Since Self graduated from the Yale School of Art in 2015, she’s enjoyed—and suffered—an astounding art world trajectory. Prices for her paintings have increased more than 30-fold over the past five years, only sometimes to her benefit. She has gained international respect and recognition, but she’s also lost significant control over where her artworks end up. The story of Self’s rapidly rising popularity is a case study in the pleasures and perils of early-career acclaim for young artists.
Born in Harlem, Self studied studio art at Bard College before attending Yale for her MFA. As a painting student interested in printmaking, she found inventive ways to combine both modes of artmaking. Self recalled hitting a wall with printmaking, given its limitations in scale and durability. While she wanted to return to a more traditional painting practice, she was still interested in using the handmade, “collographic” plates she’d worked with in her print process. Self used these plates to create patterns and impressions on canvas. Sewing patterned fabrics atop her surfaces, she created vibrant patchwork figures that integrated craft elements into her practice.
Before she graduated from Yale, Self had already shown her work in group shows around New York and in a solo presentation at Schur-Narula, a Berlin gallery. A 2015 visit to the Lower East Side gallery Thierry Goldberg for a friend’s opening proved consequential. Self introduced herself to co-owner Ron Segev, and the pair set up a studio visit. Segev recalled liking what he saw, though Self was making works on paper at the time. He offered her an exhibition, and her first New York solo show, “Out of Body,” opened in May 2015.