Empowered Artistry: Tulsa Artist Elizabeth Henley takes on L.A. Residency

Written By Grace Wood  
Photographed by Iasiah G Pickens III 

Artist Elizabeth Henley is the fourth of eight Tulsa artists-in-residence currently living in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. Henley’s residency comes as part of a collaboration between A Creative House and Donkey Bridge, which allows artists the space and resources to spend five weeks creating art and connecting with other artists across Los Angeles.  

Henley touched down in Los Angeles near the end of April and will stay until May 28. During her residency, Henley said she is being intentional about pouring into her artwork, allowing herself the time and space to create every day.  

“I know that I’m fulfilling my life’s purpose and what makes me feel happy and in tune with myself,” Henley said.  

Henley’s life in Tulsa is nothing short of eventful. The artist, who founded Black Moon in 2018, is involved heavily in the Tulsa art scene and giving back to the local community.  

“I have figured out that I’m a social practitioner — someone who brings someone toward a common goal of artistic expression, which I do a lot with organizations like Black Moon, Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, Art 4orms Foundation, and HER Empowerment Foundation,” Henley said.  

Her personal work as a multidisciplinary artist includes installations, murals, paintings, fabric art, and portraiture depicting the Black female form. Because Henley is so involved in Tulsa’s local art community, applying for the Los Angeles residency was a way for her to take a step back from all of the social programming she’s involved in and focus mainly on her own art.  


“I knew the residency would be the perfect opportunity for me to take,” Henley said. “Before I got here, I told myself that this would be the biggest inhalation I’ve ever taken throughout my artistic career — just a big breath in to focus on my own personal artistic practice.”  

Since coming to Los Angeles, Henley has focused on two distinct projects: The first, a series of 15 watercolor paintings based on sci fi Afrofuturism, and the second, a series of paintings inspired by the manga, anime, and live action film “Ghost in the Shell.” Henley, who experiences anxiety, is weaving her own lived experiences with themes from the franchise.  

“The film is about a woman who has a human brain but a cyborg body, so all of her thoughts, emotions, and feelings are wrapped up in her brain, but she doesn’t have access to those things because her brain is trapped inside of this robot,” Henley said. “I’m likening that story to how my anxiety sometimes takes over my physical form … And as the story goes on, she starts to realize who she was before her brain was implanted into the robot. So it’s like coming around to the person I know I can be if I move past my own mental incapabilities.”  

To achieve the look she wants, Henley is using many different methods and materials to create this artwork, including painting on canvases with acrylic paint, painting on Mylar, and pouring resin onto canvases.  

Since coming to Los Angeles, Henley has made great efforts to explore the city’s many neighborhoods and connect with other artists.  

“I feel like LA is very embracing of Oklahoma artists and receptive to what we’re doing — when I talk to people and tell them I’m an artist from Oklahoma, they’re like, ‘What do you do? What’s your group called? What’s your Instagram? When’s your next art show?’” Henley said. “Everyone’s been very receptive and welcoming, and the art scene here is incredible — there are so many talented artists everywhere, it’s hard not to be inspired.”  

Henley said the growth she’s experienced since starting her residency has been palpable, and the lessons she’s learned since being here will benefit her artistic practice in Oklahoma as well.  

“Art has always been my therapy — it helps me work through the emotional and mental issues I run into — so, as a person, I’m learning to trust myself more, be more present, and give myself space and time to work through things,” Henley said. “When you’re painting, you might run into a problem and you have to power through and work out that image until you get it where you want it to be. I feel like that life lesson has happened to me, especially in regards to my identity as a Black woman, I don’t give myself the time to explore what it means to go through those things. Through this experience, I’ve learned some things as far as how the world perceives me, how the world treats me, and how to navigate the challenges I’m faced with all in front of a canvas, and then I can take that out into the world. It’s been life-changing for me.”  

Reflecting on the impact she hopes her art and this residency has, Henley said she hopes the work she and the other artists-in-residence are doing continues to establish Tulsa as a thriving artistic community.  


“There’s so much talent in Tulsa, and I know since we’re a flyover state, people tend to overlook the talent that’s there,” Henley said. “I hope people will be curious and want to learn more about what people are doing in my hometown.”  


Follow along with Henley’s artistic journey on Instagram @feahther.