Reflections of The Outsider Artist
Below are the reflections of The Outsider Artist (the “Artist”) Prof. Dana C. Chandler, Jr. They are a series of summary statements written to give you an idea of the issues Prof. Chandler will speak on or lecture about when you bring him to your organization or institution.
While edited for format and accuracy, they are not hyper-edited, packaged, polished, “PR speak” because the Artist and his Agent believe he can best serve his audience by keeping it real. Similarly, most are not full statements, but more reflections in the words of the Artist, himself.
These reflections are by specific subject area to make it easier to find topics about which you’re interested in having the Artist speak. These statements are not all-inclusive. They don’t cover everything the Artist might be able to talk about but certainly give you an idea of how he’s evolved as an artist and human (or “wuman,” as the artist would say) being over the past 50 years and of his speaking style.
Some reflections are considerably longer than others, but the Artist can speak both briefly or at length about most subjects here. Indeed, please contact us if you want more on Professor Chandler than you can find here.
On Becoming an Activist Artist
When I first started to paint, we did not have personal computers. If you went into a corporate office, there were no PCs on desks, no cell phone, no iPods; that technology wasn’t invented yet. So, how did you get your message across about the tragedy of “racism” and how such systemic paradigms were destroying your people to the point that they were often turning against each other and on others?
For me, becoming an artist/activist was the answer; painting, drawing, printmaking, etc., gave me the tools to record my sense of what was happening because of the stresses of racism on my people and others.
I could record through graphics and paints images of oppression, racism, rape, murder, war and disease, the malaise of this society, and, using these images, travel and talk about effects and solutions to these challenges.
The advances in flight (jet planes) gave me the ability to travel nationally. Excluding travel to and from locations and layovers and delays during travel, nowhere in this country was more than six hours away from anywhere else.
I took to the road through the American Program Bureau (speaking and exhibiting) engagements, went on local TV and radio shows everywhere USA that I could, and began to join the many others doing the same nationally.
The savagery of this country’s covert and overt reaction to “black revolutionary” protest in those days was extreme. It gave me all the fuel for my images throughout the late sixties and seventies that my brushes and canvas/board could handle.
Ironically, when I painted these images, most white observers considered much of what they portrayed figments of an angry black artist’s imagination. Today, in the 21st century, with extensive information from multiple credible sources to support the historical references made in my artwork, these pieces are more real than ever.
What follows is a short description of the each major series I painted that put America’s violent and vulgar racial history into jarring imagery.
“Golden Prison” and Drug Series. These paintings were my reaction to the continuous and growing presence of over-sentenced black males in America’s prison system. These images expressed my belief that specific government agencies seized on US drug trade of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s as a major new device for controlling and subverting the Black Freedom Movement. This was the latest way to perpetuate injustice against African Americans in a country with a long history of using the legal system to oppress and re-enslave our people.
Under this plan, drugs would be, could be, and were used to slow down and divert African males from involvement in any political or social activism often by planting drugs and drug paraphernalia on suspected activists. Except for expressing my views on who I felt did what, I rarely included such information in my paintings.
I was more concerned with the net effects of drug activities on my African brothers and sisters. So, my imagery dealt with the end results of those activities; addiction, incarceration, and death and some of my still lives were of guns, drug paraphernalia, booze, and other objects. My figurative imagery described the end results. My works showed junkies shooting up and their resulting death or imprisonment, which remains the only way to re-enslave African Americans under the very 13th Amendment to the Constitution that was supposed to free our people.
I used bold colors, abstracted figurative elements, cut-form imagery, overstated, bloated, and twisted human forms, to describe my sentiments about these occurrences, especially, as the increased availability of drugs exploded into African American neighborhood, streets, and homes starting in the 60s straight through the 80s, when the War on Drugs escalated.
