What compels an artist to paint 


I was 18 years old, freshly starting college when Matthew Shepard was lured, beaten, tortured and left to die in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming.

I was still a year away from coming out but I knew by then that I was gay. So did everyone else (they just had the good sense to let me develop at my own pace).

My mother and father were especially protective during this time. I remember my mom not wanting me (an 18 year old boy!) to be out after 10pm. For a time they both checked in more than normal.

I, of course, was terrified. I was afraid of people finding out. I was horrified that something like this could happen. But I was also blessed. My parents became protective. My friends became supportive. And I hadn’t done anything. A cute, skinny boy had been killed a thousand miles away and I was cocooned as a teenager. Jadin Bell wasn’t.


Fast forward to the early hours of January 19, 2013; I’m 32, nearing the end of my time as a teacher. Later that year a parent will threaten me and shout homophobic slurs in front of 300 first, second, and third graders. But that morning, Jadin Bell, a 15 year old boy, makes the decision to take his own life. He had been relentlessly bullied, online and to his person, by peers and adults with little intervention.

This happened in my country; the home of the free and the land of the brave.

I taught in public schools for a decade; during that time I had a few hundred children. They’re all mine. All teachers, even the reformed, feel very possessive of even their most difficult students. I adored mine. And they would come to school each morning and tell me stories of their lives. These stories were different from stories I knew.

They would tell me of their parents being arrested. The police would come in the night, guns drawn and take mom or dad away. They would tell me of being pulled over and having to wait on the side of the road while their cars were searched. Their backpacks were spilled open too.

And on February 26, 2012 (I’m 31 and I teach first grade), a grown man follows a 17 year old boy and kills him in ‘self defense.’ Trayvon Martin had just bought candy from a local store. He looks like a boy I know.


My friends started telling stories now and I discovered that I don’t know a single person of dark skin who has not had a gun pulled on them (many by police and in urban centers). These are my friends and family. These are people from all walks of life, from high school drop outs to Ivy League grads, AND every single one of them has had a gun drawn and pointed in their direction.

I know guns. I grew up with guns. I’ve had guns in my possession while in the presence of police. I have NEVER had a gun drawn on me. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (I’m nearly 34, an author and artist). Now, acquaintances start telling stories – one man was walking down a major street when three police cars suddenly surround him and the officers jump out, weapons drawn. He ‘looked’ like the suspect. Or of times they’d been pulled over, handcuffed at gun point and searched, all the while being called ‘boy.’ These examples occurred in Los Angeles.

And other stories start to appear on social media. Suddenly I see people I know, people from all walks of life – high school drop outs to Ivy League grads – share about ‘losing rights’ and ‘protecting religious freedom’ and ‘standing their ground.’ And I’m made afraid all over again. I feel the same sense of horror I felt when Matthew Shepard was discovered. The faces in these paintings – these stories – could be my students or my friends; they could easily be me.

It’s like anew every time another sweet boy is pushed to suicide, such as Tyler Clementi who was 18 years old when he jumped from the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. I had just celebrated my 30th birthday; he had been publicly outed and shamed on campus and across social media.


It’s like anew when the body of a young woman is found. Transgender women, such as Gwen Araujo, who was beaten to death by four men on October 3, 2002, have 1 in 12 rate of violent mortality in the United States (I was 22 at the time and the hardest thing I had to do was break up with my boyfriend). Ty Underwood, the second trans woman to be murdered this year in the US, was found shot to death on January 26, 2015. Blake Brockington, an 18 year old transgender teen killed himself this week. I don’t want to hear that we’ve ‘come a long way since Angie Zapata‘ (who was beaten and bludgeoned to death on July 15, 2008).

Until violent deaths stop, we will not have come far enough.

Suicide rates among gay and transgender teens are unacceptable. Police violence against minorities (and the lack of accurate reporting and statistics) is reprehensible. Violence motivated by hate is unconscionable.

Though these stories terrify, though they stain the picket fences surrounding our star-spangled fields, they also transform and offer the opportunity for renewal.

