“Someone struggled for your right to vote. Use it.” -SUSAN B. ANTHONY
Voting rights in the United States have a complicated history, with numerous regulations implemented to prohibit people from participating based on gender, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, age, and more. Yet the right to vote is frequently taken for granted in our modern society, with only 54% of eligible voters taking part in the 2016 election.
In this series of oil paintings, I am choosing to portray individuals from historically disenfranchised groups who would have been denied the right to vote at some point in our nation’s history. Some of the models are still unable to vote today. Each figure is painted on top of collaged ballots and voting pamphlets from a significant election in their group’s history. For example, the background for a female model might be comprised of 1920 ballots - the first election in which women could vote. Each piece is titled with the individual’s name and voting district, and is accompanied by a quote about the significance of voting to them.
This series represents a stylistic departure from my recent work. I’ve been painting in a thick, impasto style with bold colors and expressive marks. In this series, to preserve elements of the collaged backgrounds, I am exploring a lighter touch - one that allows the figurative and textual elements to merge on the canvas. The marks and colors retain an expressive quality, but the outcome is more subtle.
My aim is to create a sense of connection with the subject, evoking empathy and awareness of our common humanity. By portraying marginalized individuals and highlighting their unique perspectives as well as their group’s struggle for voting rights, I hope to inspire viewers to consider the importance of their own participation in our country’s election process.
Join us for a virtual artist talk with Paul presented by Not Sheep Gallery on Saturday, November 7, 2020 at 11 am PST/ 2 pm EST. The event will be broadcast on the Not Sheep Gallery's Facebook page. Join the event page here.
SUSIE BERTEAUX, MONTEREY COUNTY
“Executive Order 9066 decreed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent about 120,000 citizens of Japanese ancestry to internment/concentration camps to the interior of the United States from 1942-1946. These Americans of Japanese descent were stripped of their rights and property under the guise of national security, all but their right to vote, sort of...
Wanting to prove they were true and loyal Americans, these citizens tried to maintain their right to vote. Lots of rules and regulations were established by the Federal Government and voting was decided for absentee voting from the state of their former residence. Some states simply denied their rights saying they were enemy aliens. None the less, ballots were cast in each of the 10 internment camps but not all ballots reached their intended locations for various reasons.
I was born in 1945 in Chicago, IL because my parents did not ‘go to camp,’ but they did relocate, getting a sponsor for a job and a place to live outside of the “Exclusion Area.” My parents’ siblings and parents went to these camps, losing their jobs, businesses, and giving up their college education. By their example, I realize the importance of my right to vote. Even though my family members’ rights to ‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’ were taken away, they found a way to cast their ballots even though they met with lots of resistance, it was one way they could prove to themselves and the rest of the country that it is a privilege to be a Citizen of the United States. Voting is a responsibility of that privilege.”
TERESE GARCIA, MONTEREY COUNTY
“I’ve been voting in this country, specifically in the state of California and even more specifically for the past 26 years, in Monterey County, since the age of 18. So much has changed socially, culturally and politically since then, when I first stepped into the voting booth with a small pencil in hand and voting sheet to make my decided voting choices. Every single time I’d leave, I felt empowered. I’m aware of unjust, negative and criminal acts this country has committed. I’m also aware of three focal points that exist, by actually choosing a measure, candidate, etc. Simply put they are: ENGAGEMENT, INCLUSIVENESS and RESPONSIBILITY. This is why the ideal of democracy is so important via voting. Without these things, no positive ideal can be put into practice peacefully and without bloodshed. This is why voting is so important to me.”
RON COLE, MUSKINGUM COUNTY
“President Ronald Reagan saluted me. That was in 1984, and for years that was my greatest moment of pride. I was only a kid, dressed smartly for my age in my Civil Air Patrol dress uniform; a time of relative innocence where the world seemed very black and white to me. I supported my country. I voted upon my first year of eligibility, and I signed up for the draft on my eighteenth birthday.
In 1993 my little world was shattered. Federal agents with machine guns attacked my religious commune outside Waco, Texas. They shot our dogs first. Men in Army helicopters fired down through the roof from above. We lost six men and women. They lost four. Dozens were wounded. During the ensuing standoff the soldiers mooned our children from their armored vehicles. They ran over our cars with tanks. Day and night they blared the sounds of animals being slaughtered, and deprived us of sleep with bright lights. They cut off milk for the babies. They cut off power, food, and water. After 51 days they attacked again, with gas banned by the Geneva Convention. We didn’t fight back, but tried to protect the women and children as the building started to cave in. A fire started upstairs. Within minutes, the wind took it through the bedrooms. Nine got out. 79 did not - including 18 children. The flag of the United States of America was hoisted upon our flag pole, symbolizing our apparent defeat and their victory of the government of my country.
