I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the crises we are currently facing in the world – the COVID-19 pandemic and the more recent revelation (again!) of racism, in this instance against black people, as seen in the context of police brutality. We’ve all been appalled by the dispassionate killing of George Floyd almost three weeks ago by a police officer kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes. Although my artwork doesn’t usually make statements about current issues, I felt the need to express my feelings in art about this situation. Using art to respond to social crisis is a way we artists can not only relieve and convey our own inner turmoil but also create work that acts as a mirror to reflect societial behaviour.
My response was to create a portrait of George Floyd that I then wiped, as the life of the man himself was so easily obliterated.
Then, in the moment, I decided to work over the wiped piece in a more bold and aggressive way, articulating my anger and frustration at the situation onto the paper. I then wiped it again. Swipe. Gone.
Let me take you through the progression of this piece.
Here’s the image I used as my reference – the George Floyd selfie making the rounds on social media.
First, a quick sketch to familiarize myself with his face.
Then I moved right into the piece. The sketch could serve as a thumbnail although I hadn’t made up my mind about the choice of tone/value for the background. I decided to try UART’s black paper, 400 grade.
I then took an almost empty paper towel roll and, moving it slowly across the piece from left to right, I wiped off the face of George Floyd.
Ahhhh yes, George Floyd so easily erased. I wanted this idea of wiping the painting to act as a metaphor for the wiping of this man from life.
At this point, I thought I was done. But oh no.
Earlier, I had been concerned about getting some semblance of likeness so although I worked quickly, I also worked with care. Having created the portrait and wiped it as I’d planned, I was now free to express my anger in a more bold and intuitive way. I picked up the same pastel colours I’d used earlier and went in slashing!
But this was not the end. It was time to wipe again – this time from the top down.
Another wipe down and a few marks added and I was done!
So that was it! Doing the piece was cathartic for sure.
And because I didn’t care about the outcome I was free to experiment and push and take risks. I had an idea and what was most important was putting that idea into action.
Using art to respond to social crisis freed me to paint from the heart and allowed me to express feelings that aren’t often revealed in my work.
I would love to know if you’re using art to respond to the social crises facing us right now. I know quite a few artists who have conveyed their distress and worry around the pandemic through art. (I did a painting of a roll of toilet paper and wrote an accompanying blog post.) But what about a response to racism… Or to police brutality?
I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment 🙂
Until next time,
PS. As a person lucky enough to have been brought up in a community, a country (Jamaica), where colour was less a consideration (if at all) than say political affiliation, I have always struggled with the notion that others would judge a person by their skin colour and choose how they behave towards that person dependant solely on that criteria. Still, as open and non-judgemental as I hope I am, reading Jodi Picoult’s book, Small Great Things, really opened my eyes to the daily existence of black people in a racist society. And I also began to fully understand my own white privilege. It’s not enough to not be racist, we must be anti-racist, we must be vigilant against systemic racism of every kind. (Click here for some beginning resources.)