The Visual Power of Blackness

by JoAnne McFarland in Choosing Subject Matter
Dark skin makes me jumpy inside. There’s a vibration to very dark skin that sets me abuzz, that makes me hear things, taste things. A story begins in my mind about survival, about how to be dark in a world that chases light. How to be black in a culture that refutes the dynamism of opposites—life and death, yang and yin, loud and silent, fast and calm. Because surely we live in a world that worships light, yang energy, loudness, and speed. A world that has grown pallid through its rejection of death, silence, and peace.

The Black Antique Doll

The doll I paint represents all I reject about contemporary culture. It is small, silent, very black, androgynous, and still. Painting it is a way, through active daily practice, of validating my admiration for the humble underpinnings that I believe allow for joyful living.

Not An American Doll

I purchased the doll online. It was made by a German doll maker in the late 1880s. I was intrigued that the doll did not have exaggerated, degraded features, as an American black doll would have.
It exudes a diminutive dignity that I find captivating, vitalizing. My intention in painting it is to capture a certain quality that I experienced in my family growing up—a kind of communal safety and integrity that is ineffable.

A Tabula Rasa   

The doll is wearing a white christening gown. It is sheer and slightly tattered. As a poet, I see the gown as a portal in to a different state, a sacred point of entry to a redeemed self, a benevolent world, a state of grace. I approach the art making process, and my time at my studio in this way, as an opportunity to be quiet, to be blank.
I have found that many collectors gravitate to these images. I hope that they feel some of the counter culture impetus behind my choice of this subject.