Finishing a long term painting always feels odd to me. Since it’s a portrait, it really is like saying farewell to a friend. Mike Brown has come to an end and it’s been a long one. For sure this is a political piece, but it is also a transitional work for myself. I started it in Florence and finished it in Paris. During my time being studioless, it sat in a warehouse for 9 months. Not being able to paint and being exposed to a new environment is a recipe for change.
Unlike most of my portraits, I don’t know Mike personally. It’s a story that reached me through social media about racial injustice in the USA. I’ve never been to Ferguson, I’ve never met anyone who knew Mike while he was alive, I never heard him speak, and I’ve never seen him on video to say the least. So there’s quite a lot of degrees of separation. I felt it was important to pay respect to him by painting him in this moment. He’s to be remembered as a teenager about to venture into the next step of his life. It’s sad to say that we will never know what he could have grown up to be. His life was taken away from him by a cop who hasn’t suffered any consequence.
I know I’m privileged and I’ve become more aware of it as time went on. As an artist, I know I will make it and I feel this portrait is a way I can give back. Museums are already filled with paintings of white women and re-used subjects. Mike Brown should and will be remembered. This painting will be up on an important wall. It might get there because of who I am, but it will stay there as a lesson and reminder that we need to fix a serious problem.
I think it’s important to be self-aware and to know your platform. Watching myself transition as a painter and a person has given me great insight into the possibilities I can achieve. There’s growth in helping others and hearing their stories. The artist that remains neutral is ignorant by choice or nature. A time comes where you do need to stand for something and I’ve chosen this. Black Lives Matter.