These paintings are about awareness. As an artist and a teacher it is my duty to inform and transform. These paintings and their stories are my way of highlighting wrongdoing. They are my way of subverting what is so that we can create a world in which no teenager feels the need to take their life because of difference, where people can walk the streets of their neighborhoods without fear of gun violence REGARDLESS of the color of their skin, and where no one’s life is believed to be ‘less than human.’

These are stories of our own loss and shame. I challenge you to face them. I challenge you to share your own stories. We cannot fix the world by staying quiet.

Because these voices have been silenced, we must be compelled to speak.

As I wake to the news…

As I wake to the news of another black man killed by police, I find myself enraged. 

In the past two days, two black men — Alton B. Sterling and Philando Castile — have been shot and killed by police. Both men were unarmed but in possession of weapons. Both men were apparently killed because officers feared these untouched weapons. 

What is doubly enraging, as if murder by the state isn’t enough justifiable cause for anger, is that these murders only matter because they were caught on film. 

A society where blackness is taught to be an object of aggression, crime, and villainy is a society that is complicit in the resulting violence. As long as white people fear black, there will be allowance for violence. 

Yes, officers are ultimately to blame for their actions; but we as a society have enabled them to act in such ways. Inflammatory language, oppressive practices, mass incarceration, limited access to education, health care, and jobs — these are all symptoms of a centuries old hatred Americans have for each other. 

We are to blame for these deaths. And that is why I am angry. 


——–

#BlueHolocaust is a reaction to police brutality. The six piece watercolor and ink paintings depict three young blacks killed by police and three boys saved from the Holocaust. The full narrative can be read here: #BlueHolocaust

——–

K Ryan Henisey is an award winning artist, writer, and teacher. For more of his paintings, illustrated children’s poetry, musings, and more visit http://kryanhenisey.com. 

Art to End Violence displays in Los Angeles

#ArtToEndViolence will be on display at gallery 825 in Los Angles from December 12 to Jan 8, 2016.

Winner, Award of Excellence in Fine Art, Watercolors, California State Fair, 2015
Winner, Award of Excellence in Fine Art, Watercolors, California State Fair, 2015

I was 18 years old, freshly starting college when Matthew Shepard was lured, beaten, tortured and left to die in a field outside of Laramie, Wyoming.

I was still a year away from coming out but I knew by then that I was gay. So did everyone else (they just had the good sense to let me develop at my own pace).

My mother and father were especially protective during this time. I remember my mom not wanting me (an 18 year old boy!) to be out after 10pm. For a time they both checked in more than normal.

I, of course, was terrified. I was afraid of people finding out. I was horrified that something like this could happen. But I was also blessed. My parents became protective. My friends became supportive. And I hadn’t done anything. A cute, skinny boy had been killed a thousand miles away and I was cocooned as a teenager. Jadin Bell wasn’t.

Fast forward to the early hours of January 19, 2013; I’m 32, nearing the end of my time as a teacher. Later that year a parent will threaten me and shout homophobic slurs in front of 300 first, second, and third graders. But that morning, Jadin Bell, a 15 year old boy, makes the decision to take his own life. He had been relentlessly bullied, online and to his person, by peers and adults with little intervention.

 This happened in my country; the home of the free and the land of the brave.

I taught in public schools for a decade; during that time I had a few hundred children. They’re all mine. All teachers, even the reformed, feel very possessive of even their most difficult students. I adored mine. And they would come to school each morning and tell me stories of their lives. These stories were different from stories I knew.

They would tell me of their parents being arrested. The police would come in the night, guns drawn and take mom or dad away. They would tell me of being pulled over and having to wait on the side of the road while their cars were searched. Their backpacks were spilled open too.

And on February 26, 2012 (I’m 31 and I teach first grade), a grown man follows a 17 year old boy and kills him in ‘self defense.’ Trayvon Martin had just bought candy from a local store. He looks like a boy I know.

My friends started telling stories now and I discovered that I don’t know a single person of dark skin who has not had a gun pulled on them (many by police and in urban centers). These are my friends and family. These are people from all walks of life, from high school drop outs to Ivy League grads, AND every single one of them has had a gun drawn and pointed in their direction.

