“What value does ethnicity have to do with one’s universal creative consciousness?”
~ Richard Mayhew, Transcendence
This is the question Richard Mayhew, a landscape painter of mixed African American and Native American descent, spent a large part of his career asking and answering. He’s 97 years old and still painting.
During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s he was asked to join an African American art collective called Spiral. The objective of the group was to discuss creative consciousness and ethnicity as it related to the arts in America at the time. Their major questions were: what role did ethnicity play in creativity, and how could they use their art to serve the advancement of the African American community.
“What did we intend to say as black artists?”
Mayhew’s art, however, wasn’t about African American themes. His work was about emotion and spirituality, and he focused on the landscape as a space for that expression.
“Mindscapes, yes. They are not landscapes; they are based on emotion. The reference is always imaginary [and it] keeps changing, and when people ask me, “What does it have to do with my ethnicity?” I say it is very simple: The African American and Native American in my experience. Nature is constantly reinventing itself, and that is how I relate it to ethnicity. But basically it is about creative sensitivity, consciousness; it transcends race ultimately. This is what I brought to Spiral.”
Of course there is great value in using themes of ethnicity to advocate for needed social change, and the Spiral collective asked deep questions about how best to do that. But Mayhew’s work was about something different, and he stayed true to his own vision.
I loved his acknowledgement that creativity transcends race. If art is the expression of the soul, and the soul exists before race, then it isn’t necessary for his art to have a purpose based in ethnicity. It certainly can, but it doesn’t have to.
Here’s a short interview with him: “What color is love?”
Look him up online — his mindscapes/landscapes are stunning.
*All quotes are from the book, Transcendence.