I saw the effects of this sudden swift increase of all kinds of narcotics, from pills to powders, syringes for liquid combinations, and access to sniffable substances. I watched liquor stores proliferate, appearing to be on every corner. Sometimes, there were two or three of these stores to a block in the commercial areas of black neighborhoods nationwide.
All this was part of the war on the black family, which had remained strong through the 1950s, to destroy and destabilize Black communities with drugs and the welfare state which removed black men from homes in response to desegregation, anti-discrimination laws, and voting rights legislation being enacted. And I recorded that in my paintings, which began appearing in galleries and museums nationwide.
By the end of the 1980’s, I had exhibited in over 1,000 exhibitions in museums, galleries, and community spaces (churches, YMCA’s, youth centers, students centers, schools and campus facilities like libraries, chapels, conventions, etc.)
Wherever I was asked to exhibit or speak, I did. When school organizations, black student organizations, parishes, lawyers, social workers, medical workers, city, state and federal entities, neighborhood associations, social events, asked, I went.
Tissue Collages. Eventually, my mind needed to provide itself with a place to rest, visually. When I was in art college, I used to use a water-soluble tissue paper to create collages as a way to study composition and nature. I found I love the abstracted images of nature I’m able to produce with tissue paper. So, in the mid-seventies, after years of hardcore imagery around issues of racism and sexism, I returned to this soothing, softer form of visual expression.
My brief travels in Africa (Ghana, Dahomey [Now Benin], Togo and Senegal) in the late 60’s inspired most pieces. I began to create an extensive series of vividly colored organic abstractions, some small; others quite large (30×48 for example) on canvas, Masonite, and cardboard.
I returned to these images in 1980-81, again, to relieve the stresses of life, and to diffuse the anxieties of my day to day activities as an artist, educator, activist, administrator, lecturer, and parent. Now, whenever I’m stressed, I can gaze at these images, immerse myself in their colors and compositions, and escape the stresses of my life. Other viewers tell me the collages help them that way, as well.
Sexual Racist Ridiculousness Series. I created this series as a direct response to the craziness of sexual racism perpetrated against African-American males and females in the US and colonialized African, Caribbean and South American countries past and present.
I felt no one was dealing visually with the constant, and brutal physical rape of African peoples all over the western world. For us, rape had a 500-year history that was not addressed by visual artists, and I wanted to fill that gap.
Yes, others discussed and even wrote about rape against Africans throughout the diaspora by white supremacists. But is was rarely ever shown, for visual imagery portraying the atrocity was apparently taboo. I decided to break those taboos.
So, in 1971, I began creating an enormous series of works symbolizing the history of rape. I did not use specific rape occurrences, but rather visual symbols of violent sexual assault. Those images were of genitalia, and their intent was to portray horrific racist sexual policies and practices as well as philosophies about our exoticism assumed, expressed and manifested in their unfettered access to our young bodies from the 1400’s to the present.
I talked about Euro-fears of genetic annihilation, their sexual exploits of rape and sexual sadism on young African boys and girls (pre- and young adults), their using young Africans as sex toys and breeders. I also portrayed and discussed enslavement of and incest involving their (black) children, and other historical aspects of violent sexual exploitation of Africans.
I created these images on canvas, board, and paper, using bright colored, hard-edged, flat forms using acrylic paint, magic marker, and watercolors. I also created an extensive series of graphic images which could be and were easily reproduced and disseminated, nationwide, for, during those years, I gave away or sold inexpensively images in the neighborhoods, campuses, and conventions I frequented nationally.
Black on Black for Black (Reproduction) Series. I also created, during those years (1971-73), a voluminous series of 11×17 and 8.5 x 11 reproductions for African American families depicting statements of family love and togetherness, with many images around social racism and physical brutalities by Euro-Americans on us. The ones on black family life were a counterbalance to the often hopelessness of poverty, oppression and incarcerations and their side effects.
Those included drug abuse, teen pregnancy, single parenthood, mental illness and social, political, financial, and physical isolation. These images counteracted the suffering we experienced in the highly racist society then that continues today.
