Drawing with a Social Purpose

In some recent blogs, I have thought about drawing for the sake of drawing, and drawing for the sake of painting. Ja Fang Lu, an artist and instructor at Studio Incamminati, draws for these reasons too, but she also uses drawings that she is currently creating, collectively referred to as Portraits of Philadelphians in Black and White, as social expression.

Drawing by Ja Fang Lu, 2012.
Drawing by Ja Fang Lu, 2012.

That is, Ja Fang is drawing portraits–and painting them–of long-time Philadelphians in black and white, color purposefully excluded from the equation. While ethnicity is apparent with  or without color, Ja Fang's choice to remove color from the works allows the overall first impression of the drawings, at least for me, to be just of a person–a person who is defined by his or her own history, but a person foremost. She is highlighting the common ground of humanity this way–the fact that we are all alike in a very elemental way.

Drawing by Ja Fang Lu, 2012.

In talking with Ja Fang about her approach, she said that she chose to omit color in order to create a body of work that promotes tolerance for racial diversity. Her subjects are chosen from people who are in the Philadelphia, an incredibly diverse area. Ja Fang expressed how hard it is to find just that "right person," and then walk up to him or her, explain the goals of the project, and get him or her to pose for the project. But she is committed to the project and plans to complete it by December 2012.

While Ja Fang has chosen black and white to make her point, she is also a gifted and hard working artist in the colorist tradition. She uses color in the classes she instructs at Studio Incamminati as well as when she paints her own work. She has studied with Nelson Shanks, co-founder of Studio Incamminati, who places a huge emphasis on contemporary color. Ja Fang has also worked with Lea Colie Wight, another Studio Incamminati instructor teaching color.

After speaking with Ja Fang about her project I wondered to myself if the omission of color was difficult for her. For me, it is really tremendous to see black and white, used as a social tool in addition to an artistic tool, and I don't miss the color at all. Let me know what you think!


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3 thoughts on “Drawing with a Social Purpose

  1. Thank you Jan Fang! I am attempting to portray a group of girls, ordinary Afganistan girls that an acquaintence of mine had photographed in Kabul. Their expressions are so typical of children of that age – wherever they may live. I’ve wanted to paint their portraits accurately, but undecided whether to simply reproduce the photograph in colour or go in a different direction entirely. I found from your article in Artist Daily, ie. taking the visual to a common ground (black & white) is the way I wish to proceed. It speaks volumes!