Mixed-media artist, illustrator and author Janie McGee talks about history, emotions, soul, spirit, and truth

"Blues and Jazz were birthed out of the Black experience in America. The notes themselves came on the ship with the slaves. It is the re arrangement of the notes to the soul, mind, and spirit that formed the music. The music came from broken spirits, determined hearts, and hope the wailed in the fields."

Janie McGee: History, Faith & Spirit

Artist and Author Janie McGee, creating fine Art from History, Faith, and Spirit. "My studio create fine art, illustrations, books, prints, and handmade art. I am an artist and author. After 39 years as an artist I find joy in creating art that inspirational, historical, and from the heart. I am a painter at heart. As an artist, I have been creating Black Art since I was 15. I have exhibited throughout the U.S. as well as an international show in Marseilles, France. My art is on permanent display in numerous venues including colleges, churches, commercial buildings, museums, public venues, and private homes.  I graduated from Ohio Dominican College in 1986 with a B.F.A. degree. I have extensive experience in a wide range of artistic disciplines and media including fine art, oils, acrylics, graphic design, illustration, book design, and cover design. My style of art is a combination of impressionist and folk art. My subject matter genres include folk art, historical, whimsical, and spiritual art."

Mixed-media artist, illustrator and author Janie McGeea is a native of Columbus Ohio. "I was blessed to work with many great Black artists as a young child and young adult. I graduated from Ohio Dominican College with a BFA in Fine Arts.  I was trained by her brother Charles Dillard. Later as an artist I had opportunities to exhibit at ACE art gallery, and work with an outstanding group of artists: Aminah Robinson, Larry Collins, Kojo, and Smokey to name a few.  Later in life I had exhibited and worked with Thomas Blackshear, Clarence Shivers, Wallace Conway, Chester Commodore, and Michael Singletrary. Style: McGee’s art style is moving towards “Spoke Art". Spoke Art is a name for the art form she created for her style. It’s a style of art that is defined by the voice and not the technique. Her love for the impressionist style of art is combined with Black history, soul, and folk art. It is a form of art that lends itself to expression, colors, form, and voice. year!"

Interview by Michael Limnios         Artworks © by Janie McGee 

What do you learn about yourself from the Black history, soul, and folk art and what does the blues mean to you?

I started studying Black history as teenager because I could not find our history in my textbooks at school. From my research and recreation of black history the last 40 years, I have learned lessons that applied to all of humanity: The human need to persevere against the odds. The arts tell the story of the human spirit. Folk Art is storytelling at it best. The Blues is the story in song. I think they all interconnect in telling the story of survival, hope, despair, and faith. I have learned to tell my story in my voices in the arts while connecting with the past.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently?

My ideas come from my desire for wisdom. I want to learn from my own personal struggles and the struggle others face. I’ve been told my art is too intense, but life is intense. My life has been intense. When I look at vintage photo of the past, I connect with the hope hidden in each shade of gray. I’m propelled with passion to connect and express when I see that hope.

How do you describe your artwork?

Introspective. In my art I try to document the good and bad in history, emotions, soul, spirit, and truth. I am not as concerned with the technical aspect but with the connection to my audience. I want my audience to walk away feeling something personal. My art is the only moment in time I have with that person to connect through paint …life and spirit.

"I really do not have any fears of the future. I have studied the past… that is the future. It is what it is. History repeats itself. My hope is to create art, music, and books that somewhere along the way give someone hope to live life to the fullness, preserver against the odds, and find their spot in the world." (Art by Janie McGee - Thelonious Monk)

What has been the relationship between music and literature in your life?

All the arts intertwine in my life somehow. I started playing music when I was 7. I started on piano. I have played the flute, viola, percussions, and keyboards for 35 years. I played in band, jazz band, orchestra, symphonies, gospel, and jazz groups. I grew up in an arty and musical home. I have 7 siblings who are creative. My parents allowed us to be involved with education and the arts. We were poor but expressive. I was encouraged to express in all the arts. I loved writing and reading as a child, so the arts began to shake hands daily. A painting would inspire a poem, a poem would inspire a song on the piano, and the piano would, inspire a dance. I participate in all the arts publically from a very young age: concerts, recitals, performance, reading, and acting.

What characterize your philosophy?

Being true to pouring out myself is key. In my own faith in God I am determined in this life he gave me to pour out of my soul, heart, mind, and spirit all that life has revealed, no matter what tool I use.

How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music is the sound of life running a marathon in the soul. Music never stops; it is God’s math in the universe. In every second of life somewhere in the world, music is keeping time for the soul. I love Gospel, Funk, Folk, Classical, Blues, Jazz, and especially house music. I’m lifted up with house, brightened by Gospel, and reflective with blues. I think Blues and classical are so close. The only difference is the arrangement of notes, but the mood is the same. Beethoven and Son house both had the blues.

What are the lines that connect the music and literature?

