by Sharon Furrate Bailey
Q: When did you first discover you were an artist?
A: In elementary school, I was always finding ways to use creativity in making items from wood, metal and various materials that I would find lying around. I used objects from broken toys and turned them into something new. During this time I began looking at drawings and paintings in books and magazines. I used my free time in class making drawings and paintings. In 6th grade, Mrs. Richardson came to the class one day a week to teach art. I sat right next to her as the class watched her make pastel paintings. She had a way of using color on paper that grabbed my attention. That was my “Aha” moment when I decided to become an artist. I spent 7th through 12th grade taking art and hanging out in school and public libraries studying art books and discovering famous artists around the world.
Q: What would you say is your artist statement … why you create?
A: I make works of art because I believe that creativity comes from God. God keeps me in a creative spirit and I need to fulfill that mission of creating art. It is a gift that brings joy to people.
Q: Do you feel painting is a spiritual gift?
A: I believe that creativity itself is a spiritual gift. It springs from a creative spirit that is touched by God. Just take a look at all of the creativity in the natural world — the earth and the environment. Humans are on a higher level, so certainly I believe that the ability to paint is my gift from God. It is as if God is saying, “You go on and create on the highest level in your own way and show the power of God through you.”
Q: Do you ever feel God’s presence when painting?
A: When I am working on paintings, I feel a connection to God, the greatest creator. Through creativity, I feel that I am walking and talking to God as I work on paintings. Through the stillness and quiet, I feel the presence of God and I feel thankful that Jesus came and lives through me.
Q: You are a professor at Southern University. How long have you been teaching there and sharing your gift with others?
A: I had a one-year post at Southern University, teaching art in 1987-88. Over the next five years, I worked on paintings and showed my works in galleries. In 1991, I had a big exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art. In 1993, after receiving a call from (chairperson) Rebecca Cureau, I started teaching at Southern University again. I have been there nearly 25 years.
Q: Share anything you would like our readers to know about your journey.
A: I began walking with God as a child. My parents brought us to church and Sunday school. Now, as an adult, I continue to walk with the Lord and worship Jesus Christ at Camphor Memorial United Methodist Church in Scotlandville. I grew up working in the church, too. My faith continues to grow.
However, there was a particular time in my life around 1981 that will always stand out in my mind. My desire at the time was to have a big exhibition in New Orleans. I found myself standing in front of one of the most prominent galleries in the city, Nahan Gallery, after spending the day seeking a gallery to show my work. I decided to make this my last stop. I asked God to make it possible for me to show there. Later, I received a call from the owner, Kenneth Nahan, and he liked my work. In 1982, I became the first unknown artist to have a big, one-man show there. My exhibition followed a Picasso exhibition.
In the early 1990’s I wanted to show my works in the New Orleans Museum of Art. I prayed that God would make that happen. In 1991, I heard from the director of NOMA, E. John Bullard, and I was able to arrange an exhibition of my large paintings. And, most recently, I prayed for God to allow my artwork to be shown in New York City.
Last year, I showed a large painting in an exhibition there. I mentioned to the curator that it would be wonderful if a New York Times art critic could see the exhibition. I prayed that the exhibition would attract the attention of a New York Times critic. Just after the show ended, I received an email from the curator letting me know that just as he was about to close the gallery, in walked Roberta Smith, the lead New York Times art critic who selected my painting as her favorite. The email included a photograph of her standing in front of my painting. “Through faith in God all things are possible” (Luke 1:37). As you can see, I believe God heard the desires of my heart and answers my prayers.
Randell Henry may be contacted via email at Randell_Henry@subr.edu or you may find him on Facebook.