Brittany Byrd was in the fifth grade when she realized the purpose of art. On Columbus Day, after a teacher boldly championed the “legacy” of the average admiral, she rushed home and rearranged the facts. Crafting an emotive portrait of Christopher Columbus, she severed his head and placed him at the dinner table of a stone-faced native family.
“History as it should’ve been,” she says smiling.
This archival image is plastered on the walls of ByrdMuseum, a recently purchased studio space in Los Angeles. Flanked by crystals, orchids and childhood photos, the painting is a reminder to never waver. “It’s wild when you look back and realize how much you already knew,” she says, rolling a joint. “That person… that little girl who had the guts to make that she was shameless. When I found that image, it woke me back up.”
Last year, amidst global upheaval, Byrd made it her mission to create directly from source. Seized by bouts of fear, anxiety, and crippling perfectionism, she pushed herself to create fearlessly. “It’s hard to swallow, but it’s really you vs. the mirror. Emotions aren’t always easy to navigate, especially the ones you repress. But I had to vibrate higher, and to transmute the pain.”
This process produced The Coronation, a series of surrealist portraits inspired by the film Waiting to Exhale. After witnessing waves of protests in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Byrd examined her own grievances and anger. “I’m such a passionate person, and last year I felt like my heart was outside my chest. Re-watching that film brought up a lot of feelings. I needed to showcase passion on fire, because that’s what war feels like, and I felt like my heart was bleeding.”
And then she laughs—remembering “to keep it light”—tossing her locks over her shoulder as we tour the rest of the space. Molten chairs designed in 2016 sit beside sketches and mood boards. Unfinished assemblages are propped against potted plants.
Still in her 20s, Byrd remains a singular force. Known widely through social media as a fashion influencer, the Parsons-trained artist is a multifaceted cultural force. In 2017 she crafted floral arrangements for the Met Gala. The following year she moved to Philadelphia and worked as a private art consultant. Dabbling in assemblage, album covers and fashion design, Byrd’s creative philosophy is to remain formless.
“I used to be so hard on myself, trying to figure out what kind of artist I wanted to be and how I wanted to be defined. Then you realize only the art matters. Everything else is fluff. Jean-Michel Basquiat wasn’t worried about what his legacy would be. Grace Hartigan didn’t know she’d be the face of the abstract scene. They were creating, freely, without anyone else in their head.”
The Coronation is a reflection of her journey as an artist, offering a glimpse into the psychic dismemberment of the feminine principle. The creative process of metamorphosis wasn’t easy, but Byrd wouldn’t have it any other way.
Taking a slow exhale from a strain called Cookies, she smiles again. “Self-expression is the ultimate form of self-care. Our imaginations are our biggest assets, and yet we rarely live freely. Fuck that, I retired from all bullshit in 2020.”