By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Amber Orr, 30, is a graduate of the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), and her paintings illustrate her life experiences. For her, entry in this year’s Birmingham Artwalk is a celebration of life itself. Applying to the festival for the first time was done to commemorate and solidify her pursuit of a full-time art career.
Art is “crazy. It’s fun. It’s life,” Orr said. “Whenever I’m going through some crazy stuff, I just put it all out there. I use bright colors, even though I’m going through a dark time.”
The Ensley native uses art to immortalize her life lessons. Painting self-portraits “celebrates my mistakes and flaws,” Orr said.
Pointing to a set of large self-portraits, she said, “Those particular pieces really taught me how to paint, and they represent my younger self. I was [in the University of Montevallo] at the time, and I kept trying to compare my work to that of other artists. … I learned to paint with oils. … That’s when I became a true artist. I was very satisfied with the response I got from my mentor. Those paintings were a testament to my capabilities despite not having the early formal training.
“When I was a kid, people thought I was weird. I never fit into the black community. … I was tomboyish, and I liked to draw. … While I was in school, kids [in Ensley] considered it weird that I liked to draw [because I was a girl]. That was a big insecurity of mine. I used to be concerned about what others thought instead of embracing my own interests and being OK with being into things that were outside of the norm.”
Even Orr’s taste in music and style of dress made her feel different and out of place in her neighborhood, but school eventually became her safe haven and creative playground.
“Once I went to ASFA, I found my own group of ‘weird’ people who were into the same things,” she said. “That helped me feel better about myself.
It all comes out in Orr’s art. The growth, evolution, and self-esteem are depicted at various stages in her work. During Artwalk, she nearly sold an entire series of large self-portraits, each of which represents a different shade of emotion and different trends.
“A lot of these pieces are a timeline,” she said. “There are different stages, different hairstyles, different [hues]. … It’s all about whatever I’m going through, how I’m feeling, my vibe, my mood. I do series [artwork], and all [the pieces] work together simultaneously.”
Orr believes a positive self-image is important.
“According to my artist statement, I want to encourage people to love themselves,” she said. “Do not be afraid of your flaws, do not be afraid of your past, just look forward to the future.”
The University of Montevallo graduate said emerging artists should not be discouraged by naysayers.
“When I was younger, a lot of people use to ask me, ‘How are you going to make money off of art?’ Never listen to other people. If you listen to other people, you’ll never be successful in life, you’ve gotta be true to yourself.”