Just my thoughts…landing on the canvas!
Did you know that of all the flower bouquets that are sold, the most popular of all is the mixed bouquet? It’s a fact… and with reason. The diversity of form and color, the variety of shapes and sizes, and the combinations of many different flowers make the arrangement the most highly desired.
Oh, that we could appreciate the value of diversity in our human forms. That we could embrace the beauty of difference and individuality in our skin tones, our facial features, and our expressions of self.
In so doing, we would become the most sought-after and popular bouquet ever. Others would appear boring, self-defeating, and obscure. It would be a wonderful world.
The plants tell the story. A plant from a healthy seed, raised with the proper care and nurturance, will develop into a strong plant. Seeds that come from unspeakable conditions, raised with deprivation, and insufficient nutrition will develop into sorrowful plants which wither and die.
For Whites, our seeds for the most part came from Europe. When we sprouted, we were clutching certificates of authenticity, guaranteeing us a top spot in a competitive “new world.” A friend of mine bemoaned the fact that there is even such a concept as white privilege. “My dad and mom came from Ireland. They worked their butts off. They weren’t given any breaks. Why should it be any different for Blacks?”
My next painting answered his question.
Slavery is what made the difference. Whites from every nation came to the “new world” free. They came by their own choice. They gained opportunities they did not have previously. Blacks were kidnapped from Africa. They lost their freedom with the first chains that tied them to the bottoms of slave ships. They lost their humanity.
Enslaved persons worked on plantations. They were bought and sold the same as any other possessions. Chattel is the correct word. The enslaved were chattel. Many enslaved women not only worked in the fields but were abused. It was lawful for their owners to rape them. They were used as breeders. Their children became more possessions to be forced into labor or to be sold for cash.
Plantation owners’ wives wore accessories to enhance their beauty. Jewelry, hair adornments, boas, and spangles hung from their necks and shoulders. If enslaved women tried to run away or get out of hand, they also wore accessories. Iron collars which made it impossible to run through woods and streams encircled their necks, and leather mouthpieces prevented them from speaking or eating.
This painting may be hard to look at. But it tells a story we must know.
Built On Their Backs
I never put together two things: how grand and powerful our country became in so few years and how slavery was responsible for that to happen.
The fact that our nation’s success was literally built on the backs of enslaved people is just so clear to me now. I had to turn this huge fact into a painting. The paint literally spilled onto the canvas, turning into fields of tobacco, sugar cane, and cotton. The ghosts whose lives made it possible cried to me as I depicted their sad fates. That they should haunt us all is my desire.
To pay respects and not forget the lives of so many people who were treated as animals, I decided a grand memorial was fitting. The amount of iron that was forged into collars and buckles and chains that wrapped around wrists and necks and ankles, was massive.
A person in a position of power recently remarked that the enslaved were taught skills. I don’t think making torturous devices to control whites was one of those skills.
May all enslaved persons, lost, killed or forgotten…Rest In Peace.
The American Dream, possible for so many White Americans, was just a sad, broken dream for Blacks. The formula presented to the freedmen was quite clear. After emancipation:
- Step 1: Get the heck out of the South, and move to the big cities: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles.
- Step 2: Find a job. Of course, the jobs were backbreaking, the worst paid, and the most demeaning. Finding a place to live was a huge challenge. The plan was for Black single men to save enough money to:
- Step 3: Get married and start a family. The wife would work as a maid or cook, the children would work when they were barely old enough. And then they would do what the Whites did:
- Step 4: Buy a house.
But suddenly, the American Dream was For Whites Only, just as the signs on the restaurants and shops and drinking fountains proclaimed.
“Redlining” was the name of the White game. City officials began crafting maps, using red pens to cut up the city to depict zones or “grades” according to desirability. Green was the First Grade-where Whites lived. Blue was the Second Grade which depicted less affluent Whites, Yellow was where White immigrants and people of color lived, and the Red Grade areas were for Blacks.
