Wednesday, February 8, 2012


("Carolina Child", Stephen Scott Young, 2000, Montgomery Museum of Fine Art, Montgomery, Alabama)

Stephen Scott Young's painting, "Carolina Child," knocked my socks off the moment I laid eyes on it.

This is a stunning work of art!

Young, born in 1957,  is an American contemporary artist from Honolulu, Hawaii, who is primarily known for his watercolor paintings and etchings.

In "Carolina Child," Young changes things up a bit because this is an oil painting done on masonite.

One of this artist's favorite themes is everyday life in the American South but he also creates work depicting the Out Islands of The Bahamas.

This modern master focuses on social concepts such as coming of age, class and race when he creates his art.

He is known as a "hyper-realist" which means that he is a painter who emphasizes highly intricate details in his realistic works.

His creations are also noted for their beautifully rendered simplicity of subject matter.

It's not difficult to see all of these qualities in "Carolina Child."

Let's look more closely.

We notice, first of all, that the composition of this painting is unusual.

Our subject is not standing front and center in the foreground of this piece.

Instead, she is standing at the lower left corner of the painting.

This deliberate placement helps catch the viewer's attention, doesn't it?

Next, we see that this child has been captured in shadow.

The dark tones of the shadows and the hues of her rich, brown skin are in direct contrast to the massive white spaces which surround her.

This painterly device should give us some clues into the artist's probable intentions.

Let's zero in on the young girl's pose and her facial expression.

Her head has been placed at a slightly downward slant.

And it has been turned to the right - but just barely.

The child's head is turned just enough so we, the viewers, can easily distinguish her facial features.

Glimmering shades of white settle on her ear, cheek and eyes as well as on the side of her nose and lips.

Just in case we have missed those glimmers, Young has given us a second chance to notice them with the sweetly scalloped lace collar that rests against her neck.

The collar is a larger splash of white and it serves as a pedestal of sorts for the child's head.

None of this was an accident, of course.

Young is using these whitewashed glimmers and poised scallops to draw our attention to the emotional temperature of his "Carolina Child."

She seems lost in her own thoughts, doesn't she?

Do we know what she is thinking?

No, we do not.

And, frankly, it's none of our business.

Still, it is readily apparent that she is in a contemplative state of mind.

She is mulling things over.

With these observations, we quickly identify with this girl and we share in her humanity.

For we are all thinking beings, frequently bent on pondering the circumstances of our lives in order to make sense of them.

The whitewashed walls and the sepia-tinged shadows seem to envelop "Carolina Child" in a cozy embrace while she meditates.

She is safe there.

Safe to think.

And safe to feel.

Next, we instantly recognize that the "pearls" in this painting are not real.

They are much too large to be real.

And it's a pretty good bet that they did not cost a fortune.

They are not precious jewels.

Except perhaps to our "Carolina Child."

And that's all that is important, after all.

She wears those four gigantic pearls proudly.

These pearls are workers.

They bind and twist the strands of her hair into a ship-shape, upswept "do."

A crimson red, fluttery bow - or is it a fabric butterfly? -  is placed at the back of her head.

That brilliant shot of red draws attention to those humongous pearls, doesn't it?

For many centuries,  the pearl has been a primary symbol of good taste and elegance.

Pearls, above all other gems, have decorated, highlighted and emphasized the countenances of women (and men) the world over.

They are symbols of innocence and purity as well.

In some ways, they lend a divine sort of light to their wearers.

It is this divine light that shines upon our "Carolina Child."

As we gaze upon her lovely countenance, we feel her innocence and purity.

She is no longer a stranger to us.

Without knowing the internal workings of her thoughts, we somehow share in them.

And that is a very godly thing to do.

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