Melanin 1

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Fan - 37 Expert - 29

Oil on Birch wood panel, 10 5/8 x 10 5/8 inches, framed w/custom frame, black/wood burl. In these challenging times when we "thought" that by now the racial discussion should have been passe', we find it is still alive and well in the hearts of many. Those many would become much fewer, or cease to exist if only they would realize that the major difference between people is the amount of Melanin present in our respective skins, and that particular Melanin's tint. When the lights go out, we can no longer see the difference at all.

Here I've allowed a small "exchange" of skin to take place between my models, girls that could easily be this current generation. The girls look straight forward in the same direction at us, waiting in expectation for our response. In between them, the sands of time keep running.

Began on January 17th, 2022.

Responses (1)

!piece @user #hashtag
John Crowther
John Crowther Critic

February 04, 2022

Steven Curtis’s Melanin 1 is a direct meditation on race (or the lies that we make of race) and confronts the viewer with the undeniable and irrational way we approach it. The interchangeability of the subjects’ faces is belied in how they are received by society. Curtis makes it clear that this disparity of reactions does not even rise to even the surface level and boils down to an intentional, bigotry-provoking, and violence-producing fiction at the heart of our understanding of race.

As it is widely understood, the concept of race is a total fabrication in any linguistic, scientific, or humanitarian framework that has a legitimate pretension of accuracy. There is no race within the internal context of the human race. Race refers to species, not minor variations within species. We are all part of the human race, and the designation of race stops there. As Curtis points out, the only aesthetic difference between the two present subjects is the amount of Melanin, a natural pigment found in most living organisms, in their skin. Of course, this disparity of a quantity of an amino acid (Melanin) does not constitute a separation of race or any significant difference whatsoever. Unfortunately, these are only the real differences, and humans often rewrite reality to serve their selfish purposes. The historical baggage attached to our fictitious understandings of race are genuine and make the task of dispelling these dangerous illusions far more complex than simply accepting their fundamental absurdity.

Lived experience, shared generational trauma, and the inescapable pain and anger about historical iniquities cannot be separated from the false concepts of racial difference. To boil down society’s immeasurably harmful concepts of racial difference to a mere linguistic misunderstanding would be offensive and wildly obtuse. Though variations of this history of racism are near endless, I will confine my discussion to relations between black and white people in the United States. While these humanitarian outrages can widely be applied throughout history, they are particularly severe in the American context.

How can a person whose ancestors were violently kidnapped and made to endure to unimaginable horrors of chattel slavery for generations dismiss the concept of race? How can a person whose’ “freed” ancestors were subject to apartheid rule under Jim crow ignore it? How can a person who continues to live in fear for their lives and those of their family for the crime of simply leaving their house dismiss the prison we have made of race? They cannot, and to ask them too would be supremely naive and disrespectful. When a fallacious concept with no basis in reality results in vicious material outcomes, it is irrevocably made part of reality. We must accept this fact before trying to mend the damage done and understand that the burden of rewriting these dangerous illusions falls squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrators, not the victims. Conversely, white people must recognize that no matter how "post-race" they feel, the prejudices and irrational fears of their ancestors' violent fantasies of superiority are easier to ignore but equally present as the historical atrocities to which black people have been subjected. For meaningful change to occur, it is incumbent on white people to remain vigilant about the nefarious consequences of these generational and cultural bigotries.

The hourglass in the center of the picture is one of Melanin 1’s most important visual motifs. It acknowledges the history and the almost impossibility of resolving the continued humanitarian atrocities of racism by simply recognizing the ridiculousness of the concept. Its placement is particularly telling. What truly separates the women in this picture? It is not the difference in skin tone but the sands of time and history that have created an immense disparity between security, a sense of home, and what it means to people of differing “racial” backgrounds. Ultimately, Curtis reveals the truth: there is no difference between his two subjects besides the side of historical consequences they were born into.

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Steven Curtis
Steven Curtis Creator

February 08, 2022

I have enjoyed reading your reviews Mr. Crowther, and the one you’ve penned for this piece is certainly flattering, energetic, and enthusiastic. We often need to hear encouraging words that reflect back to us what goes on in the minds and hearts of our viewers, especially one who is proving to be consistently engaged in that activity. Thank you very much!

One of the things about your more lengthy review that hits me positively is that my work awoke in you what is obviously a passionate subject, and one you’ve spent time with in other ways that lap over into the realms of the political and personal. When we put our work out there, we DO expect some response. So getting a varied and strong response from a critic for me means....goal achieved!