When a person came to the bank for a loan, the lenders were instructed by the city officials to deny loans to anyone who lived in the Red Grades. Pure and simple. No loans. No step number 4 for Blacks.
Broken dreams, just like that. Defeated and discouraged, devastated, and beaten down, Blacks were once again subjugated to systemic racism and injustice. The Whites moved into the Black neighborhoods and bought them out.
And that’s how ghettoes were born.
The only solution to deep-seated hatred and national instability seems to be to unite. When we can truly believe that every person is of equal value, if we can work together as one, if we can hold hands in trust regardless of color, creed, or circumstance, perhaps then we will be able to become a united nation. The initials BIPOC and LBGTQ+ are to be understood and honored. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous and People Of Color. LBGTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Gay, Trans, Queer and others.
In this painting, blue and red colors signify our two major political parties. Purple suggests a willingness to work together. The various colors of the hands honor the beauty and importance of all complexions. The rainbow honors all LBGTQ+ people. The blue above suggests our sky and the blue below is symbolic of our planet Earth.
This painting arose from a design my son had in his head. I plucked it out and turned it into one of my favorite paintings. Its original size is small, but it’s one of my favorite pieces.
Because We Need Each Other (with Rainbow)
My granddaughter and her best friend stood side by side looking across the ocean one day and a photo was taken by the friend’s mother. I loved the composition and setting. I thought how beautiful it would be if friends of all colors could stand side by side, arm in arm, and enjoy the power and beauty of the great Pacific Ocean.
I decided to paint the image that swirled in my head, adding the rainbow to include all children. I showed the painting to Jacqueline Simon, a fellow CAA member, and she suggested the name of the painting and asked me to do a similar one for an upcoming Forum she was leading.
Because We Need Each Other (with Clouds)
A slightly different version of my children looking across the ocean depicts Black children in the same setting. Jacqueline explained the significance of looking across the open sea with a bright cloud overhead. “Our history has been wrought with horrible experiences around the sea and water,” she told me. “I would like a painting in which African American children are happy looking at water, looking at the ocean. Where they are unafraid and embrace water’s beauty and feel it can be part of their life experience, too.”
From the Middle Passage when slave ships were literally stuffed with beautiful and innocent people who had been plucked from their homelands, (many of whom died on the ships, and whose bones still lie on the bottom of the oceans), to the experiences of enslaved persons who tried to escape their captors by running through dangerous rivers trying to escape the dogs and guns, (many of whom were shot or drowned and whose bones lie at the bottom of the rivers) to the Draining of the Pools, during which public swimming pools were drained and shut down simply because Whites didn’t want Black-skinned people poisoning the water).
It’s understandable, isn’t it?
Another painting with my children. I just wanted to keep painting them! Juneteenth was coming up and why not have them share the facts and history of this special day?
Juneteenth is African American Independence Day, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day. It’s a strange and unsettling story. After the Civil War, in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was passed by Abraham Lincoln freeing all enslaved persons.
However, in Texas as in other southern slave states, losing free slave labor was not going to happen. Federal intervention was necessary. Two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law, US Major General Granger was ordered to go to Galveston, Texas with his troops and force implementation of the law. On June 19, 1865, enslaved persons in Texas were finally free.
The name Juneteenth is a combination of June and the 19th. African Americans have been celebrating this important date by enjoying community gatherings, festivities, singing, food, and fun. In 1979, Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth a holiday. President Biden declared it a national holiday in 2021.
To honor Pride Day Monterey, I decided to make a bouquet of flowers using the colors of the rainbow. The rainbow has long been a symbol of hope and promise for a safe future. In 1978, the first LGBTQ+ rainbow flag, symbolizing pride and unity was unfurled at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade.
As with “Mixed Bouquet” diversity, acceptance, and beauty are most easily expressed using all varieties and combinations of flowers.
