Co-founder Konstance Patton told us the story behind her Goddezz Project.
Rosalie Mosner: I want to know, first of all, what inspired you to start the Goddezz project?
Konstance Patton: It’s a very old project. I started doing it when I was like a teenager. But what really inspired me is when I started traveling a lot. When I was 19, I moved to Italy. I don’t have, like, a trust fund or nothing like that. I bartended and saved every single dollar and bought a ticket and went there, like “I’m gonna teach English” or whatever. And this is like in 2001. And the Internet was not like a thing really. And so there was like no communication back and forth. So I felt real shady about that. But I was like, I’ll just go out there.
And so when I went out there, there was a lot of waiting involved. That’s when I started waiting on trains, waiting on a bus, flying. I had a lot of time. So I started using sketchbooks a lot. One of my mentors, he told me that I should just make sketches. He was like, you know, you could take a photograph and you’ll remember it, but if you actually sketch it out, you’ll really have that in your memory of the places you’ve been. So I have so many sketch books. And I started sketching women that I saw all over the world because- I’ve been to 21 countries and the same thing, like bartending, save my money, go over there until I’m broke, come back, make some money, go there until I’m broke. And I did that throughout all my 20s.
So for that project, that’s when it really started to develop. I didn’t really think of it at first. I was just messing around. And then I started to look at the adornment of the women. Like one of my favorite things to do when I travel is to go to the beauty salon. Not for hair, because I don’t want people touching my hair, but, you know, to get my nails done. Because it was a way to just be a part of another culture in a very real, regular sense. And I would see how the women dressed, like what do they wear?
I went to India and I spent time in the Himalayas. And as I traveled through, you would see certain prints that were popular. There was this hot pink with turquoise style material that all the women were wearing, it was just a matter of that textile being available. I bought some, I was like, I got to have some of this material. And they all had a red lip. They all had a very strong eye, and their hair, their hairstyles differed, not so much, but they were like variations of it. And so I started just like documenting the things that I saw originally. And then when I really started spending time in New York, I started to look around here and see the adornment that we have here, how the similarities and the differences between our own cultures in America, how they translate to other cultures around the world.
And so it was born before I really knew what it was. The first one was a Sharpie, white-out, ballpoint pen, some pencil and just kind of whatever paper I could find because I was traveling. So I would just find, like a little notebook or like a map or something, just sketching to take time. And after a while I was like, what? It’s crazy. I just moved out of my old studio a couple of weeks ago and I have so many.
I really love repetition. I love taking an idea and then doing it in different ways. So I started to kind of play with both ideas, play with materials and just see how, because we’re endless. There’s like endless variations in our humanity and with women. And so, yeah, that was how it started.
RM: Why did you choose to present your art outside and not indoors, at galleries?
KP: Well, I think it’s kind of complicated to really be an artist, you have to figure out where you want your art to live. So originally when I was younger, I was like, OK, I’m going to get a gallery. Like that was kind of a goal. Like, you have a gallery in Chelsea, right? They made it. And as I started living my life, it was like, that’s not necessarily true. I really love street art. So when I was traveling around, I was doing street art. I was doing a lot of paystubs and hand-painted things, pasted them up, stencils. It was graffiti. I wouldn’t do it like on someone’s property or certainly private property or homes. But if it was like kind of this beat up space, why not put something really beautiful there? It’s literally for anybody. You don’t have to like go to a gallery. And when you think about what happened in 2020, and what we’re still dealing with, places are closed. So you can’t really go into those spaces. So for me, although I’m in talks now with galleries and I’ll be doing a show and I just had a very successful show at the National Arts Club, I really want my work to be with the people, I want it to be accessible. I want everyone to see it… It touches them, so I think I wouldn’t be doing a service if I just had it in the gallery or if it was just like, you know, even living in my notebooks. So I kind of have to push it out.
“I want them to see me. I want them to see the representation of women like me and the different variations. There’s so many of us.”
RM: Is there anything that you had in mind with this project that you want people to think about when they look at your art?
KP: Yeah, I want people to feel healed. Like I want people to feel better. I want people to enjoy something beautiful in such a scary time. I want people to stop and look at the work. I want them to see me. I want them to see the representation of women like me and the different variations. There’s so many of us. I want to create space for people like myself. I want to create space for black women, for all types of women. I just want to be for everyone. I don’t want it to just be like for one type of person. And you don’t really see this type of work out there. I mean, mine are all like hot pink girls and like, they’re queens and they have a lot of neons. They’re altars. They all have tobacco or a blunt, which I think is so dope. Like that was the lead for the NPR story, is like my two goddesses and they’re like sharing a blunt, and they’re very beautiful and strong. And I was like, man, that’s wild. Like that’s wild, it’s something that we need. We need beauty and brightness and color right now. The times are dark. So I really want people to to see it and just feel better. Like if they can just stop and have a few peaceful thoughts with the work, that makes me feel like I’m doing my job.
RM: Yeah, so you’re kind of just challenging the status quo.
KP: Yeah, for sure. It’s crazy- like once permissions and all that just came out of it because I still put pieces up and they get covered sometimes.
