S. Jewell S. McGhee is a seasoned professional community artist. Her artwork is a source of thought provoking engagement as well as affirmation and healing to the communities in which she is engaged. The installations that she creates are most often large sculptural works that encourage interaction by the viewers. Her recent installation "Waterfall of St. Louis Stories" was commissioned as a part of the community-wide initiative "Evoke St. Louis" and their "Evocation" exhibit at the Regional Art Commission and with Divinemoira Studio. This piece engaged the dissonance felt by so many, especially in St. Louis who feel that the "official history" does not tell the whole story. The installation integrated a thousand individual stories into a moving waterfall that surrounded the viewer as they added their experience to the piece. As the piece opened on the night of the Stockley verdict and the gallery was on Delmar Boulevard (a key location for protestors), this piece was timely and effective for processing, listening, and healing of many in St Louis. Jewell's piece "Aria Rising" for Angel Band Project and with Divinemoira Studio is a rotating installation that acts as an advocate and symbol for survivors of sexual assault and violence. The installation is a beautiful angel with empty vessels which the community is invited to fill with messages of hope written and placed in her gown. Through her presence, the dignity and beauty of the survivor draws in the viewer and communicates that healing requires a community of support and affirmation. Jewell is currently working on "The Radical Forgiveness" and "The Radical Imagination" exhibits of "The Justice Fleet," an organization powerfully engaged in the work of social justice and transformative community building. These exhibits function as mobile museums and pop-up exhibits brought directly to communities that can be too often deprived of soul-healing art. The exhibit, "Imagining St. Louis Futures with the Justice Fleet" was a part of "Dwell in Other Futures" and was displayed at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. Jewell has installed pieces in inner city public schools in St. Louis as an artist in residence, while children walked the halls, touched wet paint, and watched the creations come to life. Her work on the streets both on Delmar and in historic downtown Maplewood's business strip has become an integral part of the town's identity and personality. She has had numerous individual installations and gallery exhibits, and has worked with various St. Louis communities in schools, businesses, churches, neighborhoods, artist-collectives and non-profits. Jewell says, "Art is a bridge from where we are to where we hope to be. St. Louis is full of unmet hopes and I am committed to the community work of drawing out our hopes again. "
Communication. I make art because I want to say things that can't be said with words alone. Sometimes I start with someone else's words. Before I start a drawing of a poem I want to read it over and over, read commentaries, look at previous illustrations, and then I start drawing. I walk down a path step by step until I have created a story in a single image, and because I am trying to capture the whole story and not merely one scene, my art is often abstract. My art is thick with details and rich with symbolism and research. I also enjoy explaining the "why" and the "what" to anyone who asks, although I am content to let people just see what they see.
My explorations begin with colored pencil, which I blend and layer in such a way that it is usually mistaken for paint. Sometimes that is enough, and I end there. Other times those initial images become three dimensional.
In my three dimensional pieces, the materials become part of the story my artwork is telling. For a book-store, I made a piece of art that has books come alive with stories literally coming off the page. It shares the store's joy and vision with anyone who casually walks by. For a trendy pub that prides themselves in their bottled beer collection, I made a reproduction of Elvis's trademark cape made out of their bottle caps. This artwork ties the pub to a cultural icon while showing their current relevance and simply communicating that they sell of bunch of different kinds of beer. For a church I made banners that hang behind the pastor while he preaches so that, like classic stained glass windows, images of God's grace can be seen even if the church-goer is daydreaming.
I want my art to be available for those who want to glance, but deep enough for those who want more. I engage with the stories around me, build bridges between unmet allies, and I do it all with integrity and craftsmanship.
About the Artist
S. Jewell S. McGhee likes to call her drawings “painting with pencils.” She first started using colored pencils to help her mother write names on lunch bags for school. “My mom would pick matching themes for the names on our bags; all balloons, or sunrises, or sometimes just geometric shapes. She always made them so beautiful; a plain brown bag lunch was, all at once, a love note, a story, a hug, and simple colors to enlighten us for the rest of the day.” These bags also became a constant reminder that art was simple, attainable, and a necessary part of every day.
“I always start with a story.” Every time you hear a story you have a physical (tears, a chuckle, or a smile) or mental (confusion, contentment) reaction which is unable to be explained in words alone. “I like to use abstract art as a medium to dive deeply into the complicated mess of a story and discover something more about it and about myself.” She follows the flow of a story and finds the shapes and colors that express its fundamental emotions and questions.
Jewell uses her art to interpret the stories of Shakespeare, the newspaper, the Bible, and her own life. “As I grapple with Hamlet, I see lines-sharp and violent-cutting through relationships and into love. There is red: obviously for blood, but also for love (a riddle itself). A golden crown, a golden son; a golden sun breaking through ghosts, clouds, and lives to reveal blackness and blood.” How black is the blackness of hate? What texture is grace? What shape is confusion, or desperation, or promise? These are the questions these pieces ask.