Many of us are familiar with the history of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the countless number of dramatic experiences that surrounded his life.
Our appreciation for this man of motivation is perhaps grounded in his valor, as he stood against racism, fighting for the Civil Rights of under-represented communities of people – primarily, African-Americans.
As an agent leading a non-violent revolution that changed the course of history, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and four years later, assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
I was born in Memphis Tennessee four years after he was shot and I too, have stood on the balcony of the Lorrain motel. I have walked the streets where he and many others marched and I have felt inner sorrow for how he died. My connection to Dr. King is heavily woven into the quilt of African-American history, which is encompassed in the story of American history.
Upon the decision to paint this portrait, I studied the works of Caravaggio, The lamentation, and The Pieta. I also looked at the chapters of Dr. King’s life and became the director of this interactive movie on canvas. I was moved by the conflict of the time, the rising action of change, and the plot of resolution. Although cognizant that I was creating a painting, the ultimate challenge was that this was not a fantasy. It was not just an imaginative abstract work of art, but this was a distinguished portrait that would embrace his life, through his death. I have absorbed through listening to the speeches of Dr. King, a life of a man, a savior for a community of people, promoting respect and honor for mankind, humankind.
While I worked on this painting I transcended to the fatal moment. I could hear the gunshots ringing past my ear; I could feel the pain and agony. I felt despair, hurt and the sorrow. I felt this pain over and over again, for the 10 months I spent working on this painting.
When I became close to completing my work, I started to feel this overwhelming calm and happiness and peace within myself and this is when I realized that this is what Dr. King was about. Not being silent, but expressing what you have to say and doing it peacefully. That’s when I knew I had accomplished something.
Now looking at the painting, one may think that I had picked a frame from the ending of the movie, but I chose the frame from the beginning.
My painting is about a slain Hero. A hero who wore the American flag as his cape, His dark suit and tie was his costume; his words were his weapon – A weapon which, he chose to use not for violence, but for peace. Heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. never die – they live on forever in the hearts, the minds and the works of people. The people that stand on steps in front of City Hall and protest for what they believe in peaceful demonstrations.
Martin Luther King stated: ‘That if physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”
In conclusion, while my portrait depicts the assassination of a man, no one can detect the assassination of a dream. Our history is not just a thing of a past, it is what we carry and hold in our hearts, in our mind, and in our spirits. Thus we ask, how does the death of a man inspire life in another? Undoubtedly, the answer is simply attached to the fact that his death has become my story and my story, is our story – and it is this story that expressions of life are echoed through the chronicled legends of American history. Therefore, we resolve that people may die, but the painting of history will live for generations to come because we will continue to dream.
I just had the pleasure of doing an amazing painting for the Zach Topfer Theater in Austin, Texas.
This portrait of Janis was painted to celebrate the opening of One Night With Janis at the Zach Topfer Theater.
Everyone knows who Janis Joplin was, although in photographs she isn’t usually as easily recognizable as other icons like Marilyn Monroe or Jimi Hendrix. It is her voice that resonates with most people.
For reference, I chose a black and white photograph taken by Daniel Kramer in 1968. I like this image because it presents a rare vision of Janis- gentle and subdued.
With my painting, I hope to have conveyed a similar quality by accenting facial details, adding subtle color tones for flesh, and painting a bold black background to make her bluish-grey eyes pop.
Janis Joplin’s life ended tragically at the age of 27 due to a drug overdose. Her music lives on, and has affected me greatly over the years. She is one of ten in my portrait series of musicians who have impacted me in some way, and who died before their time.