The Harlem Renaissance is celebrated around the world as one of the most important cultural and political periods in African-American and American history. Next year, 2019, celebrations will get underway to mark the 100th anniversary of the Renaissance.
You might say that I started my own celebration of the Harlem Renaissance Centennial with the publication of both Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (2003 and 2010), and The Wisdom of W.E.B. Du Bois (new eBook edition due out July 31, 2018) followed by launch of the 100th Anniversary of the HR Initiative in 2011. It was probably inevitable once I started producing images that I would tackle tributes in this medium as well. But my aim is not just to salute the past. It is to help safeguard an irreplaceable legacy by adding contributions which hopefully will inspire modern sensibilities to learn more about it and join in on celebrations of the centennial. So please: accept this as YOUR INVITATION.
Many tend to identify the highlight of the Harlem Renaissance as a period lasting from 1919-1929 with events centered primarily in Harlem, New York, USA. But when studying the continued productivity of artists and writers associated with the era, and looking at "spin-offs" that took place in different American cities, it becomes obvious that the 20s were only the beginning of a movement which adapted and evolved for at least two more decades.
The artists of the Harlem Renaissance were essential to American history because their works formed a significant psychological bridge which made it possible for African-Americans and Americans in general to make the difficult transition from the cultures of slavery, reconstruction, and neo-slavery to the progressive social actions of later decades.
Among the most celebrated of these artists were: Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Jones, Augusta Savage, Jacob Armstead Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Romare Beardon, and numerous others. Their work, like that of literary counterparts such as Claude McKay and Dorothy West, often struck a fine balance between political propaganda and individual expression.
One of the most important gifts contributors to the Harlem Renaissance gave the world was an enduring strategy for refining the practice of democracy. They painted, sculpted, wrote, danced, sang, marched, taught, and kept striving at a time when Blacks were routinely lynched for not appearing subservient enough, or, for posing what was perceived of as an economic threat. Their everyday courage and commitment to creative civilized responses to sanctioned brutality was remarkable.
When I look at this artwork in its current form, I am reminded of the late art critic Bertha Husband's description of the style and technique known as "real" painting. In her review of the ELEMENTAL Exhibit then on display at the Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah, Georgia, she actually excluded from the definition my own fondness for mixed media and growing appreciation of the digital canvas. But what I find applicable from her review and relevant to my experience with this work is Ms. Husband's observation about the artist confronting a blank canvas with just the following:
"...an idea that cannot be expressed in words, and perhaps just a few sketches. The painting is realized in the process of its creation, and the end result can often surprise the painter, himself."
That entire last sentence and the part about being surprised oneself is especially true in the case of Song of Love and Compassion. Believe it or not, it started out as a light sketch for pages containing single words popping up out of a book (I still might try that again). Or maybe just one page containing a quote. In the course of considering things like text fonts and placement, I got so carried away with fusions of colors and lyrical lines until what was supposed to be something more concrete and representational evolved into an abstract celebration of shared humanity. I wasn't just surprised. I was flat-out stunned.
Different people looking at this artwork might tend to see different things. Some may see a mysterious cloaked (possibly winged) figure that appears to be either ascending or descending in a cloud of chromatic light. Others discern something along the lines of space nebulae, a jeweled tapestry, or a simple colorful holiday greeting card. What I see and feel is a small tribute in the form of a visual ode to the ordinary folks of this world who continue to give life invaluable meaning just by treating each other with such tax-free things as kindness, compassion, and mutual respect.
©14 July 2018
Lovers Dancing in the Golden Light of Dawn is one of those pieces I had to force myself to stop working on after years of experimenting with different ideas for it. A number of artists have told me about similar struggles deciding when to quit or whether to "give up" a certain work for sale.
I got started on Lovers Dancing in the Golden Light of Dawn back in April 2016. A lot of U.S. citizens at the time were concerned about unification as an extremely divisive presidential campaign got underway. Thus even though the two figures seen here are confronting each other, they are also celebrating the democratic process of a peaceful transference of power from one political administration to another.
The style chosen for this image was inspired by the painted linocut art of Luther E. Vann published in ELELENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love, a book he and I created together and published with the assistance of the Telfair Museum of Art. The woodcut images in the book are "The Boudoir" (p. 25), "Washington Park/A Night Out" (p. 48), and "Star People" (p. 71). However, with Lovers Dancing in the Golden Light of Dawn I mixed that particular technique with a layered oil pigment effect.
