It’s Still A Man’s World In Visual Art

BARBERSHOP WISDOM

All of the money it took to finally reach the point when I graduated from college with honors and a degree in hand did not guarantee me a place as an artist in 1972 in California. First clue, I was the only Black art major and my own University didn’t “have a reservation slot” for me to exhibit in their gallery for my mandatory Graduating Exhibition…but the white students had no problem. I had to have my exhibition at the local Junior College gallery because I knew the Art Director there and he knew me as a prior student in the 60’s and was appalled at how I was treated by the University. The exhibition was great and had a good turnout which gave me the inspiration to seek gallery representation. I beat the pavement both local and into Los Angeles. I look back now and just shake my head.

Not only was I Black, but I was a female and the mantra of the surrounding galleries and museums was that “I was not already famous enough”, “I was doing this as a hobby, not a career”, I didn’t have a gimmick, and because my work was in a niche arena (Black Art), I was an investment risk, and last of all, my work was just too colorful to fit in. Meanwhile I watched the “I just started painting yesterday” Black male artists with only12 paintings to his name, not already famous; it’s his career and must feed his family, get into galleries and collected supporters. I applied to festivals, art venues, galleries and museums to get the rejections. It was a battle to get recognized because believe it or not, Black art was still considered Satan worship by definition and not fine art in the 60’s and 70’s. I also had to hear that Blacks are not intellectually capable of creating great works of art and as soon as they found out I was Black, I got the rejection with some lame reason. As a single parent, I got very discouraged at trying to break into this art world with no support and I could not raise my little family on this.

So I went back and got my teaching credentials and began a teaching career. I sold my artwork during the summers when teachers don’t get a paycheck. One thing about being a serious artist, I never stopped creating. I would show my works in local High Schools during Black History Month, City Halls, and any art festivals that were available and affordable. I even taught arts and crafts during the summer at Parks and Recreation summer camps and individual art instruction to children. I even incorporated art into my classroom lessons which turned out to be loads of fun and learning was great.

I have never given up on my art. My life path has been to endure the isolation from the majority of my people and culture for most of my life as a military dependent and for many years living in Southern California. So I was able to cherish the time when I was embraced into the Black art community when I moved to Atlanta, Georgia in 1995. It is a very embracing community and has inspired me to not give up and continue to grow and explore my unique style.

I exhibited my work in The National Black Arts Festival, and The Heritage Arts Festival and other public venues. I got a commission from the Apex Museum that featured my work among others in their video presentation, The Journey, narrated by the late Ossie Davis and shown in their theatre on a regular basis. I have exhibited in Galleries, Museums, and art festivals meeting so many wonderful artists and support people. My art has been purchased for private museum collections in Birmingham, and Montgomery, Alabama. I have won awards and honorable mentions for my work. I have had my work chosen for active movie set decoration. Now, I have a large body of work and over 40 years’ experience. I have expanded my creativity to pattern design and licensing for wall art, Jigsaw Puzzles and print on demand products. Does this sound like a hobby?

My artwork has grown in its message and in its complexity. And yet…I feel that I still trail behind the male counterparts in recognition. I have watched talented young male artists that started painting long after me with no formal training blossom into galleries with marketing support to escalate their work and popularity. I can’t be mad at them, it’s a good thing. However, the ratio of male to female artist recognition is still very one sided. Now in 2021, I am seeing more young Black female artists getting the recognition they deserve and they have had to work extra hard to get it. It’s just that at my age now, I don’t have that caliber of energy to hustle like I used to do in isolated California (with sooooo many dead ends). I could write a book on those experiences. One good thing about this adventure is that I did discover my colorful works fit and are acceptable after all and is a comfort.

At this stage of my life, all I can do is have faith in God’s plan and continue to produce quality works that perhaps will be a good legacy one day for my family and collectors who have purchased my art. Or, perhaps be discovered by an art supporter with the energy to market my work while I’m still alive… or I win the lottery and get my own marketing staff! Either way, I will continue to grow and create! That’s what I do!

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Marcella is a visual artist that made a leap of faith in 1995 and took an early retirement from a successful elementary teaching career of 27 years. She and her husband moved from California to the Atlanta area to continue as a full time artist. She has a formal education in the arts, and has been a creative visual artist for over 40 years.

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