Jamila Pinckney - Positive Energy

The World and I, February 2001 | Go to article overview

Jamila Pinckney - Positive Energy


"I want a viewer's spirit to be touched by my paintings in the most positive way," says 26-year-old Washington, D.C., artist Jamila Pinckney. "That's why I use a lot of bright colors and rays of light overlapping each other. I want people to feel good about who they are."

Born in Washington, Pinckney grew up in Columbus, Ohio. There her father--a minister who had studied at art school--noticed her ability early on and encouraged her to take classes. She didn't really blossom artistically, however, until as part of a special high school program she interned for two years with artist Pheoris West, an associate professor at Ohio State University. This gentle and nurturing teacher became her mentor and treasured friend. From him, she says, she learned a sense of freedom in artistic creation, the technique of layering transparent colors to generate a feeling of movement, and a way of vitally combining the academic and intuitive approaches to painting. From him she also learned to ground her art in an Afrocentric aesthetic.

Although offered scholarships to renowned art schools, Pinckney decided to attend her father's alma mater, Howard University. "I noticed that most artists of African descent either went to Howard as students or taught there," she recalls. "The African-American aesthetic started there. I wanted to understand who I am as an African-American person, and I knew I would get that at Howard." She also found a warm network of students, teachers, and alumni who continue to offer her moral support and advice. Recently she's been offered the chance to return to Howard to pursue graduate studies in art history.

Pinckney's art is based on three elements, she says: spirituality, hip- hop culture, and her experience as an African-American woman. With these, she is developing a unique and compelling artistic voice.

"When I'm painting," she notes, "I'm constantly thinking about God and talking with God." She paints with her Bible at her side and often looks to Scripture to inspire and sustain her. This God-rootedness is a development that has taken place mostly during the past two years. "When I was still a student," she says, "I thought all this was me--my talent, ideas, expression. Now I acknowledge that all my talent is God- given, and I believe He channels His creativity through me." Pinckney seeks to be a transmitter of God's love through her art and to affirm the inner, divine value of each person. "That's your center. That's who you are," she emphasizes.

Yet she is careful to convey this spirituality without being heavy- handed. "I never want to come off as Opreaching' at people or making them feel condemned," she says. "My work is about love. I want it to be uplifting." Toward that end she rarely incorporates established religious symbols, preferring personal iconography such as arrows that always point upward toward God, encouraging one to be strong, and stars that indicate "knowing that you are a star, knowing your purpose in life. …

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