I created these so I could talk about what was good in our lives, like love and children, our music, food and dancing and our church and social lives, all of which often brought great humor, beauty, and joy into our daily existence. These images were very popular and, because I either gave them away or sold them very inexpensively, were distributed throughout the USA.
On Becoming a Professor
When I was very young, under age 10, I spent significant time listening to the stories, observations, and conclusions of my elders. Those included conversations my late mother’s friends and she had about their lives and views as Africanative Americans in the racist 1940s society in which I was growing up. They felt safe to have those conversations only within our communities because very few whites were around to contradict and repress their conclusions. I was also privy to the conversations of Africanative American men, too. I heard conversations my father, his friends and the black barbershop clientele who had opinions about all the happenings inside and outside of our communities.
What I learned most about in the 1940’s was how little we were able to do as “negroes.” I was stunned even then at the mysterious things called “discrimination” and “racism”, “Jim Crow”, “Mr. Charley,” etc. Why were we called “nigger” and what did that mean? Why were there some places we couldn’t go and schools we couldn’t attend?
Why were these places called “South Boston”, “the North End” and “East Boston” so dangerous? Why weren’t we welcomed in white homes, churches, businesses, and neighborhoods?
Why were there Negro only schools in the north? Where were the Negro teachers? Why were there so few Negro doctors and lawyers? Why were the police white? Where were the Negro firefighters, paramedics, business owners, and college students?
As I grew older and understood more, I began to see that the Euro-Americans, who called themselves “white,” had created and were sustaining a system of exclusion and oppression against my people called racism. Under that system, especially in the media of the day, we were labeled “inferior”, “non-intelligent”, “simple-minded”, “untrustworthy”, “inarticulate”, “imitative monkeys”, “second-class”, “dangerous”, “without morals”, “unscrupulous”, “randy”, “oversexed”, “smelly and unclean” “niggers.”
They used these and other labels to keep us psychologically and physically oppressed. I was amazed and angered at the suppositions and labels. My experiences with my people and myself made it clear that this was not so. I had to know more. But where to find the truth in writing?
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until my teen years that I began seriously researching through books and verbal responses to my questions about the truth about “us.” That was because my early questioning had been stopped dead by rape.
It’s not something I remember clearly; my mind couldn’t handle the event. But this I know. One day, I was a very gregarious, friendly, inquisitive kid who trusted adult males. The next I was confused, fearful, angry, evasive, pained, unfriendly, and desirous of being left alone.
I was no longer trusting of people and felt safe only in the “fields” (empty blocks of overgrown weeds in the blighted areas of my community). My desire for research, at least about my people, had been stunted and had to wait until I had healed enough to trust in my physical and mental strength to begin again.
As I blossomed out of my own repression, enough to look at the world again, I found myself in the middle of the beginnings of the civil rights movement. I joined the NAACP Youth Group because I felt that organization was full of like-minded young people who believed they were equal to anyone else and proved it every day. We began working with our elders and heard the names and read the works of W.E.B. Dubois, Thurgood Marshall, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey and many others. Then, we began to hear about this minister, Martin Luther King, and what he and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were doing in the South.
Why was this so important to me and my development as an artist, educator, activist, and exhibitor? All these experiences led directly to my decision to be an educator.
But the most important reason was what I had seen as a student in the American educational system. It was appalling, frustrating, and demeaning. I mean, who did these people (“white” educators and students) think they were? I had read DuBois and Douglas! I had seen abolitionist writings! I had read civil war and civil rights accounts! I had begun my involvement in “the struggle”!
These educational theorems and strategies of racial suppression were wrong. I had to oppose them, in another way, other than my art (for which I’d already begun to win awards in high school) and my political activities.
