Art empowers life for Raasheda Burnett.
It started simply: with a pencil.
Raasheda Burnett was the middle of nine children being cared for by her grandmother. “My father was absent and my mother was an RN and a home health aide. She’d work four 12-hour shifts at the hospital and spend the other three days with her home health clients,” explained Burnett. “My grandmother was busy, busy, and she bought me a pencil kit to keep me entertained.” A passion ignited.
Burnett recalls sketching her grandmother’s house and backyard on repeat, unknowingly building her own foundation for life as an artist and art as a tool for life. “I was four or five when my dad left, and my mom had a stroke a few years later. I got put in the system, put under kinship care,” she said.
Burnett didn’t realize that art was healing for her. She didn’t understand her love of creating, but she leaned into it — expanding into jewelry making, evolving into poetry. “Sometime after my dad left, I began connecting to him through art with my poetry,” she said. Eventually, she came back to drawing, though. “I discovered that drawing was emotionally more palatable. Rather than saying ‘You’re gone,’ I could draw it.” She found solace operating in the blank spaces between the words.
Then she graduated.
“My mother had always encouraged me not to go into arts when I graduated. She urged me to do something more practical, and when I started OU’s — University of Oklahoma — nursing program, I realized that it was not what I should be doing,” said Burnett. “But I was there, and my second semester, I enrolled in an arts class.” It was there that she learned perspectives and color-mixing. She lived like this — practicality and passion competing for space within — for two years before dropping out.
To pay bills, Burnett took a position in the tech industry, continuing to use art as therapy. “I used art to journal, to figure out my next steps. I used it to process. People would see my stuff and wanted it,” she said. Those same people would soon make monetary offers, and over time, Burnett developed a collector base. “I remember when I actually put ‘artist’ on my resume because I wanted to take a chance on myself.” Instagram paved the way to her first installation at the Liz Lidgett Gallery + Design in Des Moines, Iowa.
These days, Burnett primarily works with acrylic and mixed medium on canvas, and locals have been lucky enough to see her work live at shows coordinated by Allied Arts OKC and the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition. When asked who inspires her now, she’ll say swiftly that it’s her four children … including her youngest daughter, who has also started with a pencil.