Earlier this month, we sat down with Art Rise Savannah’s Fall 2016 Exhibition Fellowship winner Leah Dalton to hear about her exhibition, Triumph and Struggle, and learn what inspired her work. The show opens on Friday, October 28 with a reception at Non-Fiction Gallery from 6 – 9pm. Dalton will also host a free painting workshop (geared specifically towards women) on Saturday, October 29 at 2pm.
SAI: Can you tell us a little bit about these paintings, who these women are?
Leah Dalton: The first woman I met with was Yolanda [Roberson, pastor at Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship]. She’s a really great activist in the community. She does a lot of empowering workshops for women, so I wanted to capture her story. She lost her mother and that was a struggle that she had to overcome to find herself and her own strength. One of her triumphs is her family and how active she is in her community. Giving back is really important to her so I tried to capture that. Also, I tried to incorporate colors that were really meaningful to [each woman], like the orange for [Yolanda] was something she really gravitated towards so I sprinkled that throughout her painting.
One of the other pieces is of Sarahlyn [Phillips, founder of Assisting Working Women in Need]. AWWIN specifically empowers women who are trying to pursue a career. They offer funds and grants for women. [Sarahlyn has] one of my favorite stories so far just because it’s really touching how much of a fighter she is. She started off as a really young mom, 15 years old. She has 5 daughters and she pulled herself out of poverty into a better life. That was her biggest struggle. The way she described it, it was scratching over a wall and this constant scratching to get out of poverty. That’s why I wanted to depict the foliage behind her and this idea that there’s a wall there and she’s gotten over it. She’s also a survivor of breast cancer and the survivor of a heart attack so it’s about showing how much of a fighter she is.
SAI: You’re a mother and it seems like a lot of your work deals with femininity, motherhood and womanhood in general. Can you talk a little bit about your connection with that and why your work reflects this so much?
Dalton: For me, I think it’s very stereotypical to think of mothers as weaker or lacking empowerment–you know, the whole stay-at-home mom stereotype. For me, it’s always been totally different. There’s so much strength [in motherhood] and so much power there, there’s life, there’s creation… I think that’s why I’m drawn to a lot of Native American culture and a lot of indigenous Mexican culture because a lot of their stories of creation started with women. Later, Catholicism came in and overshadowed how important women were. I think being a woman is a really powerful thing and I wanted to show that in the work while playing off stereotypes too.
SAI: Can you talk a little bit about your process? Where else are you drawing your inspiration from?
Dalton: My process always starts with research. If I’m not doing research and I’m not getting inspired by either travel or digging deep into a subject then I feel like my art’s not where I want it to be. For this project, I started with reaching out to different women, different organizations and I was just amazed at the flood of response. That was really encouraging. So I would go, meet with them, hear their stories, gather research and then based on what they’d tell me about their life I’d do more research, look up different places they’d said they lived or look up things they said they’d been a part of and make sure I had everything in order. Then I pinned everything up and got started painting.
SAI: Would you say this is feminist work?
Dalton: Yeah. I am very opinionated when it comes to women’s empowerment and our relevance. I prefer to paint women, I prefer to keep the story in context. It has more fight in it for me. I believe in it.
SAI: What are you hoping people will get out of the workshop on Saturday?
Dalton: The goal of the workshop is to come away with a sense of empowerment. Going into it, we’ll start off with a small scale painting of a fear you have. At the end, we’ll say what that fear is and it’s kind of like a therapy session. We’ll talk about what that fear was and we’ll share. Then, the last round is a figurative painting of our triumph or our goal of triumph. So we’ll go around and put words to what that is and we’ll see a visual for what that means for each of us. Hopefully, it’s women going away with a better understanding of things maybe they haven’t spoken out loud about before. They’ll explore what their goals and triumphs are, they’ll get to say it and see it and they’ll get to see other women do the same. It’s crazy how many similarities we have.
SAI: Has the fellowship been a good opportunity for you artistically?
Dalton: Definitely. I’m pretty new to the Savannah community so it’s helped me connect with so many beautiful and powerful women in the community. It’s like… wow. And it all stemmed from being a part of this. So it’s been very beneficial.
Art Rise Savannah’s Exhibition Fellowship program is open to all artists located in the Savannah area. Fellows receive a one-week solo exhibition of their work in Non-Fiction Gallery and are required to present a workshop free of charge to the Savannah community. Applications are currently open for the Spring 2017 and Summer 2017 fellowships. There is a $15 fee to submit a proposal for Art Rise members. Non-members pay a $20 fee. Fellowship proposals that consider challenges or opportunities facing the Savannah community will be given priority for consideration by the jurors. Click here to apply.