Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UNC Commission

My commission for the University of North Carolina is officially a go. What am I talking about you ask? Here's the backstory. About two years ago I attended a lecture given by Juan Logan, an art professor at UNC, Chapel Hill. Afterwards, he approached and asked if I would be interested in submitting for a project that he thought I would be perfect for. I agreed to participate and about a month later the paperwork arrived. The scant details stated that the School of Government (SOG) at UNC were looking for artists to create a series of commissioned paintings that paid homage to African-American residents pivotal to the states history. The project was referred to as the 'missing histories' project. It was called that because in 1950, a series of 12 large paintings showcasing various aspects and persons important to the state's history were commissioned. Unfortunately, African and Native Americans were somewhat slighted. Example: Look at the painting on the right - the only black guy in the painting stands outside taking a strain on a bail of cotton. Such were the times.

Much to the UNC's and the SOG's credit, they realized that such unfortunate displays needed to be corrected. They put together a panel of faculty and consultants and embarked on a mission to create a series of 4 paintings focused on the contributions of African and Native Americans. I have no idea how many artists were asked to submit. All I know is that I made it to the top three and after an intensive interview, myself and Pheoris West, an art professor at Ohio State University, were selected to execute the four commissioned paintings.

Unfortunately, soon afterwards the full effects of the recession kicked in. Like many states, NC's budget defictit was near 2 billion dollars and being a state institution, funding was frozen and cuts were mandated. The proposed four paintings were slashed to two, then the remaining two were put on hold indefinitely. The SOG managed to have enough funds released to accomplish Phase 1 and 2 (planning and sketches). Phase 3, rendering of the paintings, remained on hold until the economy turned around or private funds could be secured to continue. Fortunately for me, the Local Government Federal Credit Union reviewed the plans for my painting and decided to put up the necessary funds for me to accomplish the work. Thank you! So now it's time to get to work. My painting will be approximately 5' x 48' and will feature nearly 40 African-Americans recognized by faculty, consultants and historians as important figures in the states history dating back to the early 1800's. The focal point of my painting will be the 1960 Woolworth sit-in in Greensboro, NC. The four A&T students that staged the initial sit-in will be featured prominently. The idea is to place the Greensboro Four on the service side of the counter serving the historic crowd. That concept grew out of the idea that the students, in seeking service, were actually serving a cause greater than themselves. By their courageous act, they set in motion a series of sit-ins throughout the South and helped to spread the concept of non-violent resistance espoused by Dr. Martin Luther King which was borrowed from Mahatma Ghandi during India's struggle against British rule. In the background outside the window, a collage of sorts will showcase some of the turbulent times many had to endure. The painting will be mounted on the lower level of the SOG just across from the school's cafeteria. I requested that location specifically because classes line up in the wide hallway to gain entry into the eating facility. The symbolism of a multi-ethnic crowd, waiting to eat together, having to walk the length of the painting will give them an opportunity to consider about how far we have all come in matters of race. I can see the piece clearly in my head but getting it on canvas will prove difficult and laborious. Nonetheless, expectations are running high on all fronts and I am looking forward to the challenge.

This week I will be trying to find a warehouse space large enough (and at the right price) to use as a studio. In the next couple of weeks while I wait for the necessary contracts to be generated, I will be doing extensive research, collaborating with historians and doing sketches. In the coming weeks, I will be posting my progress.

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