Some of Trisstah Wagstaff’s earliest recollections revolve around art.
“My first memories of making art, I was pretty small, and I remember being at the kitchen table coloring things and gluing things and making things with my sister,” the Waco native said. “I was pretty little, probably like 3 or 4. I always loved making things. I was pretty quiet as a child, and so that was my way of expressing myself. I used to write little notes and hide them throughout my family house. My parents would find them like two years later and be like, ‘What is this?’ I just thought how fun would it be to find this happy message and a little picture? But I think they never found most of them.”
Then when she was 11, Wagstaff told her mother that she was going to be a painter when she grew up. She wasn’t sure exactly what all that entailed, “but I always had this really strong drive to create.”
“When I created, I made what I wanted to, and even now, I feel like art is the place where I’m fearless,” she said. “There are a lot of things that might give me anxiety or I might pull back because I’m afraid, but with art, I feel like there’s not a place for fear.”
As Wagstaff was preparing for college, she decided to go into art.
“It was the first time I got to be around other artists. And that was pretty amazing,” she said. “Being around other artists means being understood in a way that not everyone else understands.”
Wagstaff received her bachelor’s in painting from Baylor in 2014 and then earned her Master of Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2018.
Wagstaff paints in the abstract style, often on a canvas as tall as her — “I am just under [5-foot-4],” she said.
“The style that I paint in is very gestural, and there’s a lot of body movement that goes along with the painting that is difficult to do in a smaller painting,” she said. “I think if it was a fourth of the size, it wouldn’t confront you as much. You are pulled more into the piece.”
Wagstaff’s embrace of abstract painting began in college when her dad, Trevor Dugger, died.
“I felt at that time like I was drowning,” she said. “I started working with really loose, watered-down paints, and it felt almost uncontrollable. That felt to me at the time, what life was like, and so then as I started over a span of four years, I began to feel I guess life coming back. It felt like I could tell that story in the paintings too. And I could talk about in the paintings how even though I was in a really dark place for quite a long time, I still experienced hope and I still experienced God’s goodness and healing little bits at a time.”
One of Wagstaff’s biggest inspirations, fellow abstract painter Makoto Fujimura, came to Baylor for an exhibition of his work during Wagstaff’s undergraduate years.
“I walked into the museum to see his work and was just so captured by the presence of his work. It’s just amazing and very inspiring,” she said. She’s also been influenced by the work of Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Georgia O’Keeffe and Paul Jenkins.
Trisstah Wagstaff’s art has been featured in shows throughout Texas and in Georgia, and some of her work was recently accepted for shows in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Due to the ongoing pandemic, those three shows all turned into online exhibitions, but that didn’t dampen Wagstaff’s enthusiasm for being included.
“They’re juried exhibitions, so it’s a lot of entering and a lot of rejection,” she said. “Getting an acceptance is pretty exciting.”
Wagstaff’s work can be seen on her website, trisstahwagstaff.com.