I mean, if I create a painting, first of all, I am creating something FOR someone else, unless I’m that narcissistic that I would only hang it on my own wall and admire it and pat myself on the back and relay to myself what a truly creative person I am. So since we start works with an expression in mind, or vision, it is, as so many other arts, a mode of communication that we’re utilizing, and birthing a perspective of our communication to the rest of the world. We should therefore expect that the reactions/feedback from others is inevitable, and also realize that those reactions, both mental and emotional, can be as varied as the individuals are who produce them.

So your comments, because they are generally overall above and beyond enthused with my piece, and it has hit a chord within you, John, that has brought out the best in you, are taken with equal enthusiasm, and are very welcome.

However I would caution (isn’t there always a “however”..right?), that we not attempt to utilize our common platform here, which is about art, for socio-political purposes that may reach far beyond anything that the artist intended, or may be misconstrued as actually being the opinion or outlook of the artist, when in fact it is simply the outcome of the way that the art has affected you as a particular viewer. I do mean that it’s perfectly fine to put your reaction/s down as part of a review, but it should be stated within that writing, in some way, that these reactions are just that…the viewpoints of said observer and what the art “has done for” you, or pulled out of you by it’s existence.

I could easily disagree with several phrases or points of reference in your review of Melanin 1, for instance, and they would be largely within the context of the socio-political or historical realms, or possibly a simple argument of logic, but not necessarily about the art work itself. The art work “starts” the conversation, but I would not want to piggyback economics and religion or political purposes onto the art work, or the artist, by extension, unless it was otherwise noted. A phrase at the beginning of your review would likely suffice if it included something like the following:

“This piece provoked in me my total understanding of the subject of race and how I see it, how something surface-oriented has, through history, been a way of subjugation of one part of our humanity to another. The following are my own thoughts on that subject, apart from the art itself, and not necessarily the thoughts or intentions of that artist, but…”, and then continue to make your statements about race, or the history of slavery.

I think the only thing that separates our 2 concepts about writing in response to an art piece here would be one of acknowledgement within the writing itself of the position of the writer as without, or as separated from that of the artist. In other words, plainly put, you in a few instances here infer that the thoughts you have about race relations and their outcomes are ALSO the same as the artists, and this is what I, the artist intended.

But even so, I do thank you again for your high praise and diligent observations of many works of art including my own. Thank you John. Please keep writing!

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John Crowther
John Crowther Critic

February 14, 2022

Absolutely Steven, and thank you for your very thoughtful response. You are correct that I erroneously attributed my own views to you and I will refrain from doing so in the future but if you continue to post such evocative and excellent work I think I will be unable to resist my mind bringing all my own ideological baggage with it. As you say this is the ideal of all art that starts conversations (the best kind). As you can see this work really got me going. It brings so much to mind I could easily do 5 more reviews of it. I can't wait for our continued discussions in the future and I LOVE how open you and your work are about often uncomfortable subjects! For me, this is what it's all about.

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Steven Curtis
Steven Curtis Creator

February 14, 2022

PS: a little history here...this started out as 2 white sisters, the one on the left, and her sister, as a photo. I kept looking at it (the photo), but knew it wasn't right by itself. Then I was watching "The Widow" on AmzPrime Video, a series, and it co-stared Shiloam Nyandiko, whom i just fell in love with on the screen. She's wonderful. Well, she became the African face for me, and it took off from there, and I made a few screen shots of her during the series for the model. Originally the cross-over squares were not part of it, and neither was the sands of time between them. So this truly was a "developmental" piece, the kind where you just set it aside and look at it for awhile and go, "hm..."

I have to be honest John, there are quite a few times where I step back from my own work when it's done and just shake my head and think, "Wow, I did that?"

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Steven Curtis
Steven Curtis Creator

February 14, 2022!! You got my point and I also thank your for your thoughtful response to my response. Ha ha! But just to reiterate about your "baggage", bring it on! That's great, like I said, as long as we know it's YOU! Ha. I love it. This little discourse we are having is very productive and I feel very positive about it too. Thank you so much man. You're a humble person, and insightful to the 9's...looking forward to more.

Thanks for your words about the Invitation piece as well. That was really great.

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John Crowther
John Crowther Critic

February 15, 2022

I really appreciate it steven. a large part of what drew me to art in the first place is how diverse interpretations can be and how much you can learn from another's once you think you've understood. Great art humbles you and opens up your mind to new ways of perception and I relish every opportunity to do so!

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Steven Curtis
Conceptual, Portrait
Painting - Framed
Oil, Canvas, Wood Panel
10.00 inches wide
10.00 inches tall
2.00 inches deep
1.00 lbs
Randolph, WI, US