Eight years ago, Shayla Williams’ husband brought her home a set of paints. At the time, the mom of two was working part-time and sought another activity in which she could invest her energy.
Williams didn’t start small. Almost immediately, she worked on abstracts — a style considered difficult because it relies on finely-tuned personal expression often without the support of recognizable details. And then she began to create portraits of women.
Over many hours of teaching herself, painting shifted from being her hobby to her love.
“It became a thing I couldn’t live without,” Williams said. “You know when you’re hungry, you’re … hangry — that’s how I am when I don’t paint.”
On Saturday, Williams will kick off Art & Soul, an annual celebration of Black artists organized by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. She is the first of four featured artists — including singer Marrialle Sellars, poet Chantel Massey and choreographer Karome Walker — who will perform across June.
Williams will show at least 15 pieces of her work, many of which embody this year’s theme of “Black Health and Wellness.”
“There was times when I painted those that I don’t think my mental health was the greatest, and I think those are my best pieces,” Williams said. “Everybody has a form of therapy, and art is definitely my therapy.”
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Williams, who is originally from Wichita, Kansas, has shown at libraries around Indianapolis and the Flava Fresh! exhibition, among other places. An even wider audience has seen her creativity in two books she wrote for her sons. She wrote “When I Dream” and “Hank the Tree” so they could see characters who look like them in their literature.
Williams’ painting talent fits in with her artistic past. She has studied cosmetology and theater — a connection that shows up in her portrait of a woman who looks directly at the viewer in front of a background of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The desire to paint with bright colors drew Williams to creating abstracts first. Then came portraits of women whose personality is displayed in what’s surrounding them. Sometimes that’s plants or a bottle of lotion to show self-care, and sometimes it’s their posture, which can be a straight-on stare or leaning back and propped up by an arm. The artist has been told the emotional connection resides in their eyes.
“The funny thing about my women is sometimes they’re not even from a particular face but they’re pieces of different people I see, so, you know, different structures of the face of people that are around me — my mother, my husband, my children,” Williams said.
“I think that’s why I do the women because it’s me but it’s not, if that makes sense.”
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2022 Art & Soul: If you go
Black Art Day will launch the 2022 Art & Soul, which was postponed from its original February dates because of COVID. The first installment is from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indianapolis Artsgarden, 110 W. Washington St. Admission is free.
Among the programming for the day is a panel discussion of the Black Health and Wellness theme and free COVID-19 vaccinations and regular immunizations provided by the Indiana Department of Health.
The afternoon also will pay tribute to Herman Whitfield III, a pianist and 2009 Art & Soul Featured Artist. He died inside his parents’ northeast home after he was tased by an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer during an apparent mental health crisis.
Performers will include Bashiri Asad & The Lady, Brandi “Books” Caruthers and Iibada Dance Co. Find more information and the full schedule at indyarts.org/about/art-soul.
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This article origin
ally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Shayla Williams, painter at 2022 Art & Soul in downtown Indianapolis