This article originally appeared in Real Change and has been republished with permission.
by Lisa Edge
On the second floor of a building in Ballard, Aramis O. Hamer uses white chalk to sketch the outline of two women. They’re fairies right now, but could easily morph into angels as Hamer’s vision comes to life.
The outline is faint against a brilliant, ombre blue background. The women sit on what she called cotton candy clouds. The piece depicts Gemini and is part of a series Hamer is working on devoted to the zodiac signs. On an opposite wall of her studio space is another painting, this one shows Aries, whose hairstyle gives the effect of horns and her purple eyes stare directly back at the viewer.
When asked to describe her work, Hamer says she’s painting colorful cosmic queens.
“A lot of my stuff is inspired by the cosmos and galaxies, astrology, divine femininity, Black girl magic, the fusion of hip hop,” said Hamer. “Music is definitely a huge inspiration. My spiritual life as well — I have dreams and see different ideas.”
Each of those elements is identifiable in her work. A print of the triptych “Alchemy” also hangs in her studio while the original is in a boutique downtown. The painting was inspired by Beyoncé’s album “Lemonade,” which was not only unapologetically Black, but also showed Queen Bey’s evolution as an artist.
In Hamer’s “Alchemy” hot sauce spills out of a Crown Royal bag, a partially silhouetted figure is surrounded by lemons and watermelon. Hamer stops short of saying she’s a member of the hive, rather, she’s a supporter. The artist has a sign on her desk that states, “What Would Beyoncé Do?”
“I respect her hustle and her grind. My thing is if I have the same 24 hours as Beyoncé, then I’m about to get my shit done,” said Hamer. “What do I need to do to make sure that I’m in the right place mentally, physically, spiritually, all of it to execute better.”
Hamer is efficiently using those same hours we all have. She’s spending more time painting in the studio these days and listening to Drake’s new album “Scorpion.” The last few months she’s been working on murals. Most recently at Andro, a Black- and Queer-owned barbershop in Pioneer Square. Hamer transformed the black and white logo of a bearded lady into a purple-skinned goddess among the stars. She’ll begin the next mural in November at the new Liberty Bank Building at 24th and Union. Murals are physically demanding, so Hamer is taking advantage of the break before the next big project.
With the exception of a few art classes in high school, Hamer is self-taught. At 12 she distinctly remembers redrawing family photos. Initially she didn’t immediately like painting. She also had problems with flesh tones.
“I was trying to do browns. It just wasn’t working. It just didn’t feel right,” said Hamer. “So from that I just started painting blue people, blue and purple people. All sorts of colors but then it worked. OK, this my thing.”
The shift is indicative of who Hamer is as an artist: embracing who she is rather than trying to fit into a box. Her use of vivid colors for women makes her work all the more dazzling.
After graduating from college, the Chicago native spent several years caring for patients as a registered nurse. She comes from a family of health care professionals and initially chose the secure route when it came to a career. While clocking hours at various hospitals, Hamer never let go of her artistic side. The realities of working in health care, specifically being around more deaths than the average person, helped drive home the point that life is short.
She began painting in her living room, getting splatters of color on all of her robes. She enrolled in workshops at Artist Trust, networked with other artists and a public art bootcamp with the Office of Arts and Culture led to landing her first mural at KEXP. As Hamer devoted more time to painting, it led to sales, so she started decreasing her work hours until she could become a full-time artist. Unwavering support from her husband and family helped make the decision easier.
“It’s been great,” said Hamer as a big grin spreads across her face and her eyes light up. “I truly do feel like I’m living the dream and I’m super grateful for that.”
Her work continues to evolve from what she was painting in her living room. She moved away from primary colors and now uses a “cosmic, galactic, fairy, whimsical palette.” Several of her paintings have chains in them, which is connected to hip hop, flashy jewelry and materialism. She’s presenting a dichotomy of the chains of today with the chains of the past.
“We have to have the bling that shows that we have made it to something. But at the same time that was like the exact same thing that was keeping us in bondage, were physical chains,” said Hamer. “We’ll turn that negative into a positive and make it something that’s more uplifting, but is it?”
In addition to subtle social commentary, Hamer also continues to paint bigger.
“How can I outdo myself? Because I consider myself to be my own competition,” said Hamer. “How can I be better than the previous paintings I did? And keep upping it from there.”
Motivational podcasts and working out help keep her focused and mentally strong because being an artist means being vulnerable with complete strangers.
Hamer doesn’t just create all day; she also has a business to manage. That includes applying for grants, posting to Instagram (@mis_liberation) and shipping prints to customers. Those who subscribe to her monthly newsletter receive updates and a vlog sharing what she’s up to. How she appears in the videos is exactly who she is in person. A genuinely warm spirit who has no qualms in greeting people with a hug. Her positive attitude is infectious.
Hamer has a clear vision of what the coming years will look like. Her goals include participating in an international gallery exhibition. Her perseverance, dedication and talent will certainly take her there.
Featured Image: “Gone” by Aramis O. Hammer.