Art is a valuable method of empowerment when it inspires others to live as their most authentic selves. For Missouri State Art + Design alum Trevor Doell, creating artwork inspired by his own experiences and the history of the LGBTQ+ community has aimed to promote representation, self-acceptance, and inclusion.
“Being a gay man in the Midwest has not always been a fun journey. We still live in an era where I can have slurs shouted from a car while walking in the downtown area. I am sure other members of the LGBTQ+ community can relate to this statement. From a young age, we are harassed and bullied into adulthood—there is a mentality to accept and ignore the hate,” Trevor shares. While navigating this journey has had its challenges, it has served as a source of motivation to help those who may face similar experiences in the future. What Trevor had not expected was the immediate recognition that this creative direction would bring.
Three years ago, Trevor began submitting his work to art shows hoping to get his name out into the industry before he graduated college. “In the fall of 2019, I had done a series of watercolor paintings of local drag queens Crystal Methyd, Daya Betty, Daegen Michelle, and Lux Kween. During this time I had submitted my painting of Daegen Michelle to a show at East Tennessee State University, which received positive reviews,” Trevor adds. He had known about Springfield Art Museum’s Watercolor USA exhibition for several years, and after the success of the exhibition in Tennessee, he decided to look into the submission process. When Trevor found that the submission window was still open, he decided to enter two paintings from the drag queen series. “If I am honest, I did not think they were going to make it into the show. Growing up in this area of Missouri, I had thought a painting of a drag queen would not be displayed in a gallery,” Trevor adds.
Trevor’s initial doubts were proven wrong when it was announced that his painting, Crystal, had been accepted into Watercolor USA for 2020. Shortly after Crystal was displayed in the exhibition, Southwest Missouri Museum Associates added the painting to Springfield Art Museum’s permanent collection. Since then, Trevor has exhibited work in two more consecutive Watercolor USA exhibitions—his painting DYSMORPHIA (self-portrait) was selected in 2021, and Photobooth 1953 was selected for this year’s exhibition. “Three years later, I still do not believe that my piece is owned by a museum. Being a part of a national show three years in a row has been an honor. This year I have been very grateful because I understand how important recognition is as a gay man and as an artist. The visibility of the museum, but also the community, has had an impact on my life. I hope that I can continue to have the opportunity to expose Southwest Missouri to art that they normally would not see in gallery spaces.”
Trevor explains that the visibility of his work has meant far more to him than simply a source of recognition. It has also been an important platform:
When you can live and be your true authentic self without regret, you become unstoppable. I hope the visibility of my artwork allows other LGBTQ+ members, especially the youth, to see themselves. I wish I would have had that exposure at a younger age before my college years. It would have allowed me to have the freedom of expression during my adolescence; nobody should have to grow up hating a part of their identity because of others’ hatred. I believe with queer-inspired artwork being observed within communities, this can drive acceptance and break misconceptions presented to the public. We can cause a shift in opinion and create a safe environment for all individuals.
Trevor graduated from Missouri State in summer of 2020 with a BFA emphasis in drawing and a minor in art history. He credits the art department as the place where he formed the closest bonds as a student. “Growing up in the Midwest, I have not always felt comfortable expressing myself fully through art. However, I had professors that allowed me to be my authentic self in their classes and also encouraged me to dig deeper into what made me different from everyone else,” Trevor shares. When reflecting on lessons that had a significant impact on his work, Trevor mentions drawing professor Sean Lyman and art history professor Dr. Catherine Jolivette as significant influences on both his technique and his concepts as an artist,
While I had several drawing teachers, Sean pushed me the most in his classes. I valued that I could be open with my ideas with him as a professor but also appreciated his critiques and questions that made me think about what I was trying to get across through my artwork . . . Throughout my entire public education, I might have been exposed to maybe three or four paragraphs of queer history. It was not until I had the chance to take contemporary art and modern art history that I got my first exposure to queer artists. Dr. Jolivette helped facilitate the knowledge in that area of study, which in the end has helped me explore new aspects of my artwork. This has allowed me to think about my purpose within the queer community and what I want to present to the public.
Trevor does not go without mentioning that many other professors also played important roles in his time at Missouri State, “I will say that several professors influenced me in several ways, and if I was ever in one of your classes, I want to thank you. You all supported me and pushed me forward, even at times when I would doubt myself. I will always value these relationships made while attending Missouri State.”
Trevor has the following words of advice for Art + Design students and recent graduates:
I would tell current students and recent graduates that plans do not always work out, setbacks are real, and success doesn’t happen overnight. However, as long as you are doing what you love keep pushing yourself forward. You never know when an opportunity will be presented to you. Reach out to your current or former professors for advice—I am very thankful to have teachers that stay in contact with me. The way you succeed the most is through connections you make with other peers. Make it a goal to get out in your communities and talk to local artists and be an active participant in your local art scene. I would also say, do not ever let anyone persuade you into changing who you are as a person or as an artist. Constructive critiques are always accepted, but be your true authentic self and do it unapologetically.
Keeping true to his own advice, Trevor intends to push towards new opportunities with ideas for new artwork while continuing to be a source of encouragement and support to other young artists:
Going forward with my artwork, I plan to continue to document and preserve local and national queer history. I think it is important to keep the history alive of individuals that walked the roads before us, especially within our community and Southwest Missouri as a whole. Their stories should be told and should be shared with the public. . .My plan for the distant future is to attend graduate school and focus on developing my artwork more because there is always room for growth. I would love to teach at a university level and continue to be that safe space for future artists to express themselves. I was allowed to express myself through artwork because supportive professors made that possible. I am aware that life can take you down many paths and I will continue to go wherever opportunities lead me.
For those interested in seeing Trevor’s piece, Photobooth 1953, in person, Watercolor USA is open at Springfield Art Museum through August 28. To see more of Trevor’s work, follow him on Instagram @doell_designs.
Taylor Ladd is a graduate assistant for the Department of Art + Design. She is working towards her master’s degree in writing at Missouri State University with professional interests in writing about art, culture, and food.