I’ve actually avoided talking about this painting as much as possible, because it’s my absolute favorite piece from this time, and it’s origin is incredibly dark.
Trigger Warning: Rape.
Around the time I painted this, a 15 year old girl was violently attacked at Richmond High School. She was beaten and gang raped for over 2 1/2 hours, while over 25 bystanders watched. At a high school. Outside of a dance. While her father waited for her in the parking lot.
As a high school teacher, this tore me up. I spent days talking about it with my students, urging them to never be that bystander. This might have been the origin of my social issue poster project, where my students are required to create a poster talking about issues in the world. Anyway, I dwelled on this a great deal, because I could barely imagine a darker story, and it showed me the worst the world had to offer. I still weep for that father, looking for his little girl, unable to find her and not knowing how bad it would be when she was found.
For awhile this brewed in me, toxic, poisonous. This was here, my bay area community, my backyard. This could have been my students, my school.
Concentric circles were obviously my symbol at the time, radiating, flowing, growing, intersecting. I had sketched a few where the circles morphed and changed, and even became faces. The faces I had done before were just shapes, symbols, nothing personal. But this felt personal. The faces in this one are her, they’re me, they’re the people who watched. But they aren’t the attackers, I couldn’t internalize that much.
I find it so strange that these dark thoughts led to this. I’m not one of those people that subscribes to the belief that all creativity springs from pain or suffering. 90% of my art comes from more positive ideas, and is still just as successful. Nevertheless, this piece has become a symbol for me and my work, a piece I hold up and show to the world. I’ve had lots of people talk about buying it, but no one has, and maybe it’s meant to stay with me.
When I look at it, I don’t get the dark, I get the transformative, the trial by fire. It makes me feel cleansed. I guess in the end, that’s what it did for me.
I’ve renamed this piece a handful of times, because the title “Richmond” invited questions. For awhile I called it “Human.”
Oil on canvas. 2009.