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Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. 
It’s that last part. The emotional power. LaTosha breathes it. Whether she’s sculpting, painting, performing, or swag flagging, Mrs. Matthews innately embodies the same emotional power that resonates from her artwork and connects with the human soul.
“The type of artwork that I create is about human motivation,” she says. “I like to make work about life, my perspective.”
It seems that emotional power erupted in La Matthews a long time ago. The Columbus native has been creating all her life. As an only child, she recalls often having to keep herself entertained; her creative nature became her best friend. “I knew at a really young age that that’s who I wanted to be,” she says. She created this world that she accounts to her unique perspective of life.
As an adult, though, the societal pressures that often hang over the heads of creatives forced the wife and mother of three to dabble in other career fields, causing LaTosha to stray from her purpose momentarily. In 1999, she attended Ohio University for art but eventually left to work in banking for about five years—five years that she describes as frustrating. LaTosha even went back to school for marketing and then psychology at one point. It wasn’t until 2005 at The Ohio State University where LaTosha studied ceramics that she really took a hold of her talents and just took off!
During her lifelong career, Ms. Mathews studied many forms of artistic expression, from performing and photography to sculpting and painting. Ms. Betty Stahls, who worked at the King Arts Complex here in Columbus, told Mrs. Matthews that her 3D work was her strongest, referring to her as a jack of all trades and a master of none. “I had to live with that for a while. I felt defeated in a way,” she recalls. “I always had it on my heart to do whatever I had a desire to do.”
This realization hit La Matthews pretty hard but reminded her that she was, in fact, a master of her emotions. “I have to do what is on my heart to do, whether it’s a strong piece or not.” The now full-time artist has continued to do just that.
Once, after returning from maternity leave for her second child, LaTosha returned to school with information that she’d been awarded a scholarship. She’d never actually applied for the award, but was recommended by professors who saw that she was an “artist, for real.”
Her first year back at OSU, Matthews received another scholarship for a video performance where she portrayed having a conversation with her three-year-old self. Sometimes I feel I am as loopy as the L in my first name.
Latosha says that she remembers being really young and wanting to be white, thinking that you grew up and wanted to be white. This became a driving force behind some of her most prominent work.
Around 2011, LaTosha says OSU finally offered history of African American art, a class that she says she’d been longing for. Melissa Wolfe, the instructor for the class, introduced her students to Archibald J. Motley Jr and his 1931 painting brown girl after the bath. Beyond being a beautiful oil on canvas, Ms. Wolfe explained that brown girl was one of the first portrayals of a nude black woman that wasn’t intended to be demeaning.
“White women were allowed to be who they were. If we were naked we were depicted as a slave or a prostitute,” LaTosha says as she recalls the immediate affect the painting had on her and her identity as a black woman. LaTosha says she also recognized the purple flag behind the woman’s vanity, which Professor Wolfe referred to as a swag.
From this painting, La Matthews Created The Original Purple Swag Flag.
“The flag represents unity. A claiming of space for the black woman.” LaTosha explains that our identities have a lot to do with the media and what we see on television. She says today there are shows with prominent black female figures, but often these characters don’t have black friends. This common theme is found even in children’s show like Doc McStuffins or the once beloved That’s So Raven.
LaTosha feels black women are just not there. “Where are we? Why can’t we be counted? It’s like that across the board. What that flag represents is that I’m here. I connect with other women that look like me, that feel like they’re not represented. Even if I don’t come from where you come from, we share this black skin.”
The video below highlights her passion and need to create the Purple Swag Flag and why she chose the purple, white, and black stripes that adorn the flying symbol of self-love and pride:
A part of LaTosha’s legacy is currently hanging gracefully at the Columbus Museum of Art directly in front of the Archibald Motley painting. Art enthusiasts can read about the flag and what it represents right under the wall description of brown girl.
Now that she has completely dedicated her career to creating, La Matthews is preparing for her upcoming art show, “Half Past the Moon.” The show is the second chapter of her Happenings and Installations series. The show will dive deep into relations between the effects of the media and the subconscious mind of African American women. Tickets are currently on sale, with a portion of proceeds going towards the recovery of talented painter and mentor to Mrs. Matthews, Pheoris West’s.
The mixed-media artist continues to impress, successfully trying her hand at whatever her heart desires with no signs of slowing down. “I’ve seen her art evolve from paintings to sculptures, mixed media and everything in between. So to see her realize her dreams to be in the Columbus Museum of Art was just amazing to me,” says Donna Marbury, long time friend of LaTosha. “I think her perspective covers growing as an artist, growing as a mother, as a woman, and as a black person, so it will be interesting to see this next level of work.”
To keep up to date with LaTosha Matthews’ creative endeavors, check out her social media handles below:
- Section headings are in reference to a quote from LaTosha’s website. Story title refers to alias created by Tosha.
- Video interview of La Matthews directed and edited by Jasmine Higgins