If we can appreciate the uniqueness and individuality of each individual flower and experience the joy of seeing all colors and types mixed together, perhaps we can enjoy all people on our planet and accept and appreciate them for the unique and beautiful beings they are.
One of CAA’s most rewarding projects is our scholarship fund. In the first two years, since our inception in 2020, we have awarded fourteen African-American students thousands of dollars, enabling them to attend institutions of higher learning. One of our first recipients was Javier. He is bi-racial, multi-cultural, and gifted. I wanted to include all these aspects in his portrait. The flowers symbolize El Salvador, The United States, and Mexico. The backdrop of Africa emphasizes his African-American heritage.
Thank you, Javier, for sharing your portrait with the entire world. May it encourage all teens and young adults to be who they are, to stand tall, and to believe in themselves.
Policing: The Good and the Ugly
Police officers did not kill just George Floyd; they killed something in all of us. They killed innocence, naiveté, and trust. Complacency and complicity were no longer acceptable to millions of Americans. The cruel realities of being Black, displayed in living color on big screens across America, commanded our attention. That is when the lines were drawn. That is when CAA was born.
The disgust at police officers grew as cell phones captured the truth. Passersby, emboldened by the power of a few seconds of video, recorded atrocity after atrocity. We had to believe the unjust and illegal treatment of African Americans by police officers was real. We had to believe what we were seeing.
The dilemma was quite apparent as shootings and killings continued. Two camps emerged. Those who hated the police’s actions and those who thought their actions were justified. Certainly, the safety of police officers is not to be denied. They are often subjected to extremely difficult and dangerous situations.
In this painting, I illustrate two approaches to policing. Although exaggerated, I hope the dichotomies are apparent. Hopefully, someday all police departments will follow the lead of our Seaside Police Department.
During the fifty years before the Civil War, Georgian slave traders came north to Virginia where they could buy slaves for $300 apiece and sell them in Georgia or other southern states for twice the price. These slave traders bought low and sold high. It was a lucrative business. The traders just had to move the slaves.
When the enslaved saw slave traders from Georgia moving about, looking for the strongest amongst them, they were petrified. A loathsome specter emerged.
That specter became known as “The Georgia-man.” He was the Boogie man. He was the Devil. He would force march his newly acquired possessions six hundred to one thousand miles, over mountains and through rivers. The trek lasted up to 3 months.
The “Georgia-man” would finally sell the survivors to owners of holding jails, often called “slave pens.” The owners of these imprisonment camps hosed down the filthy survivors and fattened them up so they would glean the highest prices.
Approximately one million enslaved individuals, pregnant women and children included, made this treacherous forced march. Thousands died along the way. Named after the infamous Indigenous “Trail of Tears,” their journey is now known as “The Slavery Trail of Tears.”
After hearing Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, implore the citizens of Florida to beware of the WOKE virus (it’s everywhere!) I wanted to scream! How ill-informed can people be?
A quick search for the history of WOKE confirmed my thoughts–that its meaning has been weaponized, twisted like a pretzel, and used as an insult to progressives by far-right conspiracy theorists who don’t know what they’re talking about.
In fact, WOKE has been used in African-American communities since the 1940s. It became more popular during the Black Lives Matter movement. The meaning is what it sounds like: to be woken up or sensitized to issues of injustice.
I thought of a way to define WOKE and decided to put my definition on canvas. It is very simple:
WOKE means: Wanting to Obtain Knowledge thru Education. I hope you like it. And I hope you spread the WOKE virus! Let’s hope everyone gets WOKE. It sure would be a better world.
This was the third canvas I used for this painting. My first attempt was too graphic; the reality was too hard to bear and too painful to share. The second focused too heavily on the crowds that were leaving the “lynching picnic.” This one tells the story from the poem, “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday. I wanted the poplar tree to be a central figure. It is dying from having witnessed too many deaths. It has lost its last leaf…blood is running from its roots.
By Billie Holiday
Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here’s a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here’s a strange and bitter crop.