Celebrating Life and Mourning Loss
We remember the Emanuel Nine through the portraits of nine artists at Charleston, N.C.’s Principle Gallery.
On June 17, 2015, a gunman murdered nine parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. To remember these lives, nine artists worked with Principle Gallery in Charleston to paint commemorative portraits of the victims: the Emanuel Nine.
Mckenzie Graham (MG): How did you approach this sensitive task?
Lauren Tilden (LT): It was difficult for all artists involved. While painting my portrait of Susie Jackson, I decided to focus on who she was. Her family said she was a bundle of energy at 87 years. Her favorite Bible verse was Proverbs 22:6, which she often quoted: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Sunday dinner at her house was an event. She had a beautiful smile that could warm a room. These are the things I wanted to capture in paint. I wanted the emphasis of this project to be on remembering these heroic people.
MG: Did the artists choose their own subjects?
LT: Initially I contacted the families; all of them were enthusiastic and grateful. Principle Gallery and I began the process of matching each family with an artist, based on the artist’s previous work, the personality of the artist and the personality of the subject. Each family was sent information about the artist who was to do the portrait and, if the family approved, the artist contacted them to talk about their lost loved one.
MG: Was there a private showing?
LT: The gallery hosted a private viewing for the family members and close friends of the Emanuel Nine. Seeing all nine of the beautiful portraits lined up together brought tears to the eyes of many of the families and artists.
MG: How did you decide on a composition for Susie’s portrait?
LT: I wanted to suggest life and vibrancy, so that dictated how I positioned the figure. The family requested that I incorporate the church since Susie served there so faithfully. I painted receding storm clouds, symbolizing the book of Revelations. As her grandson Walter said, “Her smile radiates in Heaven.”
This project has revealed a great deal to me about what happens when art moves into the broader community, as it should. It has the power to touch people to the core and offer comfort and some healing; art is essential to the health of any civilization. We artists were attempting to use our craft to combat evil, and I believe that was accomplished beyond our expectations.
Lauren Tilden and many of the artists involved in this project have been featured in The Artist’s Magazine. See more of Tilden’s work on her website at laurentilden.com.