Helen Rucker, Monterey County painting
Medium: oil on canvas
Surface: Canvas, unframed with painted edges
Width: 24 inches
Height: 30 inches
Depth: 1 inch
CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY
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©2020 Paul Richmond
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.”
“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.