I cannot say I ever imagined living in a world where alongside my books and artwork I would be happy to offer people designer face masks. Under the current coronavirus circumstances, use of the word ‘Beauty’ along with ‘Face Mask’ in a headline might strike some as contradictory, or even frivolous. I promise it is not.
Extraordinary masks have been employed for centuries in different cultures for holiday celebrations as well as times of battle. Right now, the world’s populations are very much at war, more this time around with an assassin virus than with each other. Since the threat of COVID-19 apparently is not going away any time soon, the option to add potentially life-saving face masks to the inventory of art products offered through my Fine Art America and Pixels.com shop is a welcomed chance to support a critical mission.
The move also supports and demonstrates a long-held contention that art in and of itself is innately functional in many important ways. This time it is proving useful in the fight to help flatten the coronavirus curve long enough for scientists and doctors to come up with a vaccine and/or cure. The opportunity to contribute to those efforts would naturally mean a lot to someone for whom creative artistry and civic activism have often gone hand in hand.
What’s Beauty Got to Do With It?
After making the decision to commit some of my visual works for use as mask designs, I thought at first only the newest images created for the Confronting COVID-19 collection would be suitable for face mask designs. Some of these had already sold in other formats. Then someone pointed out how any number of my Silk-Featherbrush paintings could be customized for the same purpose. Customers themselves retain the ability to customize the mask by adjusting the image size and specific area of the artwork they would like printed on the mask.
Beauty, the inner variety as well as the outer, inspires determined effort and determined effort often makes all the difference between an operation’s failure or success. Art’s therapeutic effect to help relieve stress and heal trauma is well known. It can provide, as I have always hoped is the case with ELEMENTAL, the Power of Illuminated Love, a more creative life-affirming response to conflicts between nations or individuals. It can replace inertia with energy and transform a sense of hopelessness, such as that which so many are experiencing these days, into one of inspired resilience.
Harlem Renaissance Centennial
Last month (May 2019) the editors of Excellence Reporter, a website based in France, asked me to respond to these interview questions: "What makes a compassionate city or community?" and "What is the meaning of life?"
The way my creative instincts work these days, questions of this kind tend to inspire both verbal and visual considerations. Anyone wishing to check out the verbal part provided Excellence Reporter is invited to visit the following pages:
The visual results came in the form of two new works of Silk-Featherbrush art now available at Fine Art America and Pixels.com. The one seen just below is titled Journey towards a Brand New Day, and the other further down is called Battle for the Beauty of the Sun.
Journey towards a Brand New Day is my visual metaphor for engaged citizens around the world taking stands against different forms of social and political injustice while simultaneously celebrating their appreciation of life and each other. They are motivated more by visions of compassion and unity than by political sleights of hand.
Election years, like the one we're in right now (or soon will be as 2020 approaches), tend to come with built-in headaches. But there's also a lot of beauty in the way diverse communities assert themselves to participate in a process where the outcome is usually uncertain. Protests currently taking place in Hong Kong are one form of such expressions.
On this canvas we see waves of determined chromatic lines moving toward a shadowy horizon. Streaks of magenta reflecting against a cobalt blue and indigo sky symbolize emerging potential and hope that sometimes wavers but never completely fades.
The Extraordinary Adventure that Life Is
I see the image here titled Battle for the Beauty of the Sun as representative of resistance to different forms of extremism which increase polarization and encourage violence as a means for resolving conflicts. Although done with a minimalist approach in the Silk-Featherbrush style, it is meant to convey movement toward balance and fulfillment.
In addition to the questions posed by Excellence Reporter, the composition of Battle for the Beauty of the Sun was also heavily influenced by my reading of Asian author Yang Jisheng's Tombstone, the Great Chinese Famine 1958-1962. TOMBSTONE in particular reminded me of some human beings' strange habit of intentionally corrupting or destroying the abundance of beauty which surrounds us on a daily basis. But how fortunate we are that many more employ their energies toward the exact opposite: preserving and creating all that which makes life the extraordinary adventure it is.
Harlem Renaissance Centennial
This is technically the third work of art to be included in my Redbird Series but the fourth included in the Redbird Gallery at Fine Art America . A recent visitor to the gallery shared some comments offline about her interpretations of the meaning of red cardinals in my life. I found her remarks very interesting because they reminded me of passages from one of my most recently-completed manuscripts in which I discuss how different birds have functioned as symbols in my literary work. Probably the best known is identified in the title of the poetry collection: Visions of a Skylark Dressed in Black.
What I find particularly interesting about the red cardinal is that it actually has not been incorporated into my writings. The preferred mode of creative expression, where it is concerned, seems to be visual art.
While finishing "Redbird in the Valley of Beautiful Possibilities," I recalled a former co-worker telling me the red cardinal was kind of like a shooting or falling star. "When you see a red bird," she explained, "you should blow it a kiss for good luck." I don't know how many people have discovered that to be either true or false but the artist in me considers the idea very poetic.
"All the Flowers We Meant to Give Each Other" is a collage of photography, watercolor, digital painting, custom-designed matting, customized framing, and signature Postered Chromatic Poetics digital processing. As the title implies, it is work inspired by very personal circumstances to which many can likely relate.
