How do you situate your work in the context of the current moment?
Sandra Charles (SC): My work is about Black women changing their lives and breaking out of outdated beliefs and accepting ourselves as an equal part of society. Each painting is a reflection of what is going on in the world today. The policies and attitudes that have led to inequalities are being recognized and questioned. My work is an attempt to interpret these changes.
James Robert Southard (JRS): It is interesting, I usually work with subjects like regional cultures and issues important to certain parts that the U.S. are wrestling with, but it is this project that has made me think about my own culture. My own state. I have spent the past year focusing on the history of my own state and the politics that effect it. When the protests started while my video works for the BallotBox exhibit where being displayed on the public kiosks around downtown, I saw how well they fit with the movement. How the images I used of the 1960s protests is easily reflected the U.S. of 2020. I was reminded that fight for equality and justice is a long battle that hasn’t been resolved. As artists and citizens, it is our obligation to highlight some of the ongoing issues that are changing our society right outside our studio doors.
What projects are you currently working on and how is social distancing affecting your art practice?
SC: My next project is titled “Unapologetic.” A series about Black women who boldly and unapologetically are true to themselves. This is a series that I have always wanted to do but felt I didn’t have the discipline to complete such a large series. The pandemic proved I could. With time on my hands I found myself spending more time in front of the canvas. This project will involve research and interviewing the subjects, which could be hindered because of the pandemic. I find I will have to be creative with photo shoots and live drawing sessions to comply with social distancing.
JRS: I was offered a residency for the Maine Farmland Trust at the Joseph A Fiore Art Center. Though due to COVID-19, they have changed the residency to be online where I worked from my studio here in Lexington. I was going to do a project up in Maine about the small-scale farmers, but now I turned my lens towards small–scale farmers of Kentucky. I just spent the entire summer driving all over Kentucky documenting the issues that farmers face in each county. Though, I still have plenty of counties to go, I noticed that different regions of Kentucky face a variety of issues and no farm is the same.
What advice and tips can you give to other artists during this time?
SC: My advice to other artists is to continue to be yourself. Even though the world has slowed down, use this time to push yourself. Continue to create and learn. Don’t be afraid of criticism and explore who you are as an artist.
JRS: Now is the time go back to the old project you never finished. You know the one. You still have the materials hanging around the studio and you moved on from it too soon to the next project for one reason or another. Time to heal old wounds.
Also, now’s your chance to catch up on your Baudrillard.
How are you cultivating community for yourself and what can the community be doing to support artists?
SC: Prior to the pandemic I had begun widening my artist community, which has been extremely helpful and motivating. Last fall one group of my artist friends took a road trip to see an exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum. We had a great time viewing and talking about art. I am also meeting with a group of artists from different mediums and doing monthly critiques. This is so helpful. Small groups such as these are much needed in our community. These small groups provide support not only artistically but also help with the isolation that can hamper some artists.
JRS: The public can help by buying art, hiring artists, watching their online lectures and performances. Do the same for local galleries and venues. If you loved going to performances, exhibitions or shows, you can continue to do so from the comfort of your own couch, but instead of the door charge or ticket prices, you donate. If we all do this, there will still be artists and art galleries when this is all over.
Sandra Charles is an oil painter based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her work revolves around issues that affect African American women in today’s society. Sandra began her career working as a batik fiber artist. Images of her work have appeared in several magazines and books. In 2015 Sandra obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in painting from the University of Louisville. After 40 years in the commercial insurance industry, she retired in 2016 and now works as a full-time artist. She was one of three artists who received a Kentucky Foundation of Women (KFW) 2016 Summer Residency Grant. Her series, The African Warrior Queen Project, was the result of the residency and was included in the group exhibit at Art Sanctuary Gallery in Louisville. In 2017, she was selected to exhibit in the African American Art Exhibition at the Roanne Victor Gallery at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and her work received the Mellen-Oberst Family Merit Award. In 2017, she was one of 15 artists selected to participate in Community Foundation of Louisville Hadley Creatives’ six-month fellowship program. In 2018 Sandra’s work was exhibited at Wayside Expressions Gallery in Louisville in the solo exhibition, Portraits of Us. In 2019, she participated in the Carnegie Center for Art & History exhibit, The Art of Elmer Lucille Allen, Sandra Charles and Barbara Tyson Mosley as well as a solo exhibit at the Roberta Marx Gallery (Louisville, KY). More recently, Sandra was one of four artists to receive a Great Meadows “Bully Grant” to travel to the Venice Biennale in Venice, Italy.
James Robert Southard
After receiving his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 2011, James Robert Southard started working with video and large-scale digital photography. Many of these projects were the result of collaborations and interaction with communities as close as Pittsburgh and as far as Cuba and South Korea. Much of his digital materials are taken while James is attending artist residencies, such as the MacDowell Colony, Seoul Art Space Geumcheon, Yaddo Retreat, Jentel Foundation, MASS MoCA, Millay Colony, Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, Vermont Studio Center (where he has attended 3 times) among others. The projects revolve around collaborating with local community groups or individuals in the form of digital collage, video, documentary photography and even sculpture. This work has been exhibited around the US as well as overseas. When not working on projects abroad, James is teaching at the University of Kentucky.