Want to go?What: “How Do You Paint Courage?” art exhibition opening reception
When: Opening reception 5 to 7 p.m. Aug. 31. Exhibit is on view through Nov. 29 and can be seen by appointment
Where: Center for Creative Leadership, One Leadership Place, Greensboro
Etc.: Call Laura Gibson at 510-0975 to schedule an appointment to see the exhibit.
(updated 9:13 am)
GREENSBORO — The phone call came, as so many life-changing ones do, on an ordinary day.
Kathy Brusnighan answered. The woman on the other end was calling from Moses Cone Hospital.
“I’m scared to death,” the woman told Brusnighan. “But I’m standing here in front of your piece, and I know I’m going to be all right.”
The caller was a patient, awaiting a diagnostic procedure that could change the course of her life. But in those few moments between before and after, she had seen Brusnighan’s artwork in a hospital hallway and felt compelled to call the artist.
When Brusnighan agreed to exhibit a few of her paintings at Moses Cone, in the corridor between X-ray and procedure, she hoped she might be able to uplift some patients and their families during uncertain and painful times.
She purposefully chose colorful abstracts — happy, hopeful, beautiful.
What she didn’t expect was the phone call she got that day and the ones that followed.
“Those phone calls brought me to the realization that I did not want to just be a good artist,” Brusnighan said, “but I wanted to be an artist with purpose that could benefit my community and the people around me.”
The exhibit at Moses Cone inspired Brusnighan to organize a traveling show that has provided encouragement to thousands who have seen it.
What she wanted to do was to replicate the experience of the Moses Cone exhibition on a larger scale — to touch more lives but also to share the feeling of purposefulness with more artists.
“I do believe the more we give away, the more we’re given,” she said.
As she started to share her experience at Moses Cone with artist friends and gallery owners, a question emerged: “How do you paint courage?”
In September 2011, Brusnighan invited a group of artists to answer that question: If someone were to stand in front of your artwork, someone needing courage, hope and peace, what would you create that would inspire and encourage them?
Sixteen artists responded, creating 60 representations of courage.
Those works have been traveling the state to inspire people in hospitals, cancer centers, art galleries and cultural centers.
The show concludes in Greensboro at the Center for Creative Leadership, where it will be on view through Nov. 29.
This is the first time all the works have been on display in one venue, and many will be seen for the first time.
The exhibit combines abstracts and realism, portraits and landscapes, and watercolors, oils and mixed-media pieces. It includes moments of everyday courage that many people will face in a lifetime and courage in the face of challenges.
“I think it’s a reminder that we each face courage every day,” said Laura Gibson, who is the art coordinator for the Center for Creative Leadership. “It’s the life moments of courage, and it’s the life and death moments of courage.”
The works reflect different definitions of courage — courage through illness, courage through adversity, courage at different life stages and the courage of every day.
Most of the artists chose to depict courage in illness in their works.
Greensboro portrait artist Tom Edgerton painted a Winston-Salem woman who was going through breast cancer treatment and had lost all of her hair. He titled it “From Darkness to Light.”
In the portrait, she is wearing a hospital bracelet and is dressed in a rich, red silk kimono, her posture perfect and her eyes bright with possibility. She looks beautiful, regal and strong.
“When somebody is going through something that devastating, they become a hospital gown and a wristband,” Brusnighan said. But Edgerton’s portrait reminds that cancer patients are so much more than their disease. Both the subject and Edgerton wanted to communicate that a woman can maintain her dignity, beauty and courage through the ravages of cancer and its treatment.
“As an artist, I wanted to explore the complexity of the real emotion involved and see if I could capture some of that.” said Edgerton, who earlier this summer won an Award of Excellence in the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition for the work.
“Last I communicated with her, she was putting it behind her and had recovered and had felt a lot better,” Edgerton said. “I’m just grateful that she chose to work with me.”
The three works painted by artist Jean Smith of Winston-Salem also speak to cancer.
One of her works, “Cathy’s Story,” features a young mother and her two children cuddling after bath time.
Smith discovered Cathy through a blog, where the young woman shared her ongoing journey with breast cancer. She had her first mastectomy at 26 and thought she would never realize her dream of having children, but she did, only to discover the cancer had recurred.
“She was really hopeful, and she seemed to be positive and wanting to share her story because she wanted other ladies to get serious about getting checked,” Smith said.
When Smith reached out to Cathy, who lives in South Africa, and asked if she could paint her portrait, the young mother agreed and sent several photos with her children.
The portrait has moved at least one person to tears.
“This is what I think art should be,” Smith said. “It should draw emotion and do some healing, and to make a difference.”
If there was one thing Brusnighan hopes to accomplish with her art, it is to make a difference.
With “Courage,” she sought to uplift and to encourage, and challenged the others artists to create works of hopefulness and grace.
“I want something that lasts for an eternity,” said Brusnighan, who often explores and expresses her spirituality through her artwork. She believes that if she can touch someone or show a glimpse of God through her art, she has achieved that goal.
“I think art is very healing,” she said. “I think it’s part of capturing the beauty of the moment.”
Brusnighan is a self-taught artist, who describes herself as both a butterfly and a pied piper. Both descriptions reflect her self-awareness. She does have the personality of a butterfly, fluttering from one thing to another. She is always busy, always in motion, always working out a new idea, always talking things through.
“Courage” was the first time she had created and curated a show of this sort, and she found it challenged her as a teacher and coach to work with other artists in this way.
“I’ve really stretched them,” she said. “I had to learn that what came easy for me did not come easy for others in my sphere.”
For some artists, participating in the show also helped them realize their own courageous moments in life. Such was the case for artist Jean Smith, who had to be a single mother raising four kids. Her painting, “Winter Haircut,” a self-portrait of Smith giving her son a haircut, captures that time of her life.
At the time, Smith didn’t think of herself as courageous.
“I thought I’ve got to do this because I have kids and they need me and they need stability in their life,” she said. “Sometimes you’re doing stuff that you thought you never could do.”
That is courage.
Contact Amy Joyner at email@example.com