Art for Thought

By Matthew Pungello

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

Originally Published in Spring 2008

Artists sometimes use their history to infuse feeling into their work. Their own past experiences can bring creative influence to them at any time. Going back in time allows them to create great art. That kind of talent for digging art out from their roots was displayed by several gifted African-American artists who recently showcased their work at the Westchester Arts Councils Gallery in White Plains, N.Y.

Some of them explained that their art is all about reflecting the experiences of people of African descent. They use a mixture of media and styles to link people together, not by race but by who they are as human beings.

Artist Robin J. Miller used New Orleans black history as influences for her art. What she created is a brilliant quilt made up of images of New Orleans. Each object was carefully painted, stitched, and glued together to connect the elements of New Orleans history. The Quilt honors black history with imagery of New Orleans – and its music, food, and colorful nightlife.

“Artists such as Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden are always with me; influencing my ideas and emotions,” she said. “My wish is that those who see my work will smile and feel the joy and energy that I put into each piece.”

Miller is not only a talented artist, she is also a committed educator. “I am first and foremost a teacher,” she said. “After 15 years of teaching learning-disabled students, I became an art teacher.”

Artist Alvin Clayton paints beautiful colorful images of people connected not only by their skin color, but by their souls.

Alvin Clayton, Profile

“Art is a great communicator of messages to humanity,” Clayton said. “As an African-American artist, I am compelled to be bold in the use of colors and move away from stereotypical images. I chose to create positive, warm images of strong, well groomed people of color.”

Another African-American artist, Barry L. Mason, composed abstract paintings that challenge its viewers to look hard for those messages of black history. He allows others to maybe see themselves in his work and even allows them to remember where their own roots are from.

“I see myself as a ‘composer’ when I’m constructing my large shaped and sculpted abstract paintings, Mason said. “I look to consciously try to create and construct a spiritual foundation in my paintings. As I create, various unconscious elements also emerge.”

Sometimes their message is straight forward and other times you have to look inside your own soul to connect with their images. But art is a window to the soul and these talented artists prove that.

“It was an honor to have these artists’ work showcased in the Arts Councils gallery,” said gallery director Jonathan Mann. “Each work of art told its own story and the reaction from the public has been very positive.”

Mann said that during the past 40 years, the Westchester Arts Council has “seeded the growth of a vibrant cultural life, and made arts visible, diverse, and accessible to people.” And he noted that “these artists only proved this statement.”

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