Black History Month: Honoring black history through art

Black History Month

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — A big part of art is creating something that reflects life, the good and the bad.

African-American artists are doing that, offering their interpretations of their lives, and the legacy of their ancestors.

“A lot of my work reflects my life,” said Pearless Speller, a artist who lives in Pitt County.

Art is an extension of Speller’s soul. Every brushstroke and every charcoal smudge has meaning.

“That’s what defines art,” said Speller. “Figuring out how you’re going to express that idea.”

Speller paints a little bit of everything, whether it’s legendary musicians, or his own son. With his art, he wants people to stop and think.

“I hope they walk away with a positive thought, but also sometimes the thought may not be so positive,” said Speller.

Speller’s work sells around the country. He’s thankful to have buyers but knows not every black artist is as fortunate.

“We as African-Americans get lost in the shuffle,” said Speller. “I have been the soldier of the Black art community, and I’m the one who used to go out and have these art shows exhibiting our talent.”

Speller fought for black artists in the East to have a place at the table.

“There’s many places throughout this country that have not shown artwork done by black artists,” said Jamil Burton. “You hear some opinions that say it doesn’t sell, and that’s false, because it does.”

That’s why other black artist like Burton say sharing their American experience is essential.

“I feel like I don’t have the luxury to just paint a pretty picture, my art should reflect the times I’m living in and so on,” said Burton.

Burton’s favorite subject is his community. Recently, he and another artist finished up a downtown Kinston mural.

“We want to honor those that came before us,” said Burton. “I feel that it’s important to keep pushing.”

Eight large panels in full color commemorate the Adkin High School walkout. Burton uses many different colors to get people to see beyond his own.

“We laugh, we cry, we do all the same things. I just want to do something that’s going to shine a light on people that look like me,” said Burton.

That’s especially important during a national conversation about race and equality.

“Despite what’s going on, I still have to create, I still have to reflect the times I’m living,” said Burton.

Speller thinks there shouldn’t be a distinction between black artists and white artists.

“We paint with many colors,” said Speller. “That term labeled us as Black artists to keep us over here so we can’t merge into the mainstream.”

Speller’s belief? Art is something that can come from anyone and should be celebrated by everyone.

“We are a part of America, we’re not going anywhere,” said Speller. “So, let the kids, especially in Black universities see John Bigger, Henry Tanner, Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Pearless Speller.”

To find out more about Jamil Burton’s art, click here.

To view more of Pearless Speller’s work, click here.

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