Snuggled between the buildings of CityPlace, the white tents filled with colorful and expressive artwork seem perfectly at home. Artists set up chairs and watch as the visitors to the 9th annual West Palm Beach Art Festival stroll up and down the cobblestone street and inhale the sensory experience unfolding around them.
One such artist is Jamal Hayes. Hayes is a Florida native, and although he is new to the art scene, his paintings have a vivid depth that speak of inspiration that can only be found from someone who has a fluid connection to the forces that inspire him or her. Hayes’ paintings are full of texture and he describes his own style as impressionistic.
One striking piece of artwork sits in the back of the tent, Hayes shyly mentions he had finished it yesterday. In this painting there are no women in large summer hats, or elegant flowing dresses like his other works. Instead, this painting features two women, one looking back over her shoulder at another woman, both wearing the same hair piece. This woman in the forefront of the painting evokes feelings of calm and retrospection. Her counterpart is faceless, her hands are shackled together by chains and she seems to embody more complicated and painful time period.
The name of the painting is Evolve. Hayes says the woman looking back over her shoulder is reflecting on how she has evolved since her ancestors came as slaves from Africa.
Nnamdi Okonkwo is another artist present at the festival. Like Jamal Hayes, he is not ashamed to credit the genius of his pieces to the events and beliefs that have inspired him.
Okonkwo is a sculptor from Fayetteville, Georgia, and although he was born in Nigeria and still identifies himself as culturally Nigerian, he has called America his home for some time. He is warm and friendly, personality traits that are very much embodied in his bronze artwork.
“I like it when people say to me, ‘Bronze is such a cool material, yet I feel some warmth, a lot of warmth in what you do,’” Okonkwo said.
Okonkwo gives himself very little credit for what his artwork becomes. He sees himself as a medium through which God can bring more goodness into the world.
“I take something that is dead, and I put life into it. But I think it is a gift I have. It isn’t something that I feel I do, but something that happens through me,” Okonkwo said. “I am a religious person, so I believe in God, and I believe that God is invested in doing good in this world. And someone like me who is investing their time in learning a craft, he uses that person to do some of that good.”
What differentiates Okonkwo and Hayes from other artists at the festival is their emphasis on the impracticality of artwork. Oknokwo agrees that what makes artwork beautiful is how unnecessary it is. It has no other usefulness than to last a long time and express a beautiful idea.
They are just two of over 100 artists who were present at the festival this year. The festival also featured mixed-media art, photography, and live performances.
By Jessica Lykins