Five months ago, Wade woke up at 3 a.m. and started sketching an image she had in her mind onto an envelope. When her son visited the following morning, he noticed the drawing and was shocked to learn his mother, who had never done anything artistic in her life, had done it.
Encouraging her newfound talent, he bought her some paint and asked her if she could reproduce it. Since then, not a day goes by that Wade does not sit down and paint a new masterpiece.
Some of Wade's works can be viewed at this month's exhibit in City Hall's rotunda gallery that honors Black History Month.
Joan Moore, who curates the gallery, wanted to choose two local artists whose work draws upon the African-American tradition. Wade's pieces depicting scenes from African jungles and cotton plantations are joined by Michael Markman's paintings that often portray African-American pride through its most visibly successful faces. And while the two artists seem to draw from a similar spirit of tradition, the works are visually distinct. The exhibit, which runs through the end of February, held a debut reception on Thursday.
Wade's paintings fuse dozens of colors together to produce vibrant abstract scenes and figures. She had no formal training, yet the composition in her works seem to draw from impressionist roots while the subjects are derived from a variety of African-American themes: tribal images, slavery depictions, and African-American family life throughout history.
Calling it "Miracle Art," Wade said that it takes her a relatively short period of time to complete each piece. Describing the process, her prodigious talent becomes more evident. "I don't know how I do it," Wade said. "The images just come to me." Translating those images in her mind, colors and all, onto the canvas is not the tiring process most artists describe. In fact, she completes most of her paintings within a few hours.
A colorful depiction of a family party has a large group standing under a flower-laced arch as a two-piece band plays music on the left. While the sky is not visible, the yellow glow emanating from the green trees and reflecting off of the pink and red flowers guarantees that is a clear, sunny day. The people in the scene wear clothes of one color, separating them from the multi-colored scenery that surrounds embraces their existence. Not one spot on the canvas is left unmarked. Wade said this painting took her two hours to complete. People have already offered her up to $3,000 for this work, yet she has opted not to sell it.
"I'm not doing it for the money," she said. "I like to share it with everyone."
Learning and painting
Unlike Wade, Markman, 39, began his creative endeavors as a boy when his mother encouraged him to pursue his artistic talent. Taking his mother's advice, he attended an arts high school in New York and went on to study in New York City's School of the Visual Arts.
When he isn't busy teaching art in the Lower East Side or raising his two children, Markman finds time to pursue his work in a small space in his Jersey City home. "It's basically a closet," Markman said of his work area. In that confined space, however, Markman has produced a catalogue of paintings that depict African-American history through the people who helped bring it to light, and through a children's book called "The Path: An Adventure in African History." His book teaches about leaders in African history through the time-traveling journeys of a young boy.
In a pencil drawing of a young girl Markman met when he was working at a homeless shelter, small images of famous African-American women surround the little girl's head as she reads a book. Zora Neale Hurston, Harriet Tubman, and Rosa Parks are all possible personalities the girl could embody when she matures, Markman said.
While his themes may be similar to Wade's, his style is much different. Markman is grounded in solid images that are accented by a refined sense of detail. The colors are bold and unified, often becoming as journalistic as a color photo. But the composition of his paintings defies such simple structure, as he finds unique ways to frame his work.
In his painting, "The Most Beautiful Girl In The World," his 3-year-old daughter's face is framed by a giant pink flower. By pouring lines of sugar onto the paint, the stems on the flowers are raised from the painting to create a three-dimensional effect.
His most recent work, "Brothers," depicts four urban settings with famous African-American athletes and entertainers such as Michael Jordan and John Coltrane. Other pieces of African-American history, like the invention of the pocket watch, are sprinkled into the painting. The scenes are framed by two fists meeting each other in the middle and their arms create a border for the rest of the painting. The image of the two hands represents a traditional African-American greeting, Markman said. He got the idea for the painting by the Grove Street Path Station, when a homeless man put out his fist to greet Markman one day.
"It's a bonding of all that's happened through the African-American experience," Markman said.