BLACK LIFE AS SUBJECT MATTER II
TITLE: “THE LESSON”
by Gregg Degroat
Size: 18.5″ x 21″ Framed
“The Lesson” was inspired by a photo I spotted of a ballerina entertaining little girls with a demonstration of her craft. I was intrigued by the graceful elegance of the dancer in stark contrast to the decaying condition of the neighborhood. In a tribute to my daughter (who is a devoted mother), I altered the appearance of the dancer in the photo to greatly resemble her. (Thanks, Whitney!)
The ultimate goal was to simultaneously capture the curiosity and fascination of the two young girls, with the joy, skill and nurturing spirit of the ballerina. The monotone and sparse looseness of the neighborhood provides the contrast. (A yin and yang type of thing)
From a design standpoint, the dancer is obviously the focal point while the children provide the balance. My goal is never to slavishly copy a reference photo, but to interpret it. I chose a loose watercolor style with limited palette for the background neighborhood structures. The further back the dilapidated houses, the looser the execution. The grays communicate a bleak lifestyle and future for anyone living there.
However, the contrast provided by the lovely dancer and children provides a spark of hope sorely needed. Here is where the warm colors of their skin and the smiles of amusement on their faces provide the spiritual relief needed. In the original photo the red dress was blue. The stronger red helps to maintain balance and suggests the aforementioned warmth and hopefulness I wanted to convey. Overall, my hope is that this joyful image of young African American youth inspires young ladies of all hues to be curious, industrious, hopeful and fearless.
Beyond dance technique, the true “Lesson” is that despite humble beginnings, with a positive attitude, the sky is the limit. The young girls shown are clearly not professional dancers, but with the inspiration provided by the ballerina, anything is possible. In fact, in retrospect, maybe I should have named this piece, “Possibilities.”
A tribute to Aisha Ash.
TITLE: “MOTHER AND DAUGHTER”
by Gregg Degroat
Size: 18.5″ x 21″ Framed
“Mother and Daughter” was inspired by a photo I took of my daughter and granddaughter at a family function. While I don’t claim to be a photographer, I was pleased enough with my ‘happy accident’ to want to try my hand at painting it. I wanted to capture love, nurturing, curiosity, strength and family.
From a design and technical standpoint, my vision was to paint the top portion of the picture tightly (well, tightly for me), with a gradual loosening towards the intentionally unfinished bottom. I wanted one strong central image with all the other elements playing the ‘supporting act’ so-to-speak. The fronds and railing provide a sort of framing for the painting.
I wanted a lot of bright colors to indicate their Afro-American heritage. Probably more time was spent on the head wrap than any other component of the piece. The background is muted and reduced to blended yellows, reds and greens, but hopefully plays its part well and doesn’t compete with the focal point, which is the mom and baby. I intentionally painted the human figures darker than they really are to give them ‘pop’.
Obviously something has captured their attention. Maybe the baby is wondering what the heck that furry thing was that just scooted under the porch. Maybe she was warily eying a puppy hoping for scraps (after all it was a family dinner). Whitney seems to be looking a little further off, but I could be wrong about that. Maybe she was watching a cousin strolling down the sidewalk to the family function. Who knows? Not important.
What’s important to me is that the essence of this Afro-Madonna scene is portrayed in a loving, warm and respectful manner. I hope young ladies viewing this are touched by the simplicity and complexity of life and love. Things will certainly evolve as they both get older. Anything can happen with moms and daughters but I’m confident they will get along just fine.
Good Lord! After this COVID nightmare is over, maybe my grandbaby will be able to visit again on weekends.