STATEMENT - HENRIETTA MANTOOTH
painting can be described as "witnessing". The work
is often based on images and stories in the news, people who
look out at us every day from the printed page and television
screen but who are usually nameless -- refugees, rebels, farmers,
men and women who tend and defend their land, homes, children,
animals and ideas. My intention is that they speak out from
the paintings: "HERE WE ARE".
I lived in Latin America for 18 years, learned Spanish and
Portuguese, traveling to out of way places: Indian settlements
and ancient ruins, Baroque villages and areas where Afro culture
and rituals flourish, in Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru,
Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia and Guatemala. I accompanied
rustic pilgrimages where people rode for days in the back
of trucks, on horse and mule back and in ox carts in biblical
fashion to make offerings, sell their wares and livestock,
buy salt and other supplies, marry and baptize their children
in group ceremonies.
These experiences still have a strong impact on my paintings
and connect with my own raw upbringing in Missouri which varied
from the pop culture of Kansas City streets, reflecting jazz,
corrupt politics and racial inequality, and where my earliest
visual and artistic influences were in the dime stores; to
the Missouri farmland where my mother's people raised grapes
and apples and where my sister and I fashioned our toys and
dolls from mud and sticks, hollyhocks, corn cobs and corn
silk, concocting our paints from mulberries, beets, boiled
onions, grasses and laundry blueing, and where gypsies parked
their wagons along the oiled road in front of our small house.
I was aware of the poverty and prejudice of those depression
years, of the dust wrecked farm land, the losses and foreclosures,
the stunted lives and lack of education, the Black ghettos
and segregation. This early background still gives intensity
and vision to my artistic endeavors and affects my approach
to materials and techniques.
Though much of my work has this social content, I also paint
landscape, portraits, and any subject whose color and form
draw my painter's eye and enthusiasm, such as the giant red
and white hibiscus now in bloom. Technique and meaning are
I have worked in theater for many years as designer and performer
in Off and Off Off Broadway theaters and universities, often
with dancers, poets, actors and musicians. I am now collaborating
on a small theater piece on the life and prophecies of Nostradamus
and one based on the life of my mother.
is about bravery. For both artist and viewer. Art is emergency
both in the sense of urgency and coming forth. Accept the
unexpected and the surprise of the accidental and choose discovery
over perfection every time. Rely on your hand to know what
it is doing and respect your own process. It will be different
from everyone else's.
This is my advice to myself.