Yvette Rock has always been drawing, making things or cooking up creative dishes. By elementary school, teachers were sending her to special arts classes.
For high school, Rock, who is a native of Suriname, a small country just north of Brazil, attended the New World School of the Arts in Miami. Yet it wasn’t until the end of high school that she realized she was an artist.
“I was wavering between the sciences and the arts,” she says. “Should I go into microbiology, medical illustration or be a fine artist and go to art school?”
In 1997, Rock graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cooper Union School of Art in New York and in 1999 earned a Master of Fine Arts in painting from the University of Michigan. In addition to painting, Rock is a mixed-media artist and photographer. Detroit, where Rock now lives, her family and her faith clearly are inspirations for the artist, who has projects called “re Detroit,” “10 Plagues of Detroit,” “A Servant to All” and “Isaiah 58.”
She says being a follower of the teachings of Jesus is the backdrop to everything she does. “Not an in-your-face religion, but a deep abiding relationship. A communing with the person of Jesus.” That relationship reflects not only in her work but in her values as well.
She has served as artist-in-residence and artistic director of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project in Detroit and now, through that organization, teaches at a couple of schools. Rock also operates the traveling Live Coal Gallery, which collects and exhibits art, takes it to neighborhoods and “provides hands-on experiences” for children, families, businesses and through art-based projects at schools.
“It’s a fine new experience for a lot of them because they aren’t taking art classes in Detroit Public Schools.”
If she suddenly couldn’t paint or draw or create other art? “I am an artist,” she says confidently. “It’s woven into who I am and I don’t think I can separate that. It’s part of how I think and relate to the world, how I raise my children and see the world around me.”
Like her parents before her, the mom of four encourages her children’s creativity. “I see myself in them multiplied by 10. I just give them the materials, the room to be themselves. I think that’s the best way to teach, giving them the tools to express who they are.”
Rock says too many artists question their identity.
“Artists get stuck in the production of something, thinking ‘Man, I haven’t been making work and I question am I an artist.’ It’s because we don’t punch in and punch out. But the short answer is, I am an artist. I am always creating things in my mind.
“There’s an intangible part of artistry that people don’t see. The art that people see is the last manifestation of being an artist. Hopefully, I am not justifying the slowing of my production,” she laughs. “Thinking about things creatively, besides mixed media, drawing, but inspiring others, teaching and living my life creatively, that’s being an artist.”
IDENTITY: A SERIES
Story 1: Two artists uncomfortable with the “actor” label share their views on identity because they are both so much more.
Story 2: Authors Colson Whitehead, who’s black, and Jodi Picoult, who is white, address notions of identity in “The Underground Railroad” and “Small Great Things,” painfully convincing novels focused on race and racial injustice.
Story 3: Years after suffering a debilitating accident, a photographer finds new passion.
This story: Learn more about Yvette Rock’s work in this video.
Coming soon: The advent of digital photography forces a difficult decision.