Artist Statement I have long been fascinated, as a woman, at how much we must disguise ourselves to be attractive. Do we then have a clue as to what we really look like or who we really are?
When Velasquez painted his masterpiece, “Las Meninas”, the center of the painting shows a blond child being offered a terra cotta vial by a lady in waiting prostrate at her feet. That vial contained a “whitening solution”. Why was this the moment Velasquez chose to depict? He is painting a child who embodies the ambitions of other people’s projections in the royal court.
Painting on skin is by intent a metaphor to expose basic questions of self-identity, which all people undergo internally as a part of the maturation process.It is also reflective of the last 500 years of global cultures, who sought to cover their women in make-up, powders, paints, even mud.This painting’ on skin dates from ancient times to the fashion houses of Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Psychologists have learned that at about the age of 7 children become aware of the fact that they are not truly unconditionally loved. The lucky ones have known unconditional love from a parent but all must soon face this fact. So begins the time when looking into the face of a stranger, many ask; “whom do you wish to see when you look at me? What does it take to earn your love?”
In many of my paintings I have depicted both Caucasian and African Americans involved in what I see as a struggle to express the “self”. My subjects triumph. They look back at you through all the make-up, the costumes, the times in history in which they are placed, completely whole. Their eyes hold their unique souls and stare you down. None of my subjects are ever victims.
The first time I saw a painting was as a small girl in the N.C. Museum of art, courtesy of the Burlington school bus which had brought us up for the day from the small town in which I was raised. I was 9 years old. I could not believe the wonders of the paintings. These paintings were portals through which I could enter worlds as real as my own. Looking at these paintings I knew that I was time traveling, literally seeing through the eyes of those artists who had created these works. At that moment I knew that I must learn how to do this in order to tell the stories about the people in my own life. These techniques were not taught, so I set about spending my life learning them. I stand within the history of artists who paint complex subjects. The job is to do so with empathy.
The men who painted the crucifixion were not advocating that we nail men to crosses and watch them die. They were using the visual language of beauty through rhythm, geometry, line and color to make it possible for us to gaze upon tragedy. Those paintings depict a specific act, the paradox that the Son Of God suffered so we would not.
Kara Walker, is a living artist who depicts difficult subjects. She does not advocate lynching, but continues to remind us of the violence in contemporary times and what might lie latent within some of us.
As an artist, I try to use the visual history of art to expose the maelstrom into which we are born —innocents all— and how this innocence is universally challenged by the “egg beater” of history as we desperately try to become our actual selves.
Artists imagine what it is like to be “the other”. This is literally my job as an artist, my self directed responsibility and choice. As a small child seated in church I believed that I was the only person to whom God was not speaking. In my town library, I discovered the works of James Baldwin. I read that he too came from a large devout family and had never been able to find the faith he believed he should have. I was suddenly, not alone. I have relied upon his works throughout my life.
Being an artist, in any medium is a form of synthesis. You are, yourself, a collision. You are the result of every decision that you have made. The images that imprint themselves upon your psyche are not chosen; they demand to be seen. Always these images surprise the very person who created them. In the midst of a painting one is being pulled, as if through a fog. When the fog breaks and one beholds what has occurred it is often a shock. They are the messages from your unconscious laid before you, bare.