Any Brown People?
It was a simple question, asked out of curiosity. It came from someone who has been a close friend since we served on a nonprofit board together 30 years ago. And it brought me up short. She asked “are there any brown people in your paintings?”
Just like that, I was seeing yet another example of the inherent racism in our country. I don’t do portraits. Nor do I emphasize figures in my paintings. People are there mostly as accessories to the cityscapes and seascapes I favor. And yet. There are indeed some people in my paintings. And “woke” as I believe myself to be, the color of those random figures was not something I’d ever really considered.
I thought hard about my answer. Usually the people in my paintings are blue or purple silhouettes in the background. Sometimes figures closer to the front are different shades, depending on what I happened to see wherever I was – Cuba, Uruguay, France, Spain, New York. Otherwise, no. It hadn’t crossed my mind to be deliberately more inclusive. And that means many people felt left out, including collectors like this friend, who happens to be a black woman.
Lesson learned, thanks to an old friend! Who then bought a Havana street scene I’d painted. And whose question inspired me to be more inclusive in this new painting, of the Trastevere neighborhood in Rome. You can see more of my European scenes at Arts Unique in Avon, CT.
Nilda, you warm my heart! I’m so glad to know you enjoy the brief descriptions and, even better, you imagine yourselves there. That’s exactly what I hope to accomplish with my art, to show how it felt so that collectors can share in it.
Long post alert!!
Wow, what a powerful teaching moment! Thank you Beth for sharing this experience and reminding us that we need to continue to examine how we can and must be more meaningfully inclusive.
Interestingly. I was on your website earlier this morning and this painting caught my attention. I enjoyed reading the short descriptions of each of the paintings including the “Sold” ones and I kept going back to this painting. I imagined Fernando and I there chatting, drinking our favorite beverages and taking it all in (the fresh air, the sun, the people, the scents). Now that I’ve read this Blog, I appreciate you, your insightful Blogs, your artistry and this lovely colorful painting even more.
It does, indeed, Beth Gibbs! Thanks for reading and commenting!
So they are, Jonathan, though that’s not quite what she had in mind. LOL Personally, I never use white, black, brown or gray in my paintings, so they stay vibrant. Close examination will show pale yellows, pinks and blues, or dark blues, reds and purples, instead.
Robyn, thank you for your comment. I had a similar experience with crayons back when. So simple, and so painful for others.
Self-awareness begins within – great post, Beth. Real change about this issue on DEI begins with each individual.
blue and purple are colors
Such an excellent point, when we unconsciously “omit” people we seek to include. I remember the first time someone mentioned to me that the Crayola “flesh” crayon, which I had referenced my whole coloring life, only referred to white people and that “flesh-colored” bandaids, were only related to white flesh. We need the reminders and education as we realize that our omissions, while unintended, are painful for others all the same.