I know guns. I grew up with guns. I’ve had guns in my possession while in the presence of police. I have NEVER had a gun drawn on me. On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (I’m nearly 34, an author and artist). Now, acquaintances start telling stories – one man was walking down a major street when three police cars suddenly surround him and the officers jump out, weapons drawn. He ‘looked’ like the suspect. Or of times they’d been pulled over, handcuffed at gun point and searched, all the while being called ‘boy.’ These examples occurred in Los Angeles.

And other stories start to appear on social media. Suddenly I see people I know, people from all walks of life – high school drop outs to Ivy League grads – share about ‘losing rights’ and ‘protecting religious freedom’ and ‘standing their ground.’ And I’m made afraid all over again. I feel the same sense of horror I felt when Matthew Shepard was discovered. The faces in these paintings – these stories – could be my students or my friends; they could easily be me.

It’s like anew every time another sweet boy is pushed to suicide, such as Tyler Clementi who was 18 years old when he jumped from the George Washington Bridge on September 22, 2010. I had just celebrated my 30th birthday; he had been publicly outed and shamed on campus and across social media.

It’s like anew when the body of a young woman is found. Transgender women, such as Gwen Araujo, who was beaten to death by four men on October 3, 2002, have 1 in 12 rate of violent mortality in the United States (I was 22 at the time and the hardest thing I had to do was break up with my boyfriend). Ty Underwood, the second trans woman to be murdered this year in the US, was found shot to death on January 26, 2015. Blake Brockington, an 18 year old transgender teen killed himself this week. I don’t want to hear that we’ve ‘come a long way since Angie Zapata‘ (who was beaten and bludgeoned to death on July 15, 2008).

Until violent deaths stop, we will not have come far enough.

Suicide rates among gay and transgender teens are unacceptable. Police violence against minorities (and the lack of accurate reporting and statistics) is reprehensible. Violence motivated by hate is unconscionable.

Though these stories terrify, though they stain the picket fences surrounding our star-spangled fields, they also transform and offer the opportunity for renewal.

These paintings are about awareness. As an artist and a teacher it is my duty to inform and transform. These paintings and their stories are my way of highlighting wrongdoing. They are my way of subverting what is so that we can create a world in which no teenager feels the need to take their life because of difference, where people can walk the streets of their neighborhoods without fear of gun violence REGARDLESS of the color of their skin, and where no one’s life is believed to be ‘less than human.’

These are stories of our own loss and shame. I challenge you to face them. I challenge you to share your own stories. We cannot fix the world by staying quiet.

Because these voices have been silenced, we must be compelled to speak.

#arttoendviolence

I am at the center of the piece, treated in the same way as the silenced. The thoughts above are (with some editing) the same as those written around my head. They are certainly written on my mind.
I am at the center of the piece, treated in the same way as the silenced. The thoughts above are (with some editing) the same as those written around my head. They are certainly written on my mind.
Black lives matter.
Trans lives matter.
Gay lives matter.
Click on a portrait to read more:

Michael's portrait reads: On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, an on duty police officer. Dispute regarding the circumstances of the shooting resulted in civil unrest across the nation and revealed systemic racism among local police, calling into question other cases of police violence against minorities. Michael Brown was 18 years old. This occurred in Ferguson, Missouri.

Jadin's portrait reads: On January 19, 2013, Jadin Bell hanged himself in the playground of an elementary school. He dies on February 3, 2013 after being taken off life support. Jadin's death was widely reported upon, placing national attention on the personal and internet bullying that drove him to suicide. Jadin was 15 years old. This occurred in La Gande, Oregon. Angie's portrait reads: On July 15, 2008, Angie Zapata was beaten and bludgeoned to death after Allen Andrade, her murderer, discovered she was transgender. He had referred to Angie as an 'it' in his arrest affidavit. Andrade was found guilty of first degree murder and hate crimes - the first time a trans murder received this distinction. Angie was 18 years old. This occurred in Greeley, Colorado. #ArttoEndViolenceMSWatermarked#ArttoEndViolenceGAWatermaked

#ArttoEndViolence

#ArttoEndViolenceTUWatermaked

#BlueHolocaust

Orange County Creatives Gallery, In the Neighborhood, Juried Competition, Summer 2015 | Long Beach [AR]t Walk, Summer 2015
Parents and teachers, please use your discretion when discussing the subject of violence with your children. I encourage you open a dialogue on violence, bullying and other subjects. These works of art may help you.

