People of Color
On color. It always feels funny to me attempting to write about serious subjects when admittedly, my paintings are essentially portraits of mostly professional runway models—uber attractive people that seem far removed from real life. As I’m sure has been pointed out—what can be more superficial than the world of fashion and pretty things? I am, however, unashamedly a fan of fashion, and as Sandro Botticelli, Vermeer and many others (including designers) have done before, I search for the most striking and ideal earthly symbols of the absolute and infinite.
When considering the infinite, I sometimes like to wonder what it would be like for a visitor to earth observing the human obsession with the ultimate superficiality: color —not as debated by art writers, scholars and critics, or children sifting through bags of M&M’s, but rather skin pigmentation. The visitor might have special powers to see into our genes and understand that melanin protects cells from ultraviolet light and DNA damage.
Also in the realm of possibility, our visitor might be well acquainted with much of life being exquisitely and miraculously capable of adapting to environment and changing over time through natural selection. Having an understanding of how life evolves, it wouldn’t surprise the visitor to find many examples of xenophobia in the animal kingdom and ultimately also in humans. Although suspicion, fear and fear-aggression have no doubt been useful to the survival of species, nature has very little to do with love, compassion and higher consciousness. Extraterrestrial species that have managed to avoid self-destruction would understand this too. Perhaps the ET’s would simply sigh and affirm, ‘We’ve seen this many times before. It all turns out okay in the end. Love always wins over nature,” or so I like to tell myself.
But what do we as humans do about our inherited anti-social bias, prejudice and all the strife it creates in our world? Every nation on earth has a problem with accepting people who are different. According to a world map graphic created for a Washington Post article based on a Swedish study in 2013, some countries (in bright red) appeared to be more tolerant than others. To one extreme, India stood out as the most racist country, while The Americas (in blue) were the least racist (which seems impossible to me because some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were from India). Yet, if you’re like me, living in the great melting pot of the US scrolling down a Twitter feed, you might deem even a minuscule amount of hatred and ignorance to be disturbing, intolerable and unacceptable.
The current meaning of ‘people of color’ in the US has more to do with replacing the terms ‘minority’ and ‘non-white.’ As an artist that loves painting people, I see mostly in shades of pink and sepia. Although, there’s probably nothing I can do to change those who are inherently fearful of differences, I think it needs to noted, at least from an artistic perspective, that we’re all people of color, even descendents of Europe.
Perhaps, every color of the spectrum needs to be imagined or somehow perceived when we consider the totality of who we are as individuals. Paintings of ‘white’ and ‘black’ people saturated in deep reds, purples, yellows, oranges, blues and greens may just help us realize how little race and ethnicity matters or makes any sense. As has been the tradition for art to disorient and provoke thought, painting an unnaturally colorful person may just be an ideal way of mocking our fixation with ‘color.’ And if it does absolutely nothing to affect hearts and minds in the short term, it may all— every distortion and exaggeration ever created by an artist’s hand—be getting absorbed into our collective unconscious, ethos and even the human genome.
I like to imagine that once we graduate from this world and enter into the infinite, we might find ourselves, with great fondness, remembering that the M&M’s were all beautiful and thankful that they were not one color. Or perhaps we’ll discover that the next dimension has many more colors and the mysteries are even greater. Or as in commander David Bowman’s last transmission in the novel 2001: a space odyssey revealed as he fell completely into the infinite, “My God, it’s full of stars!…” I suspect something like this will be our experience one day, and we’ll realize that everything is made of hues and fascinating variety, and that we were quite fortunate to live in a universe that wasn’t dull and boring, but beautiful. My God, it’s full of color!