Early experiments using photographed eagles as models resulted in a single silhouetted figure that was featured in my poster titled How to Hear Each Other. At the same time that I doubled the figures to underscore the significance of balanced relationships, I decreased their physical density. This was done to emphasize the feelings of emotional or spiritual connectedness some people say they experience when committed to consciously practicing love and compassion as an antidote to the damage caused by hate groups.
The final sections of the sound waves in the upper left quadrant, the waves of metallic teal light in the right, and the entire bottom section of the sparkling green river and shadowed banks took months to design and apply. The creation of the gold frame is a developing story in itself and is another one of my attempts to employ frames which supplement the narrative of the portrait or landscape.
Flowers and Wings for Her Years and Tears was almost titled Roses and Wings for Caring and Giving because of the subject which inspired it. Elderly matriarchs in most large southern families in America have traditionally been taken care of by younger female relatives when the time for such attentiveness came. The situation was different in the case of this family portrait. The matriarch seen seated in the lower left corner was looked after by an adult son, standing behind her.
More and more people around the world are coping with the issue of caring for the elderly as different countries' populations age. Depending on the culture, some see the challenge as a burden while others view it as a blessing or ennobling responsibility.
The flowers in this instance represent an accumulation of the woman's grace over the years and also the gifts of wisdom and patience that make caring for each other possible. On the woman's dress is a glowing winged figure carrying a yellow rose but the figure itself appears empty on the inside. This emptiness is symbolic of the loneliness from which many elders (and Millennials for that matter) tend to suffer on our planet even though we number in the billions with individual mega-cities containing populations of more than 15 million. Moving toward the woman to help alleviate the pain of loneliness is another winged figure bearing light and carrying a rose to fill the painful hollow void. The caregiver benefits as much from this exchange of beauty and intentional compassion as the one receiving care.
I wanted a frame for this print that would function as an extension of the artistic theme and of the portrait itself, so worked to construct one of gold-embossed flowers to do exactly that. Felt humbled by the surprising results.
Providers of some friendly feedback regarding the first two posters in my Official Dare to Love Yourself Series suggested that, for their specific tastes, the images were "pretty but kind'a tame." I heard them well enough and for this third edition in the series kept the basic visual formula while upping the ante on the color-impact factor. The rationale behind critiques seemed to center on the idea that love in all its forms should exhibit energetic sustainability. (Honestly not sure what was meant by that but giving it my best shot.)
I have posted about the origins of this quote here at Fine Art America, my Bright Skylark Literary Productions website, and on different social media. It has been famously tweeted by folks like David Bowie's widow Iman, and actor and rapper LL Cool J. For those who missed previous posts, here is a little background info taken from my book, Journey through the Power of the Rainbow:
"It came from the poem 'Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying.' A kind of rainbow-striped light bulb went off in my head as I noted the poem was part of the original Songs of the Angelic Gaze series written in 2006 during what I have come to call the summer of the angels...That particular haiku stanza [Dare to love yourself/ as if you were a rainbow/ with gold at both ends.], I had hoped, would speak some faith into the hearts of the 33,300 young, old, and in-between cross-cultural individuals in the United States alone on their way to committing suicide; and to the 20 million, according to the World Health Organization, throughout the Global Village who attempted suicide every year.
"Whether naïve on my part or not, it seemed worth taking the time to try to convince others that their lives possessed beauty and meaning worth preserving and honoring. I had hoped too that these lines might help persuade those silently combusting inside suppressed rage and muted disappointments to express their painful frustration in ways other than mass murder. If they could recognize and celebrate value within themselves, then perhaps they could allow the same in regard to those upon whom they projected their own self-loathing and sense of worthlessness." (from Journey through the Power of the Rainbow)
© July 2018
The current celebration of the 10th anniversary of ELEMENTAL, The Power of Illuminated Love, continues this week with the posting of two new print images: Portrait of the Poet as an Angel Drunk on Love, and, Black When Haitians Were Heroes in America (first in a series of 4).
The beautiful irony of this part of the celebration is that for the original ELEMENTAL book and museum project sponsored by the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, my contribution consisted of poetry and essays. For this 10th anniversary celebration, following the passing in 2016 of my co-creator, Luther E. Vann, on the original work, I am now producing visual and literary art.