I had a voice. Throughout high school and college, I had been using it on college campuses, public forums, panels in museums and schools; but it wasn’t enough. I obtained a degree in art education from a major state institution, MassArt, in 1967, but that wasn’t enough. So, when I was asked to teach at Simmons College in Boston, I leaped at the chance. Here was what I had to do! I had to teach what I knew, what I saw, what I was involved in doing to change our world.
I knew enough of the truth and was learning more every day that I had to share. I had to pass it on to the only hope any people have. The young. They had to see the truth delivered by someone who was living it, and who had studied the realities of our mutual American past.
These students of many colors had to see someone of my color representing African American truths in a Eurocentric setting to truly grasp the enormity of the challenges structural racism presents and understand their place in the system that keeps us all in bondage.
On Why We Had to Become Educational Leaders
We had to be there. To be present, to be seen, and be physically touchable in these institutions, to end the untenable malicious mythologies about our inferiority and our dangerousness. We had to interact with our students and colleagues of every color every day, treating them with respect we knew they’d initially deny us to end our “otherness” in their minds. We had to be tolerant of their ignorance, understanding of their fears, and wiser than they ever expected.
It was easy, for these “others” had not lived decades-long lives, studying and researching ways to develop survival skills within systemically racist environs long before ever setting foot in their institutions, and making all such places ours, too.
We had to soothe their minds, enable them to sleep away their fears, give them laughter to use against the false, inbred disinformation. We had to allow them to elevate us to their level of humanness so that they would give us back the equality, equity and access their systemic racism had caused them to take from us. It was as easy as simply being ourselves from the outset. They came to know that “we” were “them,” with a touch of hugely delicious flavor and beautiful color. The transition was swift, much of it unseen by them, until, suddenly, we were leading committees, heading or participating forcefully in “sensitivity training” with students, faculty, and staff. It was easy at first.
What we didn’t know, and what almost 40 years of experience in these institutions, corporations, and organizations have taught us, is that we have to repeat these lessons for these students, faculty, and staff, over and over again. You see, staff, faculty, and student populations change, and change swiftly, so fast we get burned out before the natural end of our careers. We lose our Messianic zeal to make changes. We just plain get tired of it all.
What we did has worked. The change has occurred. We’ve been very successful, for in just two generations; there are many more of us only because our struggle got transferred to our Gen Xers and, now, their Millennials and Gen Zers.
Now our grandchildren are taking over from our children, and they’re the much smarter children of this new, unfathomable (for we elders), global tech age that doesn’t tolerate any “-centrisms,” Euro-, Asian-, Native-, Latino-, African-, or whatever. Our grandchildren want the whole world. They won’t even notice the demise of the psychotic evolution of racist systems. They’ll be too busy saving the world.
On Being God-Directed
How could I not have been? Too many of my images amaze me and appear to me to be beyond my abilities. I’m clear that my years of life’s experiences in the civil rights struggle, coupled with my years of student and professional training and work caused me to develop the skills which God uses to create museum level expressions of His aesthetic statements through me.
But I’m, nonetheless, amazed by the results. I’m sure that’s true for many other artists who produce works way beyond their expectations (though many may not feel their works are “God-directed”).
For example, Picasso’s “La Guernica.” Where must his mind have been for all the experiences of his creative life and skills to have produced that painting? How many images did he have to paint to get to the place where such a piece could be painted by Him?
Why is art so important, anyway? All art interprets a process of thought which produces an image or object as a physical statement of that thought. Imagine how much thinking went into the creation of the chair you’re sitting in, or the clothes you are wearing, the building you’re in, the stages I stand on, the mics I speak into. Someone had to “design” everything we use, without exception.
Human beings, it appears, by their very nature, design, and redesign endlessly, the objects with which they surround themselves. We create and reinvent the materials we use to shape these objects, true; but we design them inside our heads, first.
Without those individual or shared experiences, there’d be no human creation and we’d all be sitting naked on the ground, for the end object must be given form no matter how long the process takes inside and outside your head before it results in a finished product.
