It was merely a play with a palette knife. It was idle exploration, carefree, stress free and kind. Lauryn Hill sang to me, the joy “they” give her, sang to me how grateful she was for this new peace of mind. The outside world didn’t matter, her worries left at the front door. She felt, love, peace and serenity and golden, she didn’t deserve it but appreciated it all and all. I hum her words and inhale an almost toxic wift of the African incense of sandalwood, because unfortunately there is no air circulation in my Oma’s old house. Both the music and smells, the directionless goal take me off to another mindless place. A foreign place, I wish as an artist I knew the directions to and can visit more often during this normal expected almost robotic commercial artist hustle and bustle [hamster wheel].
I pour an excessive amount of the most least expensive acrylic paint from the art store up the street. I live right in this odd intersection of cultures and demographics which always amazes me when it’s time to spend some money. One direction, Hispanics and older Black but all families and the homes are crowded. Generations and generations and it seems one car per teenager so now my street is packed and neighbors become more unrecognizable as the days past. The other direction, Beverly Hills where I don’t go, because I have a gut wrenching feeling that even with a wallet full, I just don’t belong. And then you have Culver City, where its “diverse” but , “rich diverse”. Where there are a couple people who look like me, and friendly smiles, but nevertheless, still not very comfortable and very “hispterish”. You may even catch an Asian or White older person’s frown or concerned wrinkled face here or there, that makes you question every aspect of your being. Comes with gentrification. This art store was towards the Beverly Hills way and there’s an abundance of supplies. Racks to the ceiling of canvases, brushes and every brand of paint and colors and it was gorgeous but, not as pretty was the floor to ceiling price tags that I can not touch. Its funny, my college teaches you to strive for quality over quantity, the best brands create the best artwork but what about the people who can’t afford the best? Moral of the story, I am not them, I had to buy the cheap.
Nevertheless, I paint. So, I squeeze out large mountains of red blue and yellows. I mix up a little white with a metal palette knife. I mix all of the mountains together until I see shades I can relate to. The variation of browns and oranges, ochres and golds, is what makes my heart sing. My Art School teaches you mainly, skin colors of a Caucasian variety and nothing else. For a long time, I thought it was by accident or habit - until I recognized the Models are hand chosen. In a Eurocentric based society, with unreachable Eurocentric beauty standards, the different shades of blues, reds and pale made to ultimately add color in white faces bore me. So these piles of browns I create, on my couch, with an unconventional palette knife, make me feel at home. I add more red to one brown, as I start to envision, who am I painting for. I want to represent the million shades of brown. Because oddly enough media is ignorant enough to believe African American people come in two shades, light or dark brown and we are just called “BLACK”. If they were to ever stop and admire us. And not study, exploit, gawk or speculate but truly sit and admire with love and respect for a second, outsiders may be able to really see the beauty. There is glistening pieces of gold in a black person’s skin. Over a thousand different hues and mixed colors, in the skin alone. I mix these paint mountains, thick and sticky, to reflect the colors I see and idolize.
I use my palette to mix and build, I’ve created a story on this palette board. These are characters, people I am building and they have voices now and stories to tell. So I pull out an irregular cut sheet of canvas paper I made, embracing this thoughtless experimental free moment with the paint. With a new knife, I take a scoop of Molding paste, a classmate suggested using model paste for a 3d effect to your paint. I decide to paint with an old brush, one that’s been through hard times with me, brittle teeth and an old dried paint covered wooden handle. I load the brush up with paint of one shade, and messily dip into molding paste, which because of white, adds another tint to my colors. I welcome it but notice, how the white doesn’t alter my colors or mix but simply sits beside the strokes, being its made of a different medium. Oh isn’t that a political statement in itself.
I drag the brush across the page, the paint lays and then thickens up along the edges of the brushes teeth. The paint takes form, builds up and creates crevices and hills on its own. Each time my brush comes back to my palette, I pick up a new color and a ton more of the Molding paste and mix as I make my brushstrokes. Im picturing black women, our hair, it’s texture, our smiles, full lips and our cheekbones. I am picturing the women society would never put onto television shows and the little girls who tune in, searching for representation. I picture the beauty within my own skin and the fact it took me 24 years to recognize and see its shine. I picture the variation of our styles, or voices, body shapes and eyes. Our talents and skills and our united unwavering layers of strength and endurance. The image I am creating, is no one specific for a reason. I want you to think about these black women, on your own. Perhaps the one often overlooked, the way society overlooks us. I want you to think of the void of representation for strong black women in mass media, mass anything and ask why is that. I want you to look down at my image and realize, there is so much more to a black woman than you may think. Every shade we come in, the complexity of our lives, past present and future is absolutely beautiful, unique and one in a million. Realize, the beauty of Blackness, before you even hear the backstory or their experiences. When you look at my piece, you have no preconceived notions, ideas or stereotypes. You have nothing to judge a character from – just the oddest sense of likeness, the furthest from what has been hammered into your own brain for centuries.
Lauryn is singing about a Peace of Mind and I find peace in my people. I find strength and my own self awareness in the beauty of my people as a whole and it grows ten times stronger when you sit and listen to their stories. Stories unmatched by society's expectations and ideas, I am sure. And it’s a beautiful thing.
I step back and realize, with no outline, tracing or plan in mind, I create the most elaborate and well designed, deep and fluid abstract portrait that in me, embodies Black essence and beauty in one profile.