My Life Story – What It’s All About

My Art, My Life

Shimmering torn paper surfaces

Bits making new wholes

Breaking assumptions, losing attitudes

Finding new strengths, beauty, harmony.

A constant healing garden of discovery.

In Baton Rouge, the house I shared with my parents and five siblings was at the top of a “hill” sloping down to Bayou Fountain, part of the Mississippi River’s watershed area.  Our home was one mile from the levee that barely keeps the mighty river in check. Every spring floods threaten.  This lends an underlying darkness to the ever verdant landscape. What a rich place to grow in!

Early childhood was bursting with possibilities. Family members were making things, playing music, building walls or tearing them down. Within the basic solid noisy dramatic family structure, nothing ever stayed the same.  My parents were makers who provided a home with space for exploratory discovery. The interior of the house was often in reconfiguration status thanks to the innumerable skills of my father.  

Lots of cooking and company made for hearty Sundays.  My mother entertained guests with her elegant piano playing.  My grandmother told stories of her turn-of-the-century youth, the men watched football while we all ate cake I made.

Really Great Guides along the Way

In first grade a small print of the “Angelus” by Jean-Francois Millet hung over the blackboard. Every day church bells rang at noon. The class would stand to recite the ancient prayer just as the two field workers had done in that picture painted over 100 years before my birth. I thank Miss Myrtie in my heart for that image. She was my teacher when I was six.

My oldest sister who left home when I was eight stayed close to my heart with hand-made cards she sent me. One contained a miniature white paper bird with a tiny white envelope in its beak with a letter inside with greetings just for me.

My high school art teacher Judith Dazzio gave me a solid foundation in color. After graduation I attended Louisiana State University, only a mile from home.  I earned BFA in painting. A visionary painting professor Harvey Harris told me he could see that I would always make art.

I moved to the Eastern Shore of Maryland with my late journalist/photographer husband Christopher Brezon who became a news editor at the Easton Star Democrat.  I felt immediate kinship with this tidal land so similar to my birthplace.  After three years Chris won a prize to work at the International Herald Tribune in Paris, France, for a year.  My son was born in that City of Light.  Pierre Bonnard became alive again.  He has remained my biggest influence with his fields of analogous color all over the canvas.

I’ve had some great teachers. Washington Color School painter Leon Berkowicz taught me to work no matter the crises I’m in, abstract expressionist Milton Resnick said I must tell my own story and not to follow the brush into the canvas, Ed Pramuk set up audacious drawing situations at university; more recently Laurel True of the Global Mosaic Project taught me skills to empower others, and Mary Vernon at Mississippi Art Colony expressed the philosophical dimensions of color.  Diebenkorn, Rauschenberg, O’Keefe, and ancient Egyptian craftsmen are others I draw inspiration from.

Maybe the greatest teacher of all was my dad.  As he looked around at his family members as he lay dying he said,  ”Add to the beauty.”

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Facilitating community projects are some of the most rewarding art activities I’ve done.  I have managed mural and mosaic adventures in Maryland and Louisiana. As a teaching artist, I find healing in sharing knowledge and practice of art-making.  

Sheryl Southwick