This second part of “Confronting COVID-19 with Inspired Art and Determination” is adapted from the text description for “Angels of Music Revisited” featured on Fine Art America and at Pixels.com. It combines my tribute to an inspiring historic Italian artist with my own poetry. In you missed part 1 to this post you can check it out here. Part 2 starts now:
Angels of Music Revisited is a mixed media digital painting reinterpretation of the sixteenth century Italian artist Morazzone’s (Pier Francesco Mazzuchelli, 1573 - 1626) “Angel Musicians.” The original 16th century image minus any text was created using black chalk and brown wash, with white gouache used for additional effect. I chose a palette of bronze, gold, and Earth tones contrasting with shades of blue and indigo to suggest a realistic conflict between human suffering and healing spiritual grace.
The background for this edition is meant to duplicate the appearance of classic parchment or an illuminated manuscript. It is also distinguished from the first version by the integration of short quotes (some of them haikus) from my book THE RIVER OF WINGED DREAMS. Most of the quotes are easily read but a couple are partially inverted to emphasize the script’s dual function as text commentary and visual enrichment. That lets it work as a poster and as fine art.
Morazonne’s version was made part of the Getty Museum’s Open Content Project in 2013, classifying it as public domain material appropriate for editing. I wanted to pay tribute to Morazonne’s original vision while hopefully strengthening the sense of visual depth and felt interconnectedness in such a way that it could stand as a true creative response to the COVID-19 2020 pandemic. This seemed fitting enough given the hard hit Morazonne’s homeland of Italy took before the virus jumped the ocean to the U.S.
Below are the quotes from different poems in THE RIVER OF WINGED DREAMS used in the above artwork:
1) Chords of miraculous notions enrich your blessed voice
The extensive impact of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is, obviously, not something which can be completely summed up, and not at all resolved, by a single creative gesture. But it is through creative expression and productivity that many are sustaining hope and surviving the restrictions of self-imposed quarantine these extremely difficult days. From the beginning, a huge part my purpose for chronicling stories, making poems, and creating visual art has been to help alleviate the anguish history sometimes imposes upon our lives, and I hope to continue accomplishing that to whatever degree possible in this current uncertain hour.
© 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.
"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.
"Suzannian Algorithm Finger-Painted on an Abstract Wall Number 1" was inspired by conversations with the artist to whom it is dedicated: Suzanne Jackson. We discovered we both had connections to the U.S. state of Alaska. Later on, when working on the project to commemorate approaching milestones, I felt something reminiscent of the colorful aurora borealis would make a good image on which to place an original poem.
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. My play is to donate a significant percentage of sales from prints, t-shirts, cups, and other products featuring the artwork toward support of 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. You can read an excerpt from the poem written specifically for this poster and occasion by clicking the above link.
Some Bio Background
Ms. Jackson is the recipient of a B.A. in Art from San Francisco State University and holds an MFA from the Yale University School of Drama, Design. She has enjoyed a highly-productive career both as an artist whose works bridge the gap between the Harlem Renaissance and our contemporary era, and as an educator.
She was only 24 years old in 1968 when she took the incredible step of opening Gallery 32 in Los Angeles, California. That move made her only the second gallery owner of African descent in the City of Angeles, a.k.a. "the City of Stars." It allowed her to advance not just her own career as an artist, but that of other women as well. Particularly notable was the gallery's "Sapphire" review of African-American women artists held in 1970. Ms. Jackson's own works since then have been shown in exhibitions across the globe.
In addition, her career as an educator has been a distinguished one, including stints as a Professor of Painting at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) from 1996-2009, and as Adjunct Professor of Painting, Graduate Studies, at the same institution from 2009-2013.
Prof. Jackson has said of her work: "By continued searching to find 'spirit' references especially in Indigenous-American cultural traditions, established and evidenced in the entry origins of African-American cultural experiences, I am following the paths of ancestors." That search and path includes the groundbreaking labors of the artists of the Harlem Renaissance; hence, the appropriately combined commemoration of Jackson's extraordinary accomplishments with the 100th anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance.
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.
The abstract print Cultural Literacy for Lovers & Dreamers Number 1 along with its corresponding piece, Cultural Literacy for Lovers & Dreamers Number 2, was created out of recognition of the millions of people currently #seeking relief from war, starvation, terrorism, gun violence, drug addiction, & various forms of intense struggles in the world.
The concept of cultural literacy has become an important one as #immigrants attempt to #assimilate into new #communities across the globe. It has also increased in significance as diverse demographic groups--like #Women, Latinos, LGBTQ, #Asians, Middle Easterners--within various countries have begun exercise considerable political power and social influence.
The symbols of opposition in the #painting see here are easily apparent but these are not what ultimately define it. The discerning #viewer will also notice harmonizing forces attempting actions which ultimately result in mutually-beneficial unions. It is a visual representation of one of those strange things about human beings wherein we somehow often manage to extract out of our individual and collective suffering different kinds of #beauty: such as #love, compassion, & yes, art.
My hope is that all the abstract works in this gallery containing this image reflect some of our capacity for transforming grief and horror into inspiration, healing, and love.
Award-winning author and artist acclaimed for works in multiple creative genres.