Professional artists participate in Black Lives Matter Online Exhibition at ECC

Artists are responding to the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement through different artistic mediums including paints, pastels, mixed media, oil sticks, photography, videos, watercolor and more.

Frank James Williams is one of over 25 professional artists who is featured in the Black Lives Matter Online Exhibition, hosted by the El Camino College Art Gallery through Nov. 30. He submitted his piece titled, “Self-Portrait (fire).”

“There’s not too many artists that come from the ghetto. I actually came from the ghetto,” Williams said. “My work has always been about my experience as a black person, my struggles and my interactions with people, that’s what I try to depict all the time.”

To create this piece, he chose to use chalk pastels because they are less toxic to public health. His process of building up coats of the chalk pastels is a skill he has refined over his artistic career.

“It’s a process that I’ve been working on for probably over 30 years,” Williams said.

Most of his pieces have multiple meanings, layers of content and a sense of “timelessness,” according to Williams.

“I try to create. No matter if it is on a spiritual level, doing it realistically, or doing it abstractly, I still find the essence of who I am as a black person living in America,” Williams said.

His journey, growing up in Chicago presented hardship and danger.

“You don’t know when you was gonna die, you just gotta keep going and believe in God,” Williams said. “Because you had to go somewhere. You couldn’t live in fear all the time.”

According to Williams, these difficulties have given him life experiences that he can reflect on today as a 61-year-old man. These experiences have also influenced his art.

“That kind of intensity in life, you know, no person should have to go through that,” Williams said. “But there was also some beautiful times too. And it’s hard to mix the beauty and the trauma because the trauma overtakes the beauty all the time.”

The variety of artists in this exhibition have unique skills and express themselves in different ways which make the gallery impactful, according to Williams.

“Some people could’ve been ignorant about the experience of Afro-Americans but they are also enlightened now, and so they feel that they want to participate because their eyes have been opened,” Williams said.

Phoebe Barnum, a professional visual artist included in the exhibition, enjoys installation art, working with oil sticks, ceramics and more. She found an emotional release by using oil sticks during the pandemic.

“Since March, it just blew me into using color and very aggressively,” Barnum said.

She used oil sticks to create vibrant colors, proceeded to whitewash the pieces, and then scraped through the layers to expose the underlying color.

“I think that is inherent as to what’s going on right now culturally and has been going on. And how inappropriate it is. It was really important for me to do,” Barnum said.

Barnum intends that the whitewashed pieces will convey a powerful message to audiences viewing the exhibition.

“I hope that it speaks to social change,” Barnum said. “I’m really holding out for young people right now.”

Susanna Meiers, the El Camino College Art Gallery Director and Curator, begins the show with an introductory interview with artist and educator Russell Ellis.

“It’s more about his opinions about the whole issue of racism and racism in education. And he’s a very deep and creative thinking man, so there’s a really interesting response,” Meiers said.

There are two additional video links from Ellis included in the exhibition celebrating American Democracy and the right to vote.

The El Camino College Art Gallery plans to continue holding online exhibitions on their website due to the coronavirus pandemic.