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Posted January 29, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Black history: Artist makes his debut at SAC
By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer
Jose Antonio Perez is a long way from the Long Island, N.Y., neighborhood where he grew up. He is married and living in Winchester, and is preparing for his first art show. He brings his personal knowledge of the struggles of the city into his artwork that will be displayed as the feature exhibition of the eighth annual Black History Month Celebration, "My History: Your History," at the Shenandoah Arts Council in Winchester next month.
Perez, 36, mostly self-taught in his artistic abilities, was always motivated to pursue his interests. When he was a child, he would ride his bike to a community center in "the projects" on Long Island where he participated in different arts programs.
"After a couple weeks, it was usually just me," he says of the classes, but he was not put off by the idea of being the only one in class. He continued day after day until he was 12, and he won a scholarship to study with an artist. He later moved into an adult class where he had the opportunity to paint nude portraits.
"That was nice, 'cause I actually got to learn something," he says. Despite having had one-on-one time with his previous teachers in the younger classes, he says they mostly just hovered while he painted.
After moving with his family to Martinsburg, W.Va., as a teenager, he never took another art class, but he continued fanning the flames of his interest on the side.
"I've been drawing and painting my whole life," he says. It was what he knew he always wanted to do.
For much of his adult life, painting was just a hobby. After giving away some of his work to people who were interested, he decided that it would be more worth his time to get paid for his talent, and he started a Web site, www.alljose.com.
"I'll do backdrops for concerts or banners for shows," he says. He paints on commission, he says, even producing abstract works of art for customers who just want to bring some of the colors of their home into the painting.
"If it has to do with painting or drawing I can do it," says Perez.
The Shenandoah Arts Council asked Perez to do the show after he showed members some of his work last year. The nonprofit chose Perez because his work includes a lot of black culture, from depictions of inner cities to a recent image of President Obama.
Though Perez is not black, John Hill, coordinator for Black History Month for the council, chose him for the subject matter he uses in most of his work.
"[Hill is] of the firm belief, it doesn't have to be by a black, it can be by anyone as long as the subject matter fits," says Tracy Marlatt, executive director of the council.
"I can relate to that mind-set; I can relate that to me," Perez says, explaining how he grew up around the culture he references in his artwork.
Perez has included images of lower-class, inner-city residents and musicians in his repertoire, but a lot of what Perez chose for the show has to do with the feeling of black culture more than the people themselves.
"He's so multi-talented, there's so many mediums in here," says Marlatt. Indeed, Perez's visual portfolio offers paintings achieved with everything from acrylics to spray paint.
He recently began painting with an airbrush, which he used for some of the work included in the show.
"I just learned it by watching YouTube videos," he says.
"I think that's why I've tried so hard to learn so many things, because I don't want to be limited to one thing," he says.
Perez believes his work is unique because it offers a different perspective for Black History Month.
"I'm trying to bring out a period of black history that people don't consider ... whether it's music, history or art, there's more to black history than a few figures," he says.
"It's a contemporary look," Marlatt says.
Everything Perez selected for the show he painted over the course of the last two months, finishing his first piece, "Change," on Dec. 5. Mostly formed with spray paint, the depiction of Obama's image faces the gallery from the back of the room.
His goal has been completing one painting a week, which he admits is pushing it. Normally he will complete a painting within a week, he says, but then he takes a month off to rest his mind because of the stress of focusing on one work of art day after day.
A painting on the right side of gallery illustrating a little girl with blonde pigtails blowing bubbles toward skyscrapers in a cityscape took Perez five hours to paint in its entirety. The lead-up to painting took much longer, he says, and he spent many hours staring at the blank canvas planning where to put the colors before he even picked up a paintbrush.
He used oil paint for the image of blues musician R.L. Bernside.
"I just thought that oil paint would bring it to life," he says. The painting of musician Lester Young was achieved with black and white acrylics.
Most of his work is untitled because he likes for viewers to figure the paintings out on their own.
"It's going to mean something different to everybody," he says. "I don't want to influence anybody."
Radford Wine, another Winchester artist, will have his work on display in the Red Room at the council's building on South Loudoun Street, with portraits of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. on the forefront. Artists from the Queen Street Gallery in Martinsburg, W.Va. will also be represented in the show.
The eighth annual Black History Month Celebration, "My History: Your History," will run Friday-Feb. 25 at the Shenandoah Arts Council's gallery at 811 S. Loudoun St. in Winchester. Admission is free, though donations are appreciated. For more information, call 667-5166, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Web at www.shenarts.org.
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