Last week I enjoyed a full week of artistic endeavors. The week started with my artist in residence at Marquette University and finished up with an Artivist retreat for teens. Both experiences were amazing and tiring and also super energizing.
For my artist in residence I painted a portrait of American journalist James Foley, a Marquette graduate. I painted the portrait in the Marquette library lobby so students, faculty, and staff could watch my progress and ask me questions as I painted. I had a nice stool and chair, but a lot of the time I stood to paint which made this pregnant lady super tired at the end of the day! The photos above are the photos I posted to Instagram showing how the painting progressed over the three days of painting.
The painting will be finished at the end of this month and will be put up on permanent display at Marquette most likely sometime in April.
A couple of things I want to remember about the experience:
- how nervous I was about capturing James Foley's face in his portrait and how happy I was when it started to look like I had done it. It was a lot of pressure to get it just right because I was painting in front of people and because the university really wanted to honor his memory with this portrait. Not much of an honor if the portrait doesn't resemble the subject.
- meeting a good friend of James' and hearing him say that I had captured James in the painting. Also finding out that he had sent a photo of the in progress painting to James' family who also liked it.
- speaking with students about my painting process and James Foley's memory. More students were interested in the project and what I was doing that I had anticipated.
- being interviewed by a couple of local news stations and not tripping over all of my words while speaking with the reporters. Luckily I had no idea they were coming so I didn't have time to get nervous.
- Paul miraculously getting off work early so he could stop by and check out my progress and help me clean up my supplies on the last day
- all the conversations I had about art and James Foley and social justice. They all left me feeling a little more inspired.
- the look on the face of the person who observed the painting just before I finished my residency. It was like he could really see James Foley and had an emotional reaction to the painting. It's a goal I have for all the work I do, and it's amazing to see it happen in real life.
After the residence at Marquette, I worked a couple of days then helped as a small group leader at an Artivist retreat over the weekend. Artivist is the name some artist/activists give themselves: artist + activist = artivist. The retreat was organized for students considered "at risk" from the north and south side of Milwaukee. It's also known as a bridge builders retreat because it helps students from the predominantly African American north side of Milwaukee and students from the predominantly Latino south side of Milwaukee come together to learn how to be retreat leaders themselves.
The goal of the retreat was to teach participants how to use art to spread a message and how to use art as a way to process through difficult things in their lives. We started by talking about issues in their communities and then spent the next day learning about how art could share messages of hope and inspiration. During the last half of the retreat the teens broke into small groups led by local artists where they got to create murals of their own. (The finished murals are in the above photo on the bottom left). A lot of the teens had experienced hard things in their lives including poverty, racism, and family issues; they were able to channel these experiences and their messages of hope into their art.
One moment particularly stood out to me from this retreat. On the first full day, the students were asked whether they would rather experience pain in their lives or numb it with drugs and alcohol. A few of the students said they would prefer to use drugs because it made things easier, even if just for a little while. In the last activity of the retreat when the students were asked to name an action item they would commit to, one of those same students said that she would start trying to use art to express her pain rather than turn to drugs and alcohol. I so, so hope she is able to stick to her commitment.
This was such an amazing retreat to be part of. It was my first time teaching people about art and painting, and my first time seeing a group of teens work together on an art project. I was super inspired by their courage and teamwork as they put their murals together.
Thanks for reading about my fun art experiences! I'll share more updates on the James Foley painting as I have time to actually update it :)