first piece I [go to] see when I walk into the museum. I love how Fitzpatrick captures everything, from the reflection of light on the faces of the onlookers to the personality he gives each subject. I feel like I’m a part of the painting whenever I see it like I’m witnessing the baptism along with them.
What piece of art that you have created is your favorite, and why?
My favorite work is titled Pink Ponytails. She reminds me of the little girls I grew up with, still holding on to her childhood, still wearing her hair in ponytails and playing jump rope outside. She has a questioning look about her face which makes the viewer wonder who she’s looking at. I love the mystery behind that look.
Do you have an all-time favorite work of art, and have you seen it in person?
Hands down, Miss America by Ernie Barnes. I saw it for the first time as a child and I remember thinking, “That’s a strong woman”. I saw it again a few years ago and fell in love with it all over again. When I look at her I’m reminded that no matter what, you have to keep going; even when your load is heavy, keep going… hold your head up high and keep going.
Tell us about your most preferred place to be on earth. What role, if any, does that place play in shaping you as an artist?
My preferred place to be is anywhere near water. I love the beach. Growing up in Southern California, we went all the time. It’s something about the smell of the ocean and the sand at my feet that calms me, almost like a reset button. I feel alive there, a lot of my paintings have a bit of blue in them because of my love for the ocean.
What drives your creativity?
My creativity is innate. I’m a born creative. I’m always doing something, if not for myself, for somebody else. I enjoy bringing my own ideas to life and helping others do the same…it’s like my superpower.
What is your preferred medium?
I love acrylics. I can be impatient a lot of times, so when I have something I need to get out, acrylics are the way to go for me.
Do you listen to any particular music when you create?
I grew up listening to all kinds of music. From jazz and classical to funk and rock. It really depends on what my mood is. Right now, I like listening to Neo-Soul from the early 1990’s.
What advice would you give to beginning artists?
My advice would be to connect with other artists. Find a community of like-minded people who will give you constructive criticism about your work. I’d also say to create something every day. Even if it’s a sketch on a napkin or the back of an envelope, do something every day.