By VITTORIA BENZINE, January 2021
Artistic development is entirely holistic. It’s an aggregate process gleaned from a spectrum of distinct but interrelated inputs. Many of these inputs spring from the artist’s lived experience — family history, friendships, love and heartbreak, emotional development. Inner-machinations like these then contend with explorations in technique. The artist learns new material dialects to express their creative purpose. Public reception completes the feedback loop, allowing for contextualization and adjustment. Sometimes, though, dramatic shifts in an artist’s career take place shrouded from the world at large. Such transitions only make themselves apparent later, through quietly completed and refined series of works.
Destiny Turner is a self-declared recluse, but she’s stepping out to announce a new code switch, speaking it into existence.
Self-taught since childhood, this young multimedia artist relocated from her Alabama hometown as a teenager, seeking solace from a chaotic upbringing. Today, she’s based in small town Ohio. Working out of this adopted locale, Turner brings a hard-won emotional depth to the varied materials she employs, including paint, photography, floral, video, poetry, and sculpture.
“I've done art all my life,” Turner told me over video chat. “I used to lock myself in my room when I was a kid and make random stuff. I've always lived in my head. That was how I could translate my emotions to other people as deeply as I felt them.”
Popular media deifies the darker side of creative genius, the madness and dysfunction of figures like Van Gogh who suffered in silence until their work was posthumously venerated. Talking with Turner exposed elements of this narrative. Her first forays into art were pure survival, a catharsis she hopes to pay forward to viewers. “I just want to make people feel something,” Turner remarked of her mission. “A lot of times, we're just robotically going through, day to day. When you see art, something that resonates with you, it should give you a deep feeling immediately. Art is like magic. It’s immediate — when you see it, you feel it.”
Whether working on canvas, on video, or on mixed media endeavors, the majority of Turner’s efforts up this point possess undulating reverberations of shadow work. Red and black take center stage, with occasional cameos from indigo and deep blue. Turner’s digital work dabbles in DIY film noir, while her paintings ooze languorously like a mind melting under duress.
A recent editorial by Stephen Romano decoded the distinct impact her work delivers: “The lucidness of the materials, the presence of the human touch, this is all very life affirming, and embracing of biological.. alchemical.. a marriage of blood and cum, the quintessential formation of life.. where as most of the art we see today is necrophilic, it embraces death, a death of the heart.. death by consumerism filling our insatiable void with degradable detritus.”
“I just do what I feel on the day to day,” Turner noted, “which, the past couple years, has been pretty deep, dark, shadowy.” She referenced one particular project, a short series of sensuous videos titled ‘Bound By Love.’ “It's playing on being in love and having that tear you apart, but also being something you need in a sexual way, too,” she explained.
As society crumbles, scatters, and attempts to take new shapes, so does the collective definition of “radical.” In a world dogged by shadows, maybe light is the new dark. At the end of 2020, Turner broke free from a long, emotionally tumultuous romantic relationship. This love had inspired heavy works, like ‘Bound By Love.’
Change brings discomfort, especially when that change alters the way one regards their internal landscape. Because of this discomfort, truly profound change often proves fragile. “I’m climbing out of the cave, literally, within the past couple of weeks,” Turner told me. “I can feel the energy. I'm working through it in writing before I do anything else.”
The artist’s creative process has faced turbulence since surrendering her former muse. “I've been so used to that headspace being the source of my creative flow,” Turner remarked. “It’s like a new beginning, growing from that and trying to work with a different emotion other than just heartbreak, basically.”
Beyond catharsis, a principle of openness permeates Turner’s practice, best exemplified by her wide repertoire of materials. She refuses to limit herself, instead opting to work with anything that ignites her mind. The resulting media ranges from conventional tools like resin and epoxy to absurd additions including actual blood. “I've been working with acrylic board, like the Black Mirror kind recently, which I really like,” she added. “It looks surreal.”
This improvisational approach, paired with Turner’s harrowing emotional depth, yields results that plunge viewers into a tangle of synapses. The rawness Romano detects in Turner’s work arises from schisms within the artist herself. Turner is at once youthful and weathered, with a radiant energy and soft speaking voice that counterintuitively conveys world weariness. When she works with paint, the frenetic patterns betray a fight with herself — the viewer is merely a voyeur.
Turner’s greatest passion lies in working with flowers, an area that solidifies her inner conflict into something concrete and literal. Drenching their soft, natural forms in artificial elements, Turner’s seven-week process petrifies nubile petals with resin and glitter. “I just wanted to capture that beauty and have someone be able to keep it forever,” Turner smiled.
In nature, the transition between hard and soft is a two-way street. Molten lava cools to volcanic rock, but mountain ranges can erode into canyons. Change itself is the only constant. Turner’s effort to perfectly preserve the roses’ short-lived prime illuminates a former struggle she’s finally come to terms with. “It's a constant death and rebirth process that I think we're all going through,” she said. “You make it back out of the cosmic womb. Be new again. I'm trying to work on that.” Relationships and flowers all wither, as do the narratives that define us. Fortunately, their passing creates room for new life.
After contemplating how she summoned the strength to separate from the toxic relationship that’d ensnared her for so long, Turner concluded that, “At some point, I literally just had to. There have been times in the past couple years where I've been completely suicidal, dealing with so much in my own head.”
Recovery requires its subjects to relinquish their victimhood in order to seize their own destiny. There’s no shortage of cultural figures like Turner, beautiful girls on the run from their past who seek security in the arms of their lovers. With her bold break, Turner liberated herself from the shackles of this trope and put her faith in unexpected possibilities.
“I had to kill myself, my old self, these thoughts that I'm continually thinking and feeding off,” Turner noted. So long as she stays resolute in this direction, the world is hers to explore. Soon, Turner’s art will tell the stories of her travels, letting viewers transform from voyeurs to participants as they join in the dynamism that will restructure her very petal-like being. Maybe there’s beauty in madness, in darkness, in suffering, but healing commands a romance all its own. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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