Why is a white guy painting civil rights paintings?

Not the first time I have had this question, but I gave my most succinct answer so far.  ”This is less about pigment and more about courage.”

Having said that I am well aware that where I see courage, African Americans see family, identity, and painful reminders.

So if these images were painted by a black man, might they mean something more personal? And is that the arbiter of meaning for a painting?  Is it only personal meaning or meaning as interpreted?

The fact that Jenny Saville paints a nude woman is about personal identity but I’m not sure that there are not paintings of nude women from men that don’t carry equal impact or meaning for a viewer.  A man painting a woman might be saying something other than identity that is still personal and valid.  It might be sexual, romantic, violent, misogynistic, or vulnerable but it is rarely identity.  Perspective will carry its own meaning and it is interesting that the interpretation of a piece of art almost always encompasses the painter.

So painting these “Restraint” images is painting from the outside looking in.  A white guy painting civil rights heroes is in part about collective nonviolent bravery but also about inclusion; opening a fist to shake a hand or lighting a candle to push back the dark.  I hope though that for African Americans viewing the work, it is something more, and that the fact that I am outside painting in is irrelevant.

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