In addition to commemorating the anniversary of ELEMENTAL, I like to think the new images on Fine Art America also pay some small tribute to the creative vision manifested in Vann's work. That would, in addition, mean acknowledging the exemplary labors of such Harlem Renaissance artists as Romare Bearden and Beauford Delaney.
You can check out both new images by clicking on the link. The extended descriptions of each can give you some idea of what inspired the titles and creation of the images themselves.
May 11th, 2018
I have received a lot of encouragement from the great community at Fine Art America since joining a couple of months ago and today was notified about my first sale. It is for of a pack of Official Chromatic Poetics greeting cards titled “Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge The Morning After Hurricane Matthew No. 2.”
Have to admit to being very moved by the sale of this particular image because the black and white composition was inspired by the work of my late great friend photographer Jack Leigh.
With hurricane season now fully upon us, this particular image along with the artwork titled “The Hurricane and the Confederate Monuments” make good reminders to plan ahead for possible catastrophic weather conditions. The link is to the Talmadge Bridge image that sold.
Fountains are among the most admired ornamental man-made structures because they combine the artistic beauty of refined sculpture with the precision of engineering and architecture. Celebrated examples can be found all over the world, including in Savannah, Georgia.
One of the city's most famous is the subject of two new Postered Chromatic Poetics images. Below is the text for them and although I like both, I confess to being particularly pleased by the results achieved with Champagne Twilight:
CHAMPAGNE TWILIGHT: FORSYTH PARK FOUNTAIN IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA (USA)
The elegantly-sculpted Forsyth Park Fountain, also referred to as the Versailles Fountain, dates back to the 1850s when model for it was derived from French-styled designs of the period. Along with the Confederate Monument, this is one of the primary centerpieces of Forsyth Park. The present-day fountain is the result of many renovations over the past century and a half, including a complete restoration in 1988.
A robed woman adorns the top of the fountain as water birds and tritons (or mermen) spout water below. In addition to benches that allow passersby to sit and enjoy the view, the fountain is surrounded by moss-covered oaks, palm trees, magnolias, and elms.
Prior to becoming known as Forsyth Park, the location during the Civil War was the South Common military encampment where POWS and a hospital were maintained.
SEPIA AFTERNOON: FORSYTH PARK FOUNTAIN IN SAVANNAH, GEORGIA (USA)
A solitary figure stops in front the Forsyth Park Fountain to enjoy one of the city of Savannah's most popular and majestic attractions.
Ever since the days following the American Civil War, the fountain has been a favorite location for residents and visitors alike to take photographs. During the war, the park was known as the South Common military encampment where prisoners of war, a hospital, and poor house were maintained.
The fountain's spraying water is dyed green every year in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. In this image, late afternoon sunlight on a hot summer day creates an amber sepia haze that colors the air and water, slightly clarified and enhanced by digital filter.
The Dare to Love Yourself "movement" had nothing to do with National Selfie Day when it began to slowly develop ten years ago. The well-known quote--"Dare to love yourself as if you were a rainbow with gold at both ends."-- as many are now aware, originated with the poem Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying.
The poem was first published in the book The Bridge of Silver Wings and later in The River of Winged Dreams. It has become increasingly popular over the past few years as a rallying cry to support suicide prevention and to discourage suicide bombers. The association with National Selfie Day was never intentional but obviously a natural one which hopefully helps encourage not narcissism but a positive healthy self-image and a deep appreciation for all life.
The following descriptions are for images which celebrate the potential healing capacity of love in all our lives:
AS GOES LOVE, SO GOES LIFE
The title of this artwork comes from the poem "The Poet-Angels Who Came to Dinner" published in the book The River of winged Dreams. An earlier alternative version features a different color scheme.
The design used for this one was chosen because instead of idealizing hopes centered around romantic love, it seeks to evoke to many nuances of all kinds of love: family, spiritual, friendship, joy of living, pursuit of creative goals, etc. It also acknowledges that Love is often as much a struggle to maintain as it is a pleasure to be enjoyed.
The complete first stanza of the poem from which the quotation was taken reads as follows:
Award-winning author and artist acclaimed for works in multiple creative genres.