Complexity. Music is complex in being consistent when performed to listen to on a journey. Literature has the same responsibility in arriving at a point that reached the reader that is consistent all the way through. They both have the task of being fluent. There is nothing worst that music or books that don’t fulfill the journey is started. You end up standing in the middle avoiding the end.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

I miss the purity of expression that wasn’t commercialized. Many of the artists I love lived what they expressed in song. James Taylor, Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Big Momma Thornton to name a few. My late uncle Nate Fitzgerald played sax with all the greats. He toured with Albert King for years. When I came to visit he shared with me some of his stories and adventure from touring with great artists on the “Chittlin Circuit”. The struggle was real. (Art by Janie McGee)

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I really do not have any fears of the future. I have studied the past… that is the future. It is what it is. History repeats itself. My hope is to create art, music, and books that somewhere along the way give someone hope to live life to the fullness, preserver against the odds, and find their spot in the world. That the future for us all collectively and individually. My hope is to keep sharing the encouragement to live life using the arts.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

My parents have been my greatest acquaintances. I know that sounds strange, but they introduced to me at the breath of life. They always saw the best in me. They introduced me to God. They gave me an amazing set of siblings to keep me on my path. They have passed away, but live on in each of my sibling. They gave me the hope and strength to never give up. I have met famous people, but none can top my parents. They put 8 kids through college. They are my heroes.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My Dad told me to reach for the Universe and if I can reach grab on to a star! My mom told me to never trust a man with two tone shoes and a gray sideburns. LOL. She was always right. Thomas Blackshear, my mentor in the late nineties told me no matter what I created as an artist…make it beautiful.

If you could change one thing in the world/people and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would want war to stop everywhere in the world. Where there is war, peace would come… and stay. I know that sounds dorky, but war is not good. People suffer greatly. I was on the Army in the eighties to put myself through college. I never served overseas, but I was trained by folks who survived Vietnam. They had struggles every day to stop the war in their minds. Their eyes took in more suffering than any human should have to contain. The suffering of war and the aftermath is hard and unbearable. Peace should come after war. Peace can be hard to find.

Art by Janie McGee - Last Hour Chain Gang

Where would you really want to go with a time machine?

I would want to go into tomorrow. That as far as I can handle. I fix a few things and come back. Day by day….

What memorabilia (books, records) would you put in?

If I was putting objects into a time machine for the future (past tomorrow) I would put in a Bible, a album with the best sound of the 80’s and 70’s,  The Slave Narrative book, Willie Lynch Letter, a guitar, a Martha Stewart Cookbook,  a painting by Diego Rivera,  and  map of the earth.

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Blues and Jazz were birthed out of the Black experience in America. The notes themselves came on the ship with the slaves. It is the re arrangement of the notes to the soul, mind, and spirit that formed the music. The music came from broken spirits, determined hearts, and hope the wailed in the fields. The impact of black music is massive, Slavery was massive. Sharecropping was massive. Jim Crow was massive. The human spirit had to find away to tell the massive destructive story of blacks in America. And we are still writing this massive song. It affects America because we are still affected because we are still here…

What is the biggest revolution which can be realized today?

Technology is a notable recognized revolution in society. But as Gill Scott Heron said the real revolution will not be televised. That is the survival of folks that are progressing as they need to progress and bringing others along without mainstream America having a clue. That revolution is happing every day. That is the revolution I have been a part of.

What do you think is key to a life well lived?

For me is it is my personal Faith. We are spiritual. It is a journey. Being whole spirit, soul and body is the journey. When any part of that threefold cord is broken, life is discombobulated. My worst days are days I cannot get my inner being lined up. It is like getting out of the bed on the wrong side. Spending time spiritual, growing, and healing the soul should be an every day journey. When we don’t take care of ourselves, then the world is forced to deal with us…discombobulated. That cause chain reaction wherever we go. As a Christian... keeping me whole and loving others makes life well lived.

How you would spend a day with Maya Angelou?

I think she was a great women, but I wouldn’t want to spend a day with her. I would want to spend a day with Harriet Tubman. She did the impossible in helping slaves to escaped. I worked for ten weeks in Harriet Beecher Stowe house creating mosaic for black history in 1983. I worked for ten week in the basement where slaves escaped and hid for freedom. I saw the tap doors that dropped food in. I felt the fear of hearing people walking above you hiding fro you life. Harriet Tubman freed so many slaves and risking her own life. To spend a day women that believes in what they were doing to pint of risking their lives is inspiring to me. I would want to just sit and listen to how she as a women loved other more than her own life.

What would you say to Nina Simone?

I recently did a painting of her. She was a classically trained pianist. She battled depression. Her struggle with breast cancer was so intense. I could not say anything profound to her because she a survivor. I would ask her to share wisdom with me on how to transform what I feel as a black women into the black and white of life…in the arts. I think she could tell me in one note.

What would you like to ask Frederick Douglass?

I think he was a great hero for the black America. I would rather talk to Paul Robeson, a black actor and musician from the 1920-40’s that was in film in Hollywood. He endures allot to pioneer the acceptance of blacks in Hollywood Films. He starred also in black films for the Midnight Specials. (Films showed to black America after the white audience left the theater). Some of the films are stereotypical and unflattering, but he preserved. He was classically trained and I would want to know what kept him going and was it worth it looking back at Hollywood today?

Janie McGee - Official website

Art by Janie McGee - America

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