Space Is Our Place

IMG_0547 (1)Last spring I was approached by Google Fiber to do a mural at a main attraction in my home city.  I began to mull over ideas and finally came up with a sketch featuring a woman. I was told that she was too sexy for a mixed environment.  Back to the drawing board…less sexy.  The image featured a black woman with braids dressed in a type of spacesuit  and lying on her side.  At the same time I was coming up with an image I was also considering titles in hopes of them working in tandem to manifest the best result.  Since our city has a strong space program I knew I wanted to direct my focus there sans the static image of a standing rocket, like some giant white dick to the sky. Some of the ideas included ‘Baby You’re A Star’, and ‘Fly Me To the Moon’ and “Space Is the Place,’ among others. The Google team and I were back and forth on ideas but ultimately I knew I had to be satisfied with what came through me..

One day, while sitting at my desk listening to a YouTube presentation on Afrofuturism, I heard something that snagged my attention.  The narrator had just said that Sun Ra had received his first message from outer space in a little city in Alabama. I listened to it again and again to be sure I wasn’t mistaken. Sure enough, as a music student at Alabama A&M University, Herman ‘Sonny’ Blount (bka Sun Ra), had wandered into a field on the edge of the campus.  He was captivated by a strange light from above. Moments later he was taken up into this spacecraft and instructed to leave the school to go and liberate his people through music.  It was not his destiny to becme a classroom teacher of music but a guide as the Alter-Destiny.  He left the school and the rest is history.   Sun Ra considered the father of Afrofuturism.

At that moment I knew what I would call the work of art. The team wasn’t sold on it but I knew it was supposed to be.  We compromised and called it Space Is Our Place; even more befitting. The final sketch was approved and I began the process of prepping the wall.  Since I was painting on metal, the wall had to be cleaned with a special solution  for mold removal then primed with a different primer than what is used for wood, sheetrock, or masonry. Finally I had the sketch on the wall and she was ready to go.  I was now within a few weeks of the deadline due to the musical chairs parade on the name and sketches. It seems that my pencil has a certain slant toward sexy.

Then the rains came.  It rained every day sometimes most of the day. Once I caught a break, I painted in her entire face, and rain came in that night and washed her practically away. We did a dance, the weather and I.  When I could, I painted from sun rise to work time at 7:30am.  Every so often, I worked the entirety of mostly sunny days., rising up and down on that man lift machine.  As she (Lyra, as the young lady who modeled for me called her) came alive to the stroke of my brush, her impact on the space began to manifest.  One of the first was a young lady who came out one day and exclaimed “It’s a woman” You’re painting a woman!” her enthusiasm and appreciation for being recognized was welcomed and appreciated. Often she would just come and watch me paint.  One other time among many, a gentleman from the neighborhood came out early one morning and asked if I could spare a couple of bucks. Then he froze, looked closely at the painting materializing on the wall, then over at me. “They let you put one of us on they building?! He looked back and forth between the painting and me.  Between laughs he walked away, unable to stop looking back he continued…”Man that’s alright, that’s alright.” He forgot all about the two dollars.  One of the things I like most about public art is that it is art for the people – all the people. Not just the ones who have the mindset or means to frequent museums and galleries.

A fiend told me I was pushing myself too hard to meet an impossible deadline.  My response was that the best way to assist me when I get in go mode is to step out of the way. I knew that on the day of the deadline, it would be done. On the day I was completing the piece, a gentleman came out of the establishment and said “Man, It’s so cool of you to give this homage to Sun Ra on his birthday.” I didn’t want to appear less than knowledgeable so I hummed in agreement.  As soon as he walked away I snatched out my phone and checked.  Sure enough, that day, May 22 was his birthday.  I stood there for a minute and stared at the work thinking about the entire Sun Ra connection. It hadn’t started out that way. At least for me it didn’t…

Since that time, I’ve returned and painted in a figure of a man rising up into his place…


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