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'I'm ready to disrupt': Artist Deja Corin comes home

Deja Corin, a Lexington-based artist, poses with her painting of singers Rhianna, Jack Harlow, and SZA at her family's home on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Martha McHaney.

Deja Corin, a Lexington, Kentucky-based artist, has returned home to the Bluegrass and is "ready to disrupt the art scene."

The 20-year-old self-taught artist has been drawing for as along as she could hold a pencil. Corin began as an artist by using only basic pencils to sketch and draw on paper. She had grown tired of the colorless work she was creating and wanted to progress but had run into an obstacle that led her to where she is today.

"I couldn't afford the markers that I wanted because they were super expensive, so I thought that paint would be cheaper... it's not, but I kept up with it," she said.

Corin began painting in 2018 and has been practicing ever since. She chose to discontinue school and focus full-time on her art. Corin said she feels good knowing that she loves what she does and is appreciative that she’s known that from such a young age.

With the support of her parents and twin brother, Corin has been constantly surrounded with encouragement to pursue her artistic capabilities and dreams.

She said she has always felt that art was the only thing she was really good at.

“You know how people say they are a jack of all trades or a master of none? I feel like that, except with art. Nobody can tell me if it’s good or bad. I just feel good when I make it, and it’s just something I love to do, so why not do it for the rest of my life?” Corin said.

Her art consists of portraits that she does of musicians, influencers, fashion designers and loved ones who are close to her heart.

“I try to make all my paintings somewhat meaningful. All my pieces look a little bit different depending on what mood I’m in or how I’m feeling,” Corin said. “If I’m listening to music, the strokes get a little bit different depending on what I’m playing.”

For the last two years, Corin called California her temporary home until she returned to Lexington this past December. During that time, she would paint artists whose music resembled home for her. She started with a portrait of Rihanna, a reminder of her mom who would often play Rihanna's music around the house during her childhood.

Corin also completed portraits of Jack Harlow and Bryson Tiller, inspired by their newly-released music. Both are Kentucky natives that reminded Corin of home and have reached out through social media to compliment her artwork.

Although most people have positively interacted with her work, Corin said that “art is subjective, so not everyone you come across is going to like what you make.”

Corin’s shading and blending techniques are where she said she thinks can most improve in her artwork. Whatever piece she is currently working on always turns out to be her favorite until the next one comes along.

Corin said she feels like she grows each time she makes something different, always aspiring to become better with each piece she takes on.

To obtain her own style for her art, Corin loves doing portraits and painting faces.

“I always look at the eyes since they’re such an enthralling part. It just pulls you in. I always want to have those be very intense when you look at my work,” she said.

Deja Corin, a Lexington-based artist, poses with her painting of singers Rhianna, Jack Harlow, and SZA at her family's home on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Martha McHaney.

“I didn't start painting until 2018, so I wasn’t very good at it when I first started, but no one could tell me that back then,” Corin said. Since she first started two years ago, Corin has painted over a dozen portraits and feels her art has significantly grown.

She likes her work to have random pops of color that people wouldn’t expect to see in a skin tone or hair. Corin wants her artwork to show a lot of different brush strokes to prevent her art from looking perfect but appear a little messy instead.

“I don’t want it to look like a picture; I want you to know it’s a painting,” Corin said.

She has encountered people that haven’t liked her work and have asked, “Are you sure this is what you want to do? Why aren’t you in school? Why not choose something safer for a career?”

She responds confidently each time knowing she’s certain of this career path. At the young age of 20, she finds it difficult to explain why she has chosen art as her profession and why school wasn’t in her future.

“I didn’t know I wasn’t going to go to college — I thought I was. I had a 4.2 GPA and was taking all these AP classes and then I thought about it. It didn’t just make sense for me,” she said.

She’s said she has been very passionate about art her entire life, so it wasn’t a surprise to her that she chose what she loves. Corin sees her age as such a weird point in her life because it can get distracting seeing peers doing so many different things and everyone all at different stages of their lives.

“A lot of people go to school and have no idea what they want to do and they spend a lot of money trying to figure it out, and I didn’t have to spend a lot of money to figure out what I'm good at,” she said.

