Faith Ringgold (African American, Contemporary Art)
Less than a month til I go back. 26 days to be precise. :D Just thinking about it gives me the jitters. Jitters of pure excitement. This summer has been the longest summer of my life. And I’m not just saying that in terms of ‘it seems like it’s been the longest summer ever’— it LITERALLY HAS been the longest summer ever…. never in high school did summer start in mid-May and go ALL the way through the end of May, June, July, AND August. It’s hard for my brain to process that I’ve been away from school for THAT long. My heart has grown protective layers over itself during this time away and I really cannot wait to just rip all those layers off once I hit school grounds. I know that not everything is suddenly stars and rainbows and fireworks once I leave my hometown for my second year of college, but I DO know that I will feel free-er, and able to breathe easier and feel a little more light-hearted once I’m back on campus. I’ll feel like I have more of a purpose, a reason to love, a reason to blink, to open my eyes again to something fresh.
Okay, now that I’ve briefly, briieffflyy described some of the toughness of this summer, I don’t want to make it seem like the entire thing was horrible… It is inevitable that I felt like a blanket had been pulled over my head for the first couple months… it’s such a drastic change from one life (at school) to another (at my hometown). But I feel like now that there is less than a month left, I am letting go. Letting loose in the way that I am trying to open my heart up to my family’s love that I often push away because of old frustrations or misunderstandings. I think it’s easier to do this now, rather than earlier on in the summer, because my heart is realizing that it doesn’t have to hold on to memories from this past school year for much longer in order to keep up a positive energy— because SOON my heart will be back in it’s natural habitat with people it feels at home with.
For this reason, I’ve been really into blankets, robes, quilts- anything that somehow covers over me with a ‘blanket’ of protection.
Faith Ringgold is an African American contemporary artist, who is also a writer, teacher, speaker, and craftswoman— she is an all-around accomplished female artist! She grew up in Harlem and her mother was/is a fashion designer. A lot of Ringgold’s work is a collaboration between her mother and herself.
Tar Beach is an multi-media work and an autobiographical story- the piece is made out of fabric/quilt (which is seen as a traditional woman’s craft) around the edges, and the center consists of oil on canvas. The story depicted is about a girl, Cassie Louise Lightfoot, who is the representation of Faith Ringgold. The actual written story is typed out and sewn on the quilt on the top and bottom of the piece. The story actually spans over an entire children’s book (click there for more info ;) ) titled “Tar Beach”.
These typed out paragraphs tell the story of her childhood. Specifically, the story of this piece focuses on ‘Tar Beach’— aka; the rooftops people in her homecity went on top of during the summertime in order to stay cool during the heat spells. I love this title… it’s like a beach made of tar, with all the people’s towels and blankets set up over the rooftop, with picnics scattered here and there. Tar Beach depicts the moment from her childhood story when the little girl (Faith Ringgold) was laying down on a quilt on her building’s rooftop with her little brother. Her family is sitting nearby at table, chatting— those are the absolute BEST moments. I love sitting outside with my sister on our front lawn and just spacing out and relaxing and having my mom, stepdad, and some of their friends talking in the gazebo across the way— and for those short moments, I feel like a little kid again. I feel curious to know what the adults are talking about, I feel seperated from the adults in a good way, in my own little ‘kid world’ where the other kids and I are kings of our own realm. I feel happy to know that the adults are having a good time in their own little adult realm too. I like that they’re having their adult time and we’re having our kid time… all seems at peace and balance in the world. :)
In this scene, the girl (Ringgold) is looking at the stars and feels transformed— she feels this transformation when the stars come down and lift her up above the George Washington Bridge. In the piece, you can see her little form stretched out, reaching & touching the stars, flying high above the bridge. In this moment, she knew that she could do anything , even as a black woman.
"I will always remember
when the stars fell down around me
and lifted me up above
the George Washington Bridge.”
Through Tar Beach, Ringgold is sending a very positive message to all- especially children. Not only does it convey a positive message, but it has such bright, radiant, vibrant colors and patterns on the quilt. She has also blurred the line between ‘fine art’ and ‘craft’ by putting an oil on canvas within a ‘craft’ item, such as a quilt. Quilting speaks to the African American culture, as well, since quilt-making has a solid history with slaves from generations ago. Ringgold is educating children about African American history, her own personal history, self-esteem, confidence, & dreaming to the FULLEST, and I mean the FULLEST, extent. To the extent of being able to fly amongst the stars, over the city’s bridges, and land softly back onto the ‘Tar Beach’ of your apartment building’s rooftop, maybe with a little stardust collected on your toe-tips.
After dinner tonight, around 8:30 pm, I went to peak outside after seeing a pink hue being reflected onto the tree outside our pantry room’s window. It immiediately caught my eye, so I looked quickly out the kitchen window and was suddenly stuck. to. the. spot. Because it was SO FRICKIN’ BEAUTIFUL!!!!! I shuffled outside so I could be one with the scene. The entire sky was pink with these soft, but at the same time strong, clouds— clouds that looked like cotton candy, but at the same time stood their ground, not budging for anyone— but at the same time slowly, ever so slowly, drifiting with the entire mass, heading north. It had just rained super hard quickly a couple hours earlier, so when I put my bare feet in the grass, it was soaked with fresh water. My sister yelled out the door, “WHAT are you doing?!?”, & I felt kinda foolish, but the only explanation I had was, “It’s so beautiful out here!” hahah she thinks I’m crazy. I started running around the backyard FULL SPEED, like a track star, or a cantering horse.
I feel so grateful to live where I live. To be where I am. To have this freedom of space to run and be one with nature…. I know I began this post with the idea that I feel such a lack of freedom here and need so badly to return to school in order to gain back that freedom. But at the same time, there is a physical freedom in the country here that I know I’ll always love even though my heart is now engrained within the city-life back at school. I really am blessed because back here in my hometown I have a physical sense of freedom of wide open space and tons of greenery/nature which I can always fall back on. And then in my new life in the more city-ish areas, I have a true sense of mental and emotional and personal freedom to surround myself with.
I feel a connection to Tar Beach because I think I felt that exact, EXACT same transformation Faith felt when she saw the stars and they propelled her up into the universe, above the George Washington Bridge, above everything and everyone. For me, I got to fly above freshly painted white horse paddock fences, rocks, trees, and rolling green grass. Tonight’s sunset did that for me…. not because it was simply stunning and peaceful.. and not because I was able to wiggle my toes within freshly wet acres of grass… and not only because I feel so grateful to have grown up in a place where I’ve grown up… but most importantly because I have realized why I have this balance in my two worlds. And how important that balance is to me as a spirit and as a person. The way your life pans out happens for a reason. I feel like I’ve just realized why parts of mine are the way they are. That’s a really cool realization. :)
Since starting to take art history and studio art courses during my first year of college, I have learned to see that art isn't just art. Or at least the typical conceptual idea of "art". Art is so much more. It's sacred, it's ritual, it's being. It just is. I love it. That's what I'm trying to share here. We all get too wrapped up in life and meanings to things. What does this mean, what does that mean? It is like we NEED to understand everything. It makes us go mad. But overall, there is a sense of art, or beauty (because I think those two words can be interchangeable, at times), in all madness, chaos, or misunderstanding. In everything we initially see as BAD, horrible, or deathly is actually positive and freeing. As the JACKSONS song says, there is an "art to all this madness".