June 15, 2024

A ‘Hueman’ experience painted beyond the canvas

3 min read

by BRENIKA BANKS

Private conversations overflow onto canvases as Harlem, the global Black Mecca, continues enriching its historical identity. Harlem’s Kente Royal Gallery recently hosted Demarcus McGaughey’s Artist Talk, with a discussion that provided an in-depth dive into McGaughey’s new series, “Hueman: People of Color.” Harlem’s artistic culture thrives a century after its explosive Renaissance Era as present-day artists persist in celebrating African descendants.

McGaughey revealed how he originally thought the paintings were incomplete with the absence of skin tones. “The more I spent time with them, the more I felt like they spoke to me,” said McGaughey. Each portrait presents someone he knows personally.  “[This series] is a way of me turning my friends into icons,” said McGaughey. “These are intimate, private conversations on canvas.” McGaughey was once “terrified” of painting large artworks until last year. The Texas native created this current series during his February 2022 artist residency at Chateau Orqueveaux in France. The space of a French art studio in lieu of his Brooklyn apartment broadened his creativity.

In this collection of artworks, McGaughey deliberately excluded the melanated hues associated with having a “Black” skin tone. Instead, he wanted his works to focus on the beauty and natural features of his subjects. During the Artist Talk, moderator and award-winning artist Bryant Small complimented McGaughey on his ability to paint easily identifiable Black people. “Even without skin tone, you know what a Black face looks like from the noses and the lips,” said Small. “[McGaughey has] a way of capturing the energy and spirit of people through the eyes; you don’t need color for that.” 

McGaughey explained how the title of each painting inspired the topic he and his friends spoke about.  “The Invisible Man” painting derived from a conversation where the featured friend felt that “the world is going to forget him.” “He wants to be this awesome dad but feels like he can’t connect sometimes to his family and his kids; he feels invisible,” said McGaughey.  McGaughey purposely wanted this series to have his subjects connect with the audience through the eyes. However, with the piece, “Moment of Rest,” he intentionally painted his workaholic friend with her eyes shut. “She works a lot and when we took the photo of her, I was like, ‘oh wow, I never seen her like this’ [with her eyes closed],” said McGaughey. “It’s me showing the importance of getting rest and self-care, even if it’s for a moment.” 

McGaughey said his best moments of motivation came during late nights and early mornings. This burst of artistry showed McGaughey that his painting was growing beyond hobby status. “I really started to feel like a for-real, certified artist,” he said.  While in one of his zones, he created, in seven days, six of the pieces featured in “Hueman.”  One of them, titled “Dans Mes Yeux (In My Eyes),” instantly connected with Nigerian-American Bomopregha Julius. “She’s me,” said Julius. “I’m a dark-skinned Black girl with short hair.” Julius, who understands how spending money on luxury brands can be redirected to support Black artworks and galleries, shared, “I just walked up to it and thought this should be my first piece.” Attracted to Black identity and figures in art, she wants items in her new Harlem home to represent her American-Nigerian roots. “This [painting is] a visual representation of that “between” culture.” 

McGaughey describes this art collection as “different chapters” to a book. “I like for people to look at my art and be inspired,” he said. Inspiration is important for young people to comprehend and embody. Kente Royal Gallery owners Dodji and Phyllis Gbedemah are grateful to inspire the youth in Harlem with their gallery. “As a community gallery, it brings us so much joy to see the children of Harlem enjoying our exhibitions,” said Dodji Gbedemah. “It melts our hearts to hear them say to each other, ‘I want to be an artist and one day have my work in the gallery.’” Gbedemah said he was impressed by McGaughey’s talent and professionalism. “He is one of the artists who are doing art full time and I respect that.”

Black humanity is often compromised by skin color. The identity of “Hueman” represents a re-evaluation of Black beings combating this insidious social stigma. An art collector isn’t only buying a painting by Demarcus McGaughey; they are purchasing his experience and passion.

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