Corin said she knows she’s meant to do art and pursue her gift in all the ways she possibly can. She has begun taking inquiries from people who want her to paint a portrait of them. Varying her price by the size, detailing of the client's wishes to be portrayed and the materials which would be needed has made it a requirement that nothing she produces will be below $700.

She said she knows that the price may be seemingly absurd to others but said that “some people would say they would never pay that amount of money for that on a piece of paper, but they pay that amount of money for shoes.”

Corin greets opportunities with open arms when people seek her out to do work for them.

In her recent accomplishments, Corin met a music artist, Bran Movay, in Los Angeles who wanted her to do a piece for one of his music videos. She was given a week's deadline by which the piece needed to be completed so that it could be incorporated into the music video. Corin said she charged him $800 for her work but wasn’t phased by the time limit she was given considering her previous work.

A detail of Deja Corin's paintings at her family's home on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Martha McHaney.

Corin tries not to take longer than two weeks to complete a portrait because it becomes unlikely she will return to it. Her self portrait took two weeks due to the size of the five-foot canvas, while the SZA and Jack Harlow portraits took three days. Depending on the time she wants to commit to a piece, it can be completed in as soon as two days, as was her Rihanna portrait.

Getting into the mindset from start to finish, Corin said she normally begins her process by putting on some music and “studying” the picture of what she will be painting.

“The drawing is what’s most important to me because it’s one of the more fun parts about it and perfecting that layout before I even put any paint on the canvas,” Corin said.

Her space normally resembles a big canvas littered with pencils and many eraser shavings on the ground. She finds the process kind of dusty and messy but fun all at the same time.

Whenever Corin finds herself going through an “art block,” she goes back to the basics of what she knows best.

“I try to just draw and go back to how I started, which is on pencil and paper,” she said.

She has faced many challenges when completing portraits, but the hardest to accomplish is the piece Corin said she is most proud of.

While painting a portrait of Teanna Wiley, an LA designer, Corin had the hardest time with this work because she went through so many phases with it; the canvas had ripped, she was unhappy with the colors on the canvas and found her technique not displaying her true capabilities.

Corin admitted to hating it at first, but then growing to love it the most because she “had fought the hardest with that one,” she said.

Even when wanting to give up on a piece or two, Corin has always been encouraged in the best of ways. Her family motivates her to be free and explore her likes and dislikes through her art. Their impact has had a positive influence on taking her work seriously and knowing that art is what she loves and what she’s good at.

“I liked that they never pushed me to do anything that I didn’t want to do because a lot of people don’t look at art as a serious career,” she said.

Deja Corin, a Lexington-based artist, observes her painting of singer Rihanna at her family's home on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Martha McHaney.

Corin’s art profession has been a journey for her with opportunities she’s grateful for. In 2019, before her move to California, she had a solo art exhibition in Lexington where she presented 14 pieces. She considered the accomplishment “a character-building moment.”

“I feel like I don’t do things the proper way the art world does them, I kind of just, like, find myself falling into these opportunities. I’m appreciative of that,” Corin said while reflecting on her journey as an artist.

Her move from Kentucky to California was one of the biggest adjustments in her artwork, but Corin said she grew a lot as an artist during her time away from home. Art was her main focus and working every day towards getting better at it. Her family had only seen her art transformation through her online presence because they haven’t seen everything in person.

“My art is so much better than when I left,” she said.

Corin liked her time in a new environment and “wants people to know it’s good to go to places like LA, New York, Atlanta and Chicago to discover yourself out there and get inspiration, but it’s nothing you can’t get from here.”

Since her return to the Bluegrass, Corin has explored some of the city’s artistic corners.

“I'm really proud of Lexington. Our city is so beautiful,” she said. But now that she’s back, Corin is “hoping to have a major contribution to our art scene.”

Other than presenting her work to Lexington, Corin is hoping the future will hold her bigger aspirations.

“I want to be selling art all over, having shows and galleries,” she said. “I just want to help other people with my art, share my art and put it out there.”

Corin said she hopes people can see the emotion she felt when painting her pieces. But as an artist, she said, “I like to let the viewer decide what my art says about me.”

Corin has big plans in the new year, including an art show for her 21st birthday in September. She is hoping to present a portrait series of loved ones in her life in Lexington that matter to her in various ways.

“I just want to inspire people here because I really love Lexington. It’s where I grew up and it’s made me the person I am,” Corin said.


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