By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Tyler Ratcliff remembers the day he created “The Shadow.”
“‘The Shadow’ was made with rage,” he said. “I had come home. I was doing an internship, and I had a bad day. It was one of those days that I just felt like I wanted to paint and get that anger off my chest. That’s what I did that day. [The painting] was made by hand in 15 minutes. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop.”
Ratcliff, 18, is a senior at Woodlawn High School and was one of more than dozens of students who took part in the recent Birmingham Artwalk Young Artists Showcase, where young people from six area high schools—Ramsay, Woodlawn, George Washington Carver, Wenonah, Shades Valley, and the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA)—displayed their work at the Parthenon on Second Avenue North.
Artwalk transforms Birmingham’s loft neighborhood into an arts district, featuring the work of more than 100 visual artists, live musicians, and street performers, as well as food and drink vendors and children’s activities. The festival recently wrapped its 17th year, and the growth is noticeable. Part of that growth is the Young Artists Showcase, now in its second year.
“We want to feature young talent in Birmingham. I love high schoolers, that’s my favorite age to work with,” said Heather Holmes, hostess for the Artwalk Young Artists Showcase.
Inner City Talent
Ratcliff began art as a ninth grader and was happy to be a part of the festival.
“As a resident of Birmingham, we don’t get to do [many] things like this,” he said. “This is great to see in my hometown. I didn’t even know we had this many artists in Birmingham.”
Ratcliff was on hand with classmates, Marcus Giles, 17, and Kiaya Perkins, 17, who displayed her painting, “Lavender.”
“I’ve always seen the black woman—any woman, really—as strong and powerful and beautiful,” she said. “I don’t see [people with] my skin tone a lot. Drawing black women is empowering to me. I drew it because on Instagram I always see these beautiful paintings of black women, and I wanted to make one, too.”
The beauty of black women is prominent in Perkins’ art: “I feel like the painting represents the beautiful black woman however she looks—afro; whatever skin tone, light or dark.”
Perkins, who began creating art when she saw her brother drawing, wants to use her skills to make a difference.
“Inner city schools, schools like ours, don’t always get the chance to show ourselves because people only see us as bad,” she said. “They stereotype us as savages or something. With us showing our work, they know there’s more to us than what they see on the news. I’m just happy to be an artist and have found a way to express myself. I hope other people can find it the same.”
Perkins also wants to find a way to help others.
“I kind of want to be an art teacher because I want to help students express themselves,” she said. “It’s something to show young people how to express themselves in way other than violence.”
Giles remembers taking to art around age 5.
“When I was little, I had no idea there was this much art around Birmingham,” he said. “It lets you see what you didn’t know, and you get to see how hard other artists really work.”
His goal is to become known for many types of artistic work.
“I plan to do digital and 3D art. I’ve tested it before, but I still have to get the hang of it,” said Giles, who also has a love for comics, which he started in middle school.
Now he focuses on abstract art, like the painting he displayed at the festival, “Drown and Surround.”
“My work is about going from childhood into adulthood and all the problems that come with that,” Giles said.
Jena Momenee, an art teacher at Woodlawn, said city school students can compete against the best talent in the area.
“We may not have the resources. We might not have the professional instructors. We may not have 12 art classes; it’s just me. But we’re doing something,” she said.
There is no ceiling for students, Momenee said.
“The limit to what they can do is the sky,” she said. “When they’re in that constrictive environment of our classroom, they can’t see what they can really do. When they’re out here and see professional artists, they see they can do so much more.”
Art can serve as a constructive outlet.
“Like [Ratcliff] talking about [how] he came home and said he had a bad day,” Momenee said. “He didn’t punch somebody. He didn’t get a gun. … He made art. It’s such an important outlet. It’s an important way to challenge your feelings. I wish people would see the value of it and how important it can be. We need to put more value on art in the schools.”