How We Practice Compassion
In 2017 I was doing research on how people practice compassion on a daily basis when I came across a website filled with individuals expressing grief after losing someone to the opioid crisis. That was about the time Americans discovered just how bad it was, and is, after seeing the number of deaths caused by it jump from 33,000 in 2015 to 44,000 in 2016. I empathized with those grieving on the website because I had seen how different forms of drug addiction decimated the community where I was raised. What I did not consider at the time was the possibility that 12 months later my family would experience the loss of a niece to social crises numerous families are facing.
I had not seen my niece--actually grand-niece--in a decade. She nevertheless was someone I often thought about because I used to babysit her while her grandmother went to work in a hospital emergency room in southern Florida, and the aunt raising her had not yet gotten off work. Her biological parents were both struggling with the kind of issues that would later impair her life.
I had recently separated from the Air Force and was completing a book project, so would sit her bassinet beside me as I typed. When taking a break, I would carry her outside and pray out loud for her as we walked around a mango tree. The praying came naturally because it was obvious to me that despite all the good loving people surrounding her, she was going to have some serious challenges on her hands once she grew up. And she did.
Hard drugs play their part in destroying lives but I have been forced to wonder about the role played by our daily choice of priorities. Such as maintaining engaged connections with those we say we love versus becoming so involved in individual ambitions that the word "love" loses any relevancy. While I do not hold myself responsible for my niece's death, I am holding myself accountable for having been totally unaware of how difficult daily life had become for her. Therefore, this work of art titled "All the Flowers We Meant to Give Each Other" is dedicated in honor of her and the many people struggling to come to grips with a hellish epidemic that can be stopped.
The word "We" is used in the title out of recognition that even though drug addiction is recognized as an illness, drug addicts themselves have to gain the will and strength to fight for both their lives and the lives of those trying to help them. Making it a point to empower each other is the only way anybody wins.
"Redbird Dreaming about Why Love is Always Important" is a mixed media vertical-formatted work consisting of nature photography, layered oil, digital painting, custom-designed matting, customized framing, and signature Postered Chromatic Poetics digital processing.
This print is the first in the new Redbird Series. The brightness of the colors make it stand apart from succeeding prints and it is also distinct in the series because at this point it is the only vertical portrait-print in the collection. The vertical formatting makes it particularly suitable for t-shirts, posters, bed covers, and greeting cards.
"Redbird Dreaming about Why Love is Always Important" is the official first print (posted August 9, 2018) in the Redbird Series. I started working on the art collection in the summer of 2017 when I spotted a male North American cardinal flitting about the back yard trying to draw the attention of a female. It hung around for several days and sometimes kept still long enough for me to get some interesting shots later used as models in the creation of a mixed media canvas.
This artwork follows up on the visual theme noted in the collage titled "All the Flowers We Meant to Give Each Other." But with a definitive difference. Specifically, the exuberance of the colors in "Redbird Dreaming about Why Love is Always Important," and the playfulness of the title suggests a reconsideration of what individuals and societies consider most important on a daily basis. This print flips the motivation described in "All the Flowers" by celebrating a possibility open to everyone as opposed to mourning its loss after it is too late.
"Redbird Sifting Beauty out of Ashes" is the second print in the Redbird Series and my homage to those battling California's historic wildfires of 2018. . It is a landscape-formatted artwork consisting of nature photography, layered oil, digital painting, custom-designed matting, customized framing, and signature Postered Chromatic Poetics digital processing.
The balanced light and dark hues, with colors appearing to emerge from smoky shadows, framed by shades of gold, teal, and rust make it easy to imagine the cardinal at the center of this work surrounded by danger as well as inspired beauty. The landscape formatting make this art particularly desirable for either large wall canvases or smaller purchases like cups and cards, from which a substantial percentage of the proceeds will go toward support for survivors of the California wildfires.
Whether it's because I lived in California for a number of years or because the magnitude of the blazing destruction taking place there at present is so overwhelming, "Redbird Sifting Beauty out of Ashes" is my tribute to those caught up in the 2018 inferno. As horrendous as it is, so many are rising to the challenge of surviving, continuing to fight the monstrous flames, and somehow rebuilding shattered lives.
Yet at the same time that I find myself so deeply moved by the devastation taking place in California, I realize we are living in an era when different kinds of "natural" and man-made disasters are forcing many people to start all over again all over the world. "Redbird Sifting Beauty out of Ashes" is a visualized hope they all find the strength, faith, determination, and support needed to succeed.
I'm not sure how to go about it at this point but am looking for ways to donate a sizable percentage of sales from this work to relief funds for people coping with the wildfires. If anyone has any suggestions I would appreciate receiving them via either message here or in the comments section.
I am profoundly grateful to the 3 women who modeled for "Suzannian Algorithm Finger-Painted on an Abstract Wall Number 2." Each is highly-accomplished in her own right and did not have to accommodate me compiling photographs of them to use as references for the creation of this artwork. In the end, their group portrait has been combined with an abstract painting background and custom digital matting with the overlaid text of the title poem.
As stated in the first part of this post, this artwork was created and is presented in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance and the brilliant artistry of Suzanne Jackson. It is one of two different images featuring the same poem. A significant percentage of sales from prints, t-shirts, cups, and other products featuring the artwork is slated to go toward supporting the Five-Decades Retrospective exhibition of Ms. Jackson's art scheduled to be held at the Telfair Museum Jepson Center for the Arts in Savannah, Georgia (USA) in 2019 from June 28 until October 6.
Award-winning author and artist acclaimed for works in multiple creative genres.