Texas Studio: Evita Tezeno on collaging Black joy

“I came out of the womb and knew I wanted to be an artist. It’s all I know.” Growing up in Port Arthur, Texas, Evita Tezeno was surrounded by female relatives who were quilters and seamstresses. Little bits of fabric could always be found around the house, and it’s this patchwork, folk-art style that has inspired Tezeno’s immensely popular collage paintings since the beginning of the 21st century.

Her work has been described as “quilting with paper,” but even more important is its subject matter. “As Black people we have suffered a lot, with slavery and the racial divides that still exist,” she says. “That is our history, but that is not all our story.”

Tezeno’s paintings overflow with Black joy: colorful, harmonious scenes of Black Americans dancing, playing guitar, dressed up to go out, holding flowers. “I’m a hugger, I’m a joyful person,” Tezeno says. “I’m everybody’s auntie. I just want my work to love on you.”

However, she did not start out with this signature style. In the 1980s, armed with a degree in graphic design from Lamar University, Tezeno initially painted in the Impressionist style. Polite but unenthused gallery rejections led Tezeno to seek inspiration elsewhere: her faith.

“I prayed to the Lord to show me what else I can do,” she recalls. “And then I had a dream where an angel came to my door and gave me a book of sketches. It was a blueprint to a whole other style, and the angel vowed I would be successful if I followed it.”

Success did indeed follow, first with the honor of being the first female artist to design a poster for the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1999, and then another concert poster for the Essence Festival. “But I was still told, ‘your work is not Black enough,’” Tezeno says. “So I spent time with my grandmother as she told me stories about home and family, and that’s where this more folk-art, less Cubist style came about.”

Her process now begins with taking a few weeks to sketch her complete body of work for the upcoming year. Working back to front, Tezeno then paints and collages the background before attending to the foreground figures. She keeps a “treasure trove” of hand-painted paper pieces ready so she doesn’t have to pause the momentum, stenciling dress patterns and brushing skin tones with everything from acrylics to watercolors to pastels. “I do mixed media in its truest form,” she says with a chuckle. Even her grandmother’s button collection makes its way onto her canvases, adding a little piece of family to each work.

Some of Tezeno’s paintings feature family members—her aunt and uncle are the stylish subjects of We Gonna Cut a Rug Tonight—while some include shades of her own history. Beyond the Path There is a New Birth shows Tezeno emerging from a lake surrounded by bare trees, a reference to her divorce, but she still wears a vibrant red bathing suit signifying her indomitable spirit.

Fans connect deeply with Tezeno’s work as well. While on display in a New York City gallery, eight of Tezeno’s paintings were snapped up by film star Denzel Washington. Soon after, Tezeno noticed that Samuel L. Jackson had begun following her on Instagram. She messaged him—“I’m very bold!” she laughs—and he replied just 24 hours later, saying he’d noticed her work at his friend Denzel’s house. Jackson ended up purchasing Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got, named in tribute to The Four Tops song, as a gift to his wife for their anniversary.

While her paintings live in the homes of celebrities and major art collectors worldwide, Tezeno is especially proud to have Joy, Compassion, Generosity on display at the Dallas Museum of Art—her first work owned by a museum. Her first solo museum exhibition debuted at the Houston Museum of African American Culture in 2023, a year which also brought a Guggenheim Fellowship. Through May 2024, Tezeno’s At the Bus Stop is on display as part of the MFAH’s Multiplicity: Blackness in Contemporary American Collage. In 2025, she has a solo show planned at her alma mater: “I remember my work hanging up on the walls there when I had my senior show,” she says. “It really does feel like a full-circle accomplishment.”

And after that? Tezeno wants to try her hand at sculpture. “Someone recently asked me at an artist talk, ‘How does it feel to have made it?’” she recalls. “I don’t feel like I’ve made it because my journey has not ended. An artist’s journey is never ending.”