I was shattered, but I was able to channel my energies in my role as spokesman for the survivors. In that capacity I toured the nation speaking to different political groups, universities, and organizations. I wrote a book and produced a documentary. But I’d very much lost faith in the fairness and civility of our political system, and was drawn into extreme revolutionary circles. By 1995, someone I knew personally committed a terrible act of terrorism on the anniversary of the Waco fire. He’d been arrested with a copy of my book in his possession. He was put on trial, convicted, and executed by lethal injection. I was raided and arrested by the FBI during his sentencing, and served several years in federal prison for firearms possession. Upon a great deal of personal reflection, I went to work for the FBI as a consultant on domestic terrorist groups, and in an intelligence gathering capacity, infiltrating militant political organizations, mostly among the American far-Right and among Jihadist groups with domestic connections. After many years I was regarded as one of the country’s must valuable assets on the subject of militant political organizations in the United States, and retired from that life only in 2017.
The most important lesson I ultimately learned from that 25-year-long experience (besides the danger of loss run amok), was the power of the vote. I have personally witnessed virtually every other form of political change on earth, and I’ve seen each fail epically and with tragic sacrifice. The vote may seem to many to be a less-than-powerful form of change - but it is in fact the most powerful, and I argue it’s also the only form that is civilized; the only form that does America the justice it deserves.”
HELEN RUCKER, MONTEREY COUNTY
“Every time I have voted, it has been memorable for me.
I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the deep South, where it was well known that nobody wanted black people to vote. They made it so difficult for us to even register.
My father, who was illiterate, and had never went to school in his life, pressed for me when I was a young girl to play school on my front porch. School for me meant not only teaching the children, but helping the adults as well. The adults in my neighborhood couldn’t read, but wanted to vote. At that time, in order to register, you had to fill out this elaborate form to take down to the election’s office. It was my pleasure to work with adults, and young people to introduce them to the form. It wasn’t a hard form, it required you to fill out where you were born and made sure that you were born in whatever parish you were voting in. Sometimes they wanted to know your party affiliation. In those days, mostly every black person in the South was a republican. The parties stood for different things back then.
When I was eighteen, I went down to the elections office to register to vote. Believe it or not, the woman failed me; she denied my application. I later realized that the reason why was because when I filled out the form, they had a portion that was set up to trick you. It asked you to write how long you’ve lived in East Baton Rouge. I had filled in ‘birth’. It turns out I had to put the exact date, being my birthday. She wouldn’t tell me what I had done wrong so I had to take the paper back, go home, and look at it again.
I studied for about a week and something told me maybe she wants me to put the date instead of birth. The second time I put down the date, and that did it. She had no choice but to pass me; I had filled out everything correctly. That just shows how easy it was to let one section on that form nullify your entire application.
I have been voting ever since then. I have voted in every election. When my husband and I were living in Germany, it was difficult to find out how to get the papers for the California voting materials, but we figured it out, and I’ve voted every time I’ve been presented with the opportunity. Believe me when I tell you that every time I’ve voted, I’ve always sided with the lesser of the two evils. We were never given the choice of a black person or a female running; they didn’t run for office back then. There were no people who I knew running for office. If there was a choice between someone who was known to associate with members of the Ku Klux Klan and another name, the choice was made clear to me. I’ve always voted.
Young people ought to know the history of what has gone on over the years. I would like young people to talk to their grandparents and any elders that they know, and get their stories. Find out from them how important it is to vote. Your vote does count. Many times in the county, a few votes make the difference between a responsible person winning your state as opposed to someone who is not going to do what is best for all of the American people. Please vote. Register. Do not wait or put this off. Your vote counts.”
LINDA REGULA, MUSKINGUM COUNTY
“As a female born in the hollers of West Virginia, in 1944, I lived in a black and white world. Few families living around us owned vehicles at that time, so I never heard of anyone walking out of the mountains to vote. I attended a one-room school. We had no television, newspapers, radio, or telephone, so we were virtually cut off from the outside world. We depended on the mountain grapevine (word of mouth) to hear news not associated with those actually living nearby. Girls and women were repeatedly told by dominate males that ‘a woman’s place is in the home, and you should leave thinking to us men.’ I can’t remember any of my female relatives, my grandmother, or my mother, ever speaking of voting during my childhood. As a teenager, I came to live with my sister in Ohio, and the world opened up to me. At eighteen, having studied the history of our country, I was thrilled to vote in my first election, and in each one since then.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Paul Richmond is an internationally recognized visual artist and activist whose career has included exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the United States as well as publication in numerous art journals and anthologies. His work is collected by individuals around the globe. In his role as the Associate Art Director for Dreamspinner Press and their young adult imprint, Harmony Ink Press, he has created over four hundred novel cover illustrations. He is a co-founder of the You Will Rise Project, an organization that empowers those who have experienced bullying to speak out creatively through art. He lives with his husband Dennis in Monterey, California. He works and teaches at Open Ground Studios in Seaside, California and is represented by Not Sheep Gallery in Columbus, Ohio.
ABOUT THE GALLERY
Not Sheep Gallery is a gallery that showcases national and international artists making a statement about politics, race, ethnicity, environment, women's issues, aging and other cultural and societal issues. It is time that art takes chances again, that it strives to document, discuss, lay bare and possibly offend. Art is political. Rogue art. No apologies.
(Not) Sheep Gallery is located at 17 West Russell Street, Columbus, Ohio 432145. Their phone number is 614-565-0314. Visit their website here.