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Art et peinture

Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis

I don’t know about you but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the crises we are currently facing in the world – the COVID-19 pandemic and the more recent revelation (again!) of racism, in this instance against black people, as seen in the context of police brutality. We’ve all been appalled by the dispassionate killing of George Floyd almost three weeks ago by a police officer kneeling on his neck for close to nine minutes. Although my artwork doesn’t usually make statements about current issues, I felt the need to express my feelings in art about this situation. Using art to respond to social crisis is a way we artists can not only relieve and convey our own inner turmoil but also create work that acts as a mirror to reflect societial behaviour.

My response was to create a portrait of George Floyd that I then wiped, as the life of the man himself was so easily obliterated.

Then, in the moment, I decided to work over the wiped piece in a more bold and aggressive way, articulating my anger and frustration at the situation onto the paper. I then wiped it again. Swipe. Gone.

Let me take you through the progression of this piece.

Here’s the image I used as my reference – the George Floyd selfie making the rounds on social media.

Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: George Floyd selfie

First, a quick sketch to familiarize myself with his face.

Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: sketch of George Floyd
Small quick sketch in HB pencil

Then I moved right into the piece. The sketch could serve as a thumbnail although I hadn’t made up my mind about the choice of tone/value for the background. I decided to try UART’s black paper, 400 grade.

Cretacolour pastel on UART 400 grade black paper. (Sorry about the angle – I snapped this from the video I made.)
Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: Part way through the portrait. I was working very quickly!
Partway through the portrait. I was working very quickly!
Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: Finished!! This is how it looked bore the first wipe.
Finished!! This is how it looked before the first wipe.
And here it is in black and white...
And here it is in black and white…

I then took an almost empty paper towel roll and, moving it slowly across the piece from left to right, I wiped off the face of George Floyd.

The pastel after a first wipe.
The pastel after a first wipe.
The results of the first wipe.
The results after numerous swipes across the piece.

Ahhhh yes, George Floyd so easily erased. I wanted this idea of wiping the painting to act as a metaphor for the wiping of this man from life.

At this point, I thought I was done. But oh no.

Earlier, I had been concerned about getting some semblance of likeness so although I worked quickly, I also worked with care. Having created the portrait and wiped it as I’d planned, I was now free to express my anger in a more bold and intuitive way. I picked up the same pastel colours I’d used earlier and went in slashing!

Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: My bold, garish mark-making! I labeled the piece "George Floyd."
My bold, garish mark-making! I labelled the piece “George Floyd.”

But this was not the end. It was time to wipe again – this time from the top down.

Wiped once more.
Wiped once more.

Another wipe down and a few marks added and I was done!

Using Art To Respond To Social Crisis: Gail Sibley, "The Wiping of George Floyd," Unison Colour pastels on UART 400 black paper, 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 in.
Gail Sibley, “The Wiping of George Floyd,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 400 black paper, 7 3/4 x 5 3/4 in.

So that was it! Doing the piece was cathartic for sure.

And because I didn’t care about the outcome I was free to experiment and push and take risks. I had an idea and what was most important was putting that idea into action.

Using art to respond to social crisis freed me to paint from the heart and allowed me to express feelings that aren’t often revealed in my work.

The Unison Colour pastels I used
The Unison Colour pastels I used

I would love to know if you’re using art to respond to the social crises facing us right now. I know quite a few artists who have conveyed their distress and worry around the pandemic through art. (I did a painting of a roll of toilet paper and wrote an accompanying blog post.) But what about a response to racism… Or to police brutality?

I’d love to hear from you so please leave a comment 🙂

Until next time,

~ Gail

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