Samantha’s artist statement for Glimpses of Gullah
@ Art League of Hilton Head Island
14 Shelter Cove Lane HHI, SC
July 3rd – July 28th, 2018
Why do I create art?
I love creating beautiful things, adding joy and understanding to a world that needs both. I also have a mission to share the glimpses I have received of the Gullah-Geechee people that inhabit my nighttime roaming and often join me in my studio for inspiration and encouragement.
My artist story:
I am the daughter of an artist. I didn’t start painting till my Mother was in her 80’s and I was in my 40’s. My first painting was a 3 panel abstract of my “Mother’s Life in Color”. She liked it and really it was my gift to her for all her years of undeniable, indisputable love which at 40 something I could appreciate and be thankful for.
I moved to Tybee Island in the early 90’s and joined the art scene there. Opened a gallery with a friend, painted a variety of things (mostly fantastical cats) and enjoyed myself. I first saw Gullah people at an art show where Al Fireall was painting although he could barely see. He was an inspiration for any artist and he touched my heart deeply. I continued on my art path until 2008 when I started being visited/dreaming and compelled to paint the people who dropped by. It was hard to convince me to “paint the stories” as I felt totally unqualified. I had never painted a person. This became my initiation in how their Faith drives my painting. Faith that I can put this on canvas, I can be a conduit, I can be me and represent these visions and foster understanding and give a visual of what I have been shown.
Theme and why:
Glimpses of Gullah is a forthright way of describing my work. I have grown as a person and my world views have expanded far beyond my small personal sphere. I had to become educated about the who, what, where and when of the Gullah. It wasn’t enough to just do my best to paint a story, I had to educate the people who visited my gallery, took my work home and had the same yearning I did to know more. To understand and appreciate more about these people forced to come here and work for no remuneration, live and die with only what hope they could muster that their world would get better. The Gullah-Geechee are a distilled essence of Africa to America and the living history that contradicts every racist thought and action that Whites have forced on all of us as “the history”.
My art form: I paint in acrylics as they allow me to work fast and capture my glimpses. Acrylic also has a huge color range to choose from and long before I was comfortable saying “I am an artist”, I could say sincerely that “I am a colorist”. I have been straying from canvas as natural material has presented itself.
One of my first paintings was titled “Waste Not Quilt”. One of my first lessons from my visitors was that when your material resources are few, you use everything several times over. Many of the paintings in this exhibit are on recycled fence boards and pieces of tin, courtesy of 2 recent hurricanes. My destroyed fence became a gift of recycled ‘canvas’. Wind deposited, rusty tin roofing another. More and more I try to live with “Waste Not” as a part of this narrative I help create.
Inspiration: In addition to my visitors, add books that cover the Gullah-Geechee experience in many formats. Of particular importance were God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man by Cornelia Walker Bailey about being born and raised on Sapelo Island and the historical novel The Book of Negroes a/k/a Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill. Countless other books contributed to my education but these two are priceless.
The Gullah-Geechee are a formidable force in the life we appreciate in Georgia and SC specifically. The beautiful cities we treasure – built with their skilled labor. The foods and preparation – yep. The incredible knowledge of the sea and tidal areas, fishing methods, the sustainable use of land and sea – yes. The economy we inherited. Trace our ‘Southern roots’ and there you find the G-G as the root system that made it all possible, that allowed our culture to flourish on top of their unpaid, back breaking labor which they, as a people, have never been paid for.
I want you to take this with you: Wow! I never realized, assimilated, or understood just how much my life was impacted by the introduction of the Gullah-Geechee and the rich, vibrant culture that they crafted in the midst of unspeakable conditions. I want you to desire to know this culture we have so benefitted from, celebrate that it still exists, and be a part of our responsibility to fully embrace their culture for the gift that it is.. still.
While looking at my work: I want you to experience the joy of being a fellow human with these remarkable people. I want you to f-e-e-l the story in front of you and w-a-n-t to know more. Look with interest – see the Love – take that information and go out and be as brave and resourceful as the Gullah-Geechee have been and still are. “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
Me and My Art:
I could never have foreseen being here, having this show, when this journey began. I feel blessed to tell even a snippet of the big picture and to be an advocate for knowledge which inspires change. I readily admit that this experience has changed my life. Thank YOU for being a part of my present as I relate these glimpses of the past.
Samantha CLAAR – artist
I want to thank the following people who have supported this endeavor and without which I could not have accomplished this show. Jaime Berdache, #1 helper. Kristen McIntosh, general manager at Art League of HH, knowledgeable guide and tirelessly patient shepherd of scattered artists. Mary Ann and Dixon Hanna who are sharing their home on HH so I can be at the show more often. Kim Kuprijanow with Creative Approach Savannah who takes photos and makes beautiful prints for me and Heidi Peterson, Savannah Site Design. Many people contribute to my success and I am grateful to them all.