Michelle Obama gave me chills half the time I beheld her, and, the other half, she had me biting my nails. I lost count of the images she made, that I knew drove racist crackers, insane. What a coffee table book that would be.
‘Pics That Drive Peckerwoods Coo-Coo’
Amy claims she is interested in Story Telling, but, her portrait of our first black First Lady does not solicit a volume of words. Let’s stop pretending it does. There is no free lunch in the real art world, that has been overly inspired by the Written Word. The Pre-Raphaelite Brother and Sisterhood used the Bible as their Great Muse, they inspired by the Nazarene Artists of Germany who let their hair grow long after the Nazarites. Samson was a Nazarite. Though I have yet to see the movie ‘Black Panther’ I am already overlaying the story of Samson, because, it is archetypal. He gives his all and all. In this respect he is liken to great Jazz artists, and, Bo Didley.
If Amy had used the photo of the little boy leaning on Michelle’s shoulder as her model, then, you might have a Hallark card, a Christmas card, or a Rockwell. For sure what you got, is THE TRUTH. Racism is taught to children. It does not come natural. Michelle appears to know this lesson, by heart. She goes directly to how SIMILAR we are, and ignores who DISIMILAR we are. Why do Artists return to this lesson over and over?
Here is my sister’s painting of ‘Lena and Her Sisters’. Lena was our black maid my mother had to hire when she went to work – after her husband refused! The four Presco children liked Lena the moment we lay eyes on her, because she took a real interest in us. Lena would take Christine home with her. She lived with her sisters who had worked in white homes in Mississippi taking care of white children. When they moved to Oakland, they felt detached from their core being. These beautiful white children were the threshold to a world that was all but closed to them. They lived in Oakland’s ghetto. They were not happy. They felt like useless prisoners. They loved my sister, who showed healthy social skills before her siblings did.
Christine Rosamond Benton is famous for the clothes her portraits are wearing. Before she took up art at twenty-four, she made her own clothing, and did her mother, Rosemary. Our grandmother made hats in order to support her four daughters, and her two nephews, when they were orphaned.
I wonder if Amy has seen Rosamond’s art, or, is she inspired by the art of clothing design – just because this is what attracts the attention of most women. What a First Lady is wearing, or her children, has generated a hundred thousand news articles. Fashion is the largest industry in the world. My first girlfriend, Marilyn Reed, designed and made her own clothing. In Christine’s ‘Story Teller’ we see the clothing the women wear are like cut-outs placed on two dimensional mannequins. The Women’s Words did not get recorded, but, the stitch and the thread, go on forever! Then there is the color of the dyes.
Christine is kin to Jessie Benton and John Fremont who backed Gutzon Borglum who made the Mount Rushmore National Monument. John was the first to emancipate slaves. Mark Twain and Bret Hart were sponsored by Jessie who almost became First Lady.
There exist two bad biographies about Rosamond, and a screenplay. The parasitical outsiders glean our family stories in order to get more money. The story they missed is, Lena was like our second mother, a member of our family. She and her sisters were our nurturers. They can take credit for Christine’s success, she becoming the most successful woman artist in history. From somewhere, unseen, they know this. Our empty white canvases, are all inclusive. More than likely, Lena’s grandmother, was a slave.
“My work began as an exploration to exclude the idea of color as race from my paintings by removing “color” but still portraying racialised bodies as objects to be viewed through portraiture. These paintings originated as a creation of a fairytale, illustrating an alternate existence in response to a dominant narrative of black history. As my ideas became more legible the use of fantasy evolved into scenes of spectacle (e.g. circuses), to make direct reference to blackness and racialisation. I stage specific scenes of social ascent, and racial descent that chart the psychology and performance of identity with a particular attention to notions of social exclusion and assimilation. All of these things configure a practiced position or role played within a specific space or context. These kinds of performances blend and bleed the borders of how blackness is defined within the phenomenon of race as it relates to a specific experience of blackness in America, which has been performed in front of an audience that pretends not to exist. I am using historicism and race, not to be provocative, but to find some meaning within the ideas of self-actualization and the evolution of identity as a reaction to external directives.
The scope of my experiences involving race materialized from my upbringing in the south. While attending private schools and being one of two or three black children, I was raised to be conscious of how I acted, spoke and dressed. This performing aspect of my identity was cultivated from the beginning of my schooling. I learned this was the key to my social acceptance and assimilation. Drawing from these experiences, I am engaging from a personal perspective with the desire to extrapolate meaning on how identity is both constructed and performed within political, social, economic and cultural spheres.
Each painting starts with a chance encounter of an individual that embodies certain resonating characteristics. I am continually searching for models and creating costumes for each character. Although the figure is painted in gray I photograph the models in color, and the skin color is then translated into gray on canvas by using black and naples yellow. I place the figure within an atmospheric background that represents a liminal space as opposed to one that would provide a context of place or time. Creating the impetus for the viewer to truly come face to face with the painted figure as if they are on stage underneath a spotlight. The liminality of the background also represents the amorphous personal space of my own existence within the context of black identity and my search for ways to clarify and ground it.
Identity interests me not only within the backdrop of my experiences in the south, but also from a global perspective. This had lead to my examination of social implications of increased interconnectedness among the world’s populations. Currently, I am working on ideas for multi-figure portraiture of similar or contradicting characters and stories between subjects.”