Series in black: Transcending darkness
“I don’t paint black itself, but rather the light black reflects.” (Pierre Soulages)
Many black artists have used black in portraiture to startling effect. Kerry James Marshall’s genial use of black in portraiture becomes a political statement as the black face disappears like a ghost or is reified by some color or the use of white. Chris Offili‘s use of dark hues of blue and black powerfully addresses issues of race, particularly encounters between black men and the police. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye may use dark greens, brown and black to create stunning portraits.
These artists however do not use solely black. Artists who do so are more often abstract artists like Ad Reinhardt or Pierre Soulages. There is a deep emotional pull in working solely in black, and I couldn’t escape it, as I couldn’t escape coming back to portraiture in this series. Moreover, I found myself doing mostly portraits of minorities.
Why would a white woman paint minorities? And what right does she have to do so? I paint minorities because they are my family. My son who taught me I could be an artist was African-American since his father was black. Fourteen years ago, he was killed on a street of Harlem by a stranger he didn’t know. I don’t paint him; I reach out to him by sharing his love for humanity. I paint minorities because my African-American husband of many years taught me love and trust, even though he wasn’t too sure he could ever fully trust a white woman. I paint minorities because I suffered through them when white America looked upon them and I felt powerless.
I paint portraits in black as a celebration of light shining through darkness. I paint to transcend racism and sexism. I give a face to people who are not always seen, or seen only through the barriers of prejudice. I paint because we are all alike, separated by the prisons of our minds.
April 17, 2017
Series in Red: a biographical sketch
First, Do Not Trust ME. Why should you trust me, you don’t even know who I am. But I tell the truth, just the truth, I’ll never tell a lie
What the fuck?
Who are you anyway?
My paintings are beautiful
I love you
Here she goes again
All that red, they dwarf me, their faces dwarf me, they are taking over, THEY ARE NOT MINE ANYMORE, they are.
The noise of the traffic, far below, sounds like the ebbs and flows of the sea, until a truck starts breaking down, I can almost feel the fumes up here even though the windows are closed, it’s cold, so cozy inside with all that red surrounding me, their eyes, they are looking at me, almost without wanting to.
What the hell, why am I painting portraits, and don’t tell me that’s because I used to be a shrink and it’s kind of natural. Some look like monsters, the ones I like most have a little monster in them.
I am a woman, in case you didn’t know, and why should you? There’s nothing better than being a wo… Whaaat? Well, why not? You work with brushes and paint, stir up your caldron
I had a perfect little interracial family, warm and cosy, full of laughs and love and then I lost it all, the son killed, the husband dead, and I kept looking for them, mixing the faces of total strangers, calling forth the essential in all of us, beyond race, beyond differences.
March , 2017
Cuba: lost in a time warp vibrating to salsa
That omnipresent blue of Cuba that fights (victoriously) with the sky and the sea. Victoriously? Si, señor, it’s Cuba, and they kicked our butt more than fifty years ago – the image of Che is there everywhere to remind us that La Revolución won. Fidel, ay, you don’t see too much of him but Che died young, fighting for his ideals, another bearded one going down in history as the savior of the poor and the downtrodden.
And yes, the beautiful Americans are there everywhere, in different states of upkeep and disrepair.
Oops, sorry, that was our soviet era military truck transformed into a hardcore tourist bus that brought us to Parque Natural Topes de Collantes where both Che and his guys and the CIA paid opposition had their digs once upon a time. Think green and clean, mountains, natural lakes, coffee plantations, waterfalls, flowers and birds, so many birds.
And here they come, the Americanos…
Yes, there is art in Cuba and there are museums in every sleepy little colonial town, museum and libraries, old mansions, palaces and colonial houses, newly rebuilt and triumphant or decrepit and melancholy. Old Havana looks at times like a movie set or an enlarged and more beautiful version of Bam’s Harvey theater – they don’t have to fake ruins there.
March surge in Trinidad: each year in March crabs are crossing the road to go lay their eggs in a cove at the sea – thousands and thousands of them. Though drivers twist and turn trying to avoid them, the road is littered with the bodies of the unfortunate ones. Under the full moon, the scene is eerie, as our bus slowly navigates the road.
Music? Close your eyes a second and feel it climbing up your spine.
February 24, 2017: Art and politics
My work is not political per se and is not defined by my being a woman.
The right to contradict oneself should be one of the basic human rights. I am Muslim was an early answer to the presidential elections. The cut-out of a woman’s face, surrounded by multitudes, suggest vulnerability and incertitude.
As an artist, I don’t usually do political art. Neither do I want to be recognized as a “woman artist”. Art aspires to be universal, to create its own language and reach out beyond words. Even when art is ephemeral – destructible art that belies the myth of art’s timelessness – it still aspires to make a universal statement on time.
Not doing political art doesn’t mean that I don’t react strongly and emotionally to what happens to my fellow human beings. My favorite contemporary American artist Mark Bradford may not be a political artist but his art is certainly nourished by his upbringing and his being African-American.
We live in special times since the presidential elections, and even more so since the inauguration. As an artist I felt I had to take a stand against an administration who used fear and hate to impose its racist, sexist, anti-muslim, anti-environmental agenda. I was glad to be part of UPRISE at the Untitled Space in NYC, a group show of 80 female artists that reacted strongly to our new president stand on women, race, muslims, gender minorities and the environment.
DNA addresses issues of race and gender. Race is a social concept. We are all alike separated by the prisons of our minds.
The contours of a woman is at the center of I am Woman. She is Eve, the ghost woman, the first one. She is Change, she is Fight, she is resilience and strength, her force honed through millenaries. The text in the cutouts alludes to subjects possibly under attack in the new administration: Muslim, homosexuality, and the freedom of the press.
February 21, 2017 Choosing safety or taking risks?
How do you take risks when you are not aware that you are playing it safe? I thought of myself as a risk taker and was quite shaken when my friend Veronique Chabrolle, the artist Vero Dalla , told me that portraits had become my safety zone. I was changing techniques, my portraits could be intense, but I had reached a point where I wasn’t moving anymore. She gave me a challenge: two weeks to change, two weeks where I should not paint any portrait, whatever the need, the desire, the wish.
I took the challenge. The first day was fine, it was a dare and I could take it. The second day, I was mad at her, how could she decide for me, who did she think she was? I started doing work on paper and I kept at it, through excitement, anger, fear maybe?
To make the challenge easier, I allowed myself to go back to blue. Why in hell had I stopped working in blue more than a year ago? I don’t know. I only knew that I had to do it. Intellectual decisions have very little to do with my artistic choices. I paint because I have to. That’s about it. I am being pulled in a direction that’s not safe, that’s challenging and incredibly exciting too because once you give up an illusory control on what comes out of you, you start seeing, feeling, and experiencing more.