By Grace Lieberman
If you pay attention to what’s going on in the Phoenix arts community, you’ve almost certainly heard about Antoinette Cauley.
Cauley’s acclaim has been rising so much that she can’t even go on a grocery run without people recognizing her in the aisles.
Sitting in monOrchid gallery, Cauley talked about being both ecstatic for her recent success, and grief for the artist who inspired her to commit to art in the first place. A conversation Cauley had with the rapper Nipsey Hussle was the final push she needed to commit to her dream of becoming a renowned artist.
“I met him a few years ago, that was when he first inspired me,” Cauley said, “What got me was when he left he had me come back and shook my hand and was like ‘make sure you keep doing what you’re doing.’”
She said that when she gave a lukewarm reply, “he said ‘no, I’m serious,’ and it was like boom, the light turned on and I could see the possibilities in the room.”
Soon after that initial conversation with Nipsey, Cauley quit her job with the Boys and Girls Club and began pursuing her art full-time.
Cauley explained that Nipsey’s music helped her push through the challenging start to her art career.
“People don’t typically push past that kind of fear,” said Cauley of quitting a stable job for a passion, “they give in to it, and I pushed past that and his music was like the gasoline to the car I was driving.”
She said she was able to see him again once her full time art career was underway, and she said he was so proud and happy to see she was doing so well and working toward her goals.
“There’s no other musician or artist or anyone really who has influenced me that much along this dream chase, and I feel like if I hadn’t had that first interaction with him I wouldn’t even be here.
It’s just so unfortunate, the world took a huge loss on Sunday,” said Cauley.
Cauley may have quit her job to commit to art, but creating on a regular basis was nothing new to her. Cauley explained that creating and watching her family create instilled in her the confidence to pursue artistic expression.
“I was always making art,” said Cauley of her childhood. She explained that making crafts with her family, “normalized making things out of just like random junk, and I loved it.
My dad was also a woodworker and a welder so I saw him build things a lot, and that normalized Black artistry,” Cauley said.
She explained that the creativity nurtured in her upbringing, and her family’s love of hip hop greats like Tupac, Snoop Dogg, and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony both still inspire her works today.
“I just love hip hop, it’s such a big part of me. To me, hip hop is the most diverse of all genres,” “you can find something about everything, and I’ve found so much strength and healing in it.”
Her current exhibition, “Ain’t Nobody Praying For Me” started as a passing thought Cauley had on her drive home one day about what it would look like to draw famous rappers as young girls. That lead to a long and arduous process resulting in beautiful hyperrealistic portraits.
Cauley’s story of dedication and risk is truly inspiring, and it won’t be surprising if the reach of Cauley’s work expands far and quickly.
See her exhibition at monOrchid gallery, follow @antoinettecauley on I