Tell us a little about yourself and when you began your painting career.
For as long as I can remember, I have created things but my professional career began as an illustrator when I was 20. I enjoyed the discipline of listening to clients to discover their vision and find the best way to help them share it. The works involved the creation, people, products, posters, diagrams—I enjoyed it all and thought of it as a service.
I was 28 before any of the works I made at home for myself got formally shown, at a gallery in Atlanta. They were paintings on canvas and painted relief woodcarving that are very much similar to my current works. These works I also thought of as a service, not to an individual or client company, but to a community.
What does being an artist mean to you?
For me being an artist is to be an interpreter of events and circumstances of our community.
You work in such mediums as painting, carving, block print and collage. How do you decide which medium best suits a particular subject or story you wish to convey?
The medium and the technique I use to create a piece is mostly determined by its intended function. The materials used also play a part in the meaning and narrative of the finished piece.
For example, if I need to create a work that connects people to a place, one of the easiest ways of doing it may be a painting on canvas. But I may also need to include a material or object that is of that place, or I may need to use a material that has once been used as something else.
What is it about a subject that says, “Paint me!”?
The “paint me” impulse is usually generated by the desire to share with others something that I see in the subject, something that completes a thought or inspires a new one. I will also be drawn to paint or draw a subject to gain insight into its various meanings. It can be a way of studying some thing.
After growing up in Georgia, how has the culture of Maine influenced your work?
The place in Georgia where I grew up is interior farmland with a small population. There is a natural connection to that type of environment that has allowed me to use it as metaphor in my work. I was in my late 20s by the time I saw the great expanse of the ocean, so my connection and understanding of it is somewhat different and more shallow, if that is a word I can use regarding the ocean. Living in Maine close to the ocean has given me an appreciation of her presence that is revealed in many aspects of my work. Maine culture to me looks like white culture like the rest of the country, so the physical environmental influences have been more impactful than the adjustments I would have to make to the different art community.
What type of reference material do you work from?
The reference material I most prefer is lived experience. It is the seed for imagination; the experience of observing a beetle and allowing it to walk across your hand can set the mind to wonder or fill the mind with disgust. Short of personal experience I am inspired by the expertise of others. Much of the work that I do requires the use of history as a reference so I often use old photographs and descriptions of events. I will also use family and friends as references for people in my painting.
Your paintings are full of symbolism. One symbol in particular repeats in the Malaga Girl and Okra images—the girl positioning her hands as if she’s holding something. What does this mean?
As much of the work that I have done often has a historical context or narrative, the Malaga Island series of paintings is inspired by the lives
of the descendants and our current day relationship to that history: contextualizing the events to the larger narrative of destruction and displacement of communities of color that happened and is still happening around the world. I wanted the artwork to be simple in composition and content because the story is complex and evolving. The work becomes almost iconographic in that every element has
a symbolic purpose. The hands are holding the things that cannot
With the same intent of using a simple image or object to reference a complex idea, I also use okra, an African cultural food that has stayed with us over the years and has been embedded in our food aesthetic. It was used as a spiritual food—so important that we found a way to bring it with us as we were brought across the Middle Passage.
In Other Self, which also contains one hand in that same position, the woman appears to be holding a head. Does this represent her alter ego? The intriguing markings on the head appear to be fish and there’s also a bird on her own head and birds appear in your other works. Do these creatures represent something significant
in the natural and spiritual world?
The other self is the “free” self that is able to live in the world as a full, complete being. It is the self that exists outside of the manufactured identity this society designed for us.
What time of day is most productive for painting?
Mornings are always good for doing detailed work and solving conceptual problems that require focus. The afternoons work better for me when the work calls for broader motions, experimentation and relying on muscle memory.
What is your favorite music to paint by?
Sometimes I listen to music while I work; when I do it is usually Prince, Parliament-Funkadelic, but mostly it is a good audiobook on history, natural science or sci-fi.
. . .
Favorite Maine restaurant?
I don’t have a favorite restaurant. I don’t really
care about restaurants, the company is much
more important. So, if I named a favorite
restaurant it would have no meaning.