The Artist in Society: Talking with Hershell West
"...[provides] an enriched sense of why public art matters." Paul N. Straghalis, Adult Library Asst., Albany Public Library (CA) "...presents the artist as a vital and contributing member of society....inspiring...." Pam Fingado (artist, former art gallery owner, co-founder of civic Arts & Culture Commission) "...congratulations...on an important record of Bay Area culture." Susannah Israel (artist, writer, composer, faculty Peralta College) This 50-minute documentary looks at San Francisco Bay Area artist/muralist Hershell West to uncover his art and the ways in which artists contribute to society - through their paintings and murals, and through their teaching and their advocacy for the arts. Adding special interest is the fact that West, a black man, was born and raised in the segregated rural South, giving him special challenges when embarking on his career. Neither West's family nor his community - nor the larger society - expected him to become a professional artist. Defying these expectations, West obtained an MFA in fine arts at the University of South Florida after a stint in the military, which earned him GI Bill support, and the ability to pursue higher education. In Florida, in addition to painting canvases and murals, he also worked on outreach in the arts for his university. After he finished his degree, he moved to California in order to continue to grow as an artist. There, he soon found himself not only painting, but also teaching art and working as chief assistant to well-known muralist John Wehrle. Over the years, West has been commissioned to create his own murals while also continuing to collaborate with others. He has taught art to at-risk and other youth, served on several arts commissions, chaired the board of directors of organizations such as the Richmond Art Center and ProArts of Oakland, helped found an annual exhibit called TAOLB (The Art of Living Black) and generally immersed himself in the local arts scene. Now in semi-retirement due to health reasons, he has a long and meaningful career to look back upon.