I did a piece at Union Square about two weeks ago. And then I did a piece on Bleecker and Bowery. And the boards have been there for a while, like the whole time. And not only like… It looks like you got tagged at some point, but they never painted it over. So it’s just, you know, how you’ll see like somebody try to cover up graffiti, but it makes it look worse because then it just looks like a Band-Aid that’s the wrong color. So it was kind of like that. And so we plotted on it. And then I was like, all right, I’m going out there. I went out there on a Saturday. I took Amir, another collective member, and we made a vibe, like, it was so nice. It was like one of the first nice days. I had, like, my boombox. We laid everything out during the day and then someone from the Union Square bit came to me like, hey, who are you with? And I’m like “Oh I’m with the Soho bit,” which is like, sure, they know who I am. But they didn’t send me over there. I work independently, but they basically were like, we love this so much, can I record it? And we made these beautiful paintings there. And they were there for about three days, I think, before it was covered up. But the thing was that in that moment, it created like a healing vibe, like people stopped. They watched. There were artists asking about my process and having like conversations, like community conversations. People were having lunch. There were kids stopping by. And like for the two hours that we were putting those pieces up, like it was such a vibe on that block, it was so nice. People were so joyous.
And it’s like part of- it’s not green streets, but it’s kind of like cut off. They have like a big pedestrian area there. So, you know, people were spread out and chilling. And I was like, man that is so dope that we can do something for the city. Like, to me we’re doing a service, like I’m a New Yorker doing something for my city right now. So if it lasts for three hours, fuck it, you know? If it lasted for three days, fuck it. But for those three hours, we created such a beautiful vibe and people needed it and they thanked us. They were so happy and we connected with people that knew people that we knew. And so I’m just doing stuff like that. I’m doing it again on Saturday. We call it “Pull up and paint.”
So it’s like me and some collective members, and then like some other friends who, you know, are painting. I know that it’s going to be something beautiful for the people in the community. So I told the artists we’ll pull up at three, just hang out, make some work, drink some beers, you know. Like vibe it out, vibe it out.
RM: What does being a goddess mean to you?
KP: I think that we all have it in us and it’s about honoring yourself and honoring each other and seeing the goddess in each other, you know. When I started doing this, they’re very much like when I started really digging into the why I’m doing them. That’s when I went to India. I did a residency there with Peka International, which is a residency program. I was a culture exchange. I went there and then I basically worked with some kids sometimes. It was basically like, my cultural exchange was with the community there. I was going to temples and like trying to understand, like to see the third eye in context and the textiles and the way that they wear their clothing, and really understand it. I didn’t want it to be me using the symbols that I don’t understand.
So I look at a lot of different religions. I’m not religious necessarily, but I really like the different ideas from many different religions. So when I was there, it was like a lot of learning about Hinduism, Buddhism and going to those spaces. And so it was kind of like how there’s so many gods and goddesses. It made me think like, oh, there’s no way to really think about, there’s no right way to do it. We’re kind of told, especially in America, there’s one God or whatever, that doesn’t really mean much to me. So I started doing these pieces like as goddesses, you know. But how do you make these goddesses look like they’re grounded? And today, these like very ancient figures. So taking those ancient figures and then putting them in the context of here. So like, the girl I’m looking at now, she has like green buns in a twist, or like Bantu knots, or like doorknockers and septum rings and some things that you’ve seen. I went to Cambodia at Angkor Wat, like when you look at the sculptures that are on all those structures, the girls are wearing those. Like I was looking at how they wear their beads, you know? And so that’s really when I started to kind of hone in on this project.
And I’m like, oh, these are goddesses, because they don’t exist. They’re not like people. I don’t look at them. I don’t look at a woman and say, OK, I’m going to paint her- it’s very rare if I do that. But I wanted to kind of create something that was going to create itself almost. And then once she’s ready, I just stop. I’m like, OK, that’s Kiva. I usually name them after.
“It’s about honoring yourself and honoring each other and seeing the goddess in each other.”
RM: What was your “fuck, I made it” moment?
KP: I think like it felt like a graduation the day that we moved into the Nomo. And then I bought Zelda. And listen, that’s when I really, I swear to God. I love video games and I did not play them for like 15 years because I was waiting for the moment that I can actually kind of like not chill, but focus.
So that was so crazy. I with my sister at Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s came to see our studio and we moved into the NOMO the next day. So when I checked in and like, you know, kind of like looked at my friends and our studio space and having all this work and getting published. Bowery Boogie published me. And I was like, yo, that shit is local, you know? I mean, like that is the local shit. I am a New Yorker. I was so happy. My friends were like, you know, it’s cool. And I was like, no, you guys don’t get it, like I’ve been working my ass off in this neighborhood!
I think it was the Bowery Boogie. That was the most excited that I was. And I’m sure. Yeah, we got New York Times, NPR, all that stuff. Yes, that is absolutely one of those things. But it was like, yeah, but it was like to see my little face… That was so fucking cool, I was like, man… And then I got work from it, people hit me up.
Last part of the Soho Renaissance Factory series.