The attempt to make an object or objects beautiful beyond their use and function is the end piece of an art process. No one wants to be surrounded by ugliness, even if the interpretation of that term differs from culture to culture and person to person.
Why does this culture worship youth and send its elders off to gilded concentration camps? When and why did this culture take the “s” off “elders” and add “-ly,” making the word an affliction rather than an attainment?
For example, a few evenings ago, I witnessed a very famous comic making sick fun of the aged. I didn’t find any of it funny at all. I was thinking how rude our younger people are of their elders at a time they should be celebrating the many accomplishments from us which make it so easy for them to dismiss us so savagely.
What happened in this country to cause our children to behave so badly towards us? Is it their fear of someday being us? A truth all persons who live long enough will attain? For it is an attainment every society, except this contemporary Western one, does indeed celebrate and venerate. I think fear is an answer because this culture also worships physical beauty and sees aging as the beginning of a personal end.
It’s death, above all, that we fear, and we transition this fear onto our elders. One gets the impression from the youth of this society, (those below fifty) that we elders should hide, or go away to some area set aside to bide our time till death.
In most African cultures, before the appearance of the Arabs and Europeans, a human life had seven highly respected stages. The first stage was infancy. The second was childhood; the third was adolescence; the fourth was manhood and womanhood; the fifth was middle age; the sixth, eldership, and the seventh, ancestorship. The most important, most relevant stage was elderhood.
All were celebrated extensively and actively, all were ritualized, formalized, and publicized through ceremony and by attire, and all provided every member of those societies with place and the responsibilities and expectations of that place. Each member of that culture was looked up to and looked to produce whatever was necessary to secure, preserve and grow societies.
On Ourstory (a more inclusive word than History)
The reason for studying ourstory should be as much about not repeating our mistakes as it is about learning about our successes. What did we do or create that is useful to sustaining and growing our cultures or changing those things from useless now to helpful in the future? What philosophies of the past are still pertinent? What methodologies and mechanisms need updating?
What can we learn from ancient civilizations that will aid us now and in the future? As a minor example, what can new technologies garner related to green global energy use from the ancient technologies of steam engines? How can we combine that with solar power so no fossil fuels need be used? In another direction, how can we revamp democratic principles by an intense study of the pre-Greek democratic systems, Iroquois Confederacies, and our more recent historical examples, i.e., American democratic principles?
On Art Ourstory
Nothing is created without the input of ourstory. Who or what cultures produced the first paints? How? Why? For what purposes? What can we learn as artists from the systems of production and creation that led to the Sistine Chapel or the Louvre? To Benin plaques or the art in imperial palaces of China, Korea, Japan and Mayan temples? What role did art play in the Mayan and Incan civilizations? How is art used in ritual ceremony, whether ancient Kemet (Egypt) or Rome? The Vatican, or religion, in general?
Can you create your art in a professional manner, without researching these areas? Can one ever stop researching and studying these concerns during one’s art career? What role does the actual, physical handling of objects in nature (all objects are of nature since we are forever rooted in a physical plane, whether on this earth or another, future planet?
Art Sales & Exhibition ~ Booking & Interviewing Information
Unless otherwise stated, all art on this site by Dana C. Chandler, Jr. is for sale or exhibition. Would you like to exhibit Professor Chandler's work publicly at your reputable museum or purchase it for your collection? Contact us today to learn how. Professor Chandler is available for engagements or interviews. Do you want to offer him a paid speaking engagement or interview him for your book, dissertation, article or blog post? Contact us today to learn how.
(c) 2008-2017. Dahna M. Chandler, Artist Representative, The Living Legend Artist, LLC. The copyrights to all artwork displayed on this site, unless otherwise noted, belong to Dana C. Chandler, Jr. and those copyrights and each work owned by The Pan African Artist, LLC. All rights reserved and vigorously protected. Please carefully review or copyright and related disclaimers for further protection information.