Gallery Beat – July 2015

By now nearly everyone on the planet knows who Rachel Dolezal is, and what her immense deception was in fabricating a web of lies and deceit in order to represent herself as a black woman.

But what has not, as of the writing of this article, received enough press is how her architecture of lies and deception may have extended into both her artistic resume and her production of art.

She has a local DMV connection: She went to Howard University for her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts, where she also taught undergraduate art students, sued Howard (as a white person) for discrimination, and subsequently was around the Greater DC area until around 2005.

In an interview with The Easterner (the newspaper for Eastern Washington University where she taught until recently) she stated that “during her time at Howard, her paintings sold quite well in convention centers around the nation, the highest for around $10,000.”

With almost 40 years of experience selling art, I have no knowledge of any “art circuit” where artists or galleries sell artwork in convention centers, unless Dolezal is talking about art fairs. But art fairs where in their infancy stage back in those years, and individual artists are usually not included in art fairs, and must be there under the umbrella or a gallery or art dealer.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe there is an art circuit, outside of my radar (rather unlikely) and NOT art fairs, where artists sell their work in “convention centers.” And I’ll ignore the fact that there is practically zero digital footprint for Dolezal’s artwork in the Internet for those years. And thus let’s believe her for a minute, and this is getting harder by the second the more we learn about this artist.

But, if art student Rachel Dolezal, while a graduate art student at Howard University, was selling artwork for as high as $10,000 in 1999-2002, she was not only the top priced student at Howard ever, but also the top priced student in the DMV ever. In fact she would have been at the very top of the artist commercial food chain in the DMV, right along with Sam Gilliam in 1999.

But I had never heard of her until her deceit was exposed last month…in the last few years I’ve mentored two art students from Howard, and I suspect that they’ve never heard of her either… someone selling paintings for up to $10K in 1999 in DC would have been a legend in her school, around the art crowd in the DMV, and in the radar of every art dealer in the city.

And thus, I don’t believe Dolezal on this giant art lie either.

Another thing bugs me; there’s what appears to be an impressive level of technical skill in some of her paintings. As an example, in the 2011 Dolezal painting titled “Recognition”, the manner in which the paint is handled, the treatment of the light and the wood surfaces is rather impressive. I say “appears to be” because Internet sleuth David Castillo discovered that Dolezal essentially copied the painting titled “Alike’s World” from a movie still of the film “Pariah.” And Castillo has further multiple evidence of these possible copyright violations.

I agree with Castillo that this particular “painting” appears to be initially photo-based. That is, a digital image of the photo has been digitally printed onto a canvas and then “re-worked” with some clear acrylic medium (to give it a surface brushwork texture), and possibly some broader brushwork with a thicker medium with color-matching paint on the background buildings. The reproduction of the figure is too exact to be anything other than a reproduction on canvas.

The buildings have been worked over with a broader brushwork to blur them a little into the background, but the shadows (in most cases) are too exact in proportion and relation to the original photo to be anything other than a photo reproduction.

The sky has been worked over as well, and she went a little lazy on the left side of the painting. Five gets you ten that if I examined this painting up close, I would see thicker paint “covering” up the left side of the piece (above the shoulder of the figure) than on the figure itself. The fact that she didn’t even bother to “change” some of the folds in the hoodie not only takes cojones, but artistic laziness in this, possibly the shortest fake route to a hyper realistic painting.

Are any of the paintings her own?

I think that “Utterance” and also “Sabrina” are her real level of “unaided” painting skill. In the 2007 painting “Utterance”, the manner in which the perspective of the figure, the treatment of the hands, and the disaster that is the manner in which the white wood and white bricks have been handled, show a much less skilled artist. This is white straight off the tube with a little black added to make a colorless gray in order to separate the wood slats and bricks and add shadows. The skin tones on the man are also straight out of the tube amateur time.

Given Dolezal’s now confirmed string of lies, fabrications and abuses, this huge dichotomy in artistic technical skill plants a question in my head as to the authenticity of some of these works, and I think that her deceit extends to her artwork.

Written by: F. Lennox Campello

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