They came black booted in the night, red banners flapping overhead. They stole into homes and into beds, killing, beating and raping. Only the moon and the swastika were witness, all others turned their faces away.

As they burned through the countryside, they split children from their mothers and fathers before callously killing them on the side of the street or hanging them in an empty field. Black booted, they marched into the ghetto, guns blazing as the world faced another way.

It is estimated that 1.5 million children were killed during the Holocaust. Over a million Jewish children were slain, alongside hundreds of thousands of Romani and other ‘undesirables’ such as the physically and mentally handicapped. Those children that were not killed outright were branded with the yellow star, or other symbols of their heritage or class, and forced into labor, tortured, or experimented upon. These murdered children were most often under the age of twelve. This occurred across German occupied Europe between 1939-1945.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

 

#BlueHolocaustTamirRiceWatermarked

 

When they come, black booted and their sirens blazing, the community shuts its doors and draws its curtains tight. To the neighborhood, emergency sounds mean another black boy may die tonight.

On November 22, 2014, Tamir Rice was shot and killed by two police officers.

Tamir was in a park, with his toy gun. When the call was made to emergency services, Tamir was described as “a male sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people,” “probably a juvenile.” Tamir was fired upon twice, fatally struck once in the torso. The investigation into Tamir’s death is ongoing but failures of justice and controversy surrounding police-involved deaths of other African American children  has caused unrest in neighborhoods throughout the United States.

Tamir was 12 years old. This occurred in Cleveland, Ohio.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

 

#BlueHolocaustB2Watermarked

 

Red banded, the soldiers marched through the streets. Their shiny black boots made rhythmic sounds against the weary stones.

The first shrill whistle gave rise to the tumult, breaking the beat with a cacophony of staccato sounds. Whistles and shouts were punctuated by the sudden burst of gunfire.

Some say it was the young mothers who had it worst, their babes stolen, never to see beyond the huddled gray of the ghetto walls. But the children were separated. They were taken to gallows and mass graves where some must have stood innocently while others shivered in knowledge and fear.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

 

#BlueHolocaustKGWatermarked

 

On March 9, 2013, Kimani Gray was shot and killed by two plainclothes police officers. Kimani, affectionately called Kiki, was struck by seven bullets, three of which entered through his back. He was heard to cry the words, “don’t let me die.”

Controversy surrounding the event led to mini riots in New York neighborhoods and highlighted the growing tension between African American communities and law enforcement in the US.

There is no database for crimes committed by law enforcement against the people. This lack of data echoes Jim Crow, for it is the very function of government to ensure the safety of all its citizens. There is no oversight. The very agencies that may have committed crimes against American communities are solely responsible for the investigation and reporting of such crimes.

No indictment was made after the shooting of Kimani Gray.

He was 16 years old. This occurred in Brooklyn, New York.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

 

#BlueHolocaustB3Watermarked

 

“Hands up,” they shout as they take the boy away. His little heart races with the echo of his mother’s voice. His name becomes the speeding thump.

They surround him now, tall and black booted. A band of red on each of their arms keeps him shivering still.

There are other children now, crying and praying at the edge of a pit. The boy is with them. Looking down he can see the feet of the crying girl next to him. Her shoe has a hole worn through the side. He can see the pit, empty behind him, lumps of clay covering what lies beneath.

A sudden pop is the last sound he hears.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

 

#BlueHolocaustDFWatermarked

 

Silver stars on emblazoned shields promise protection, for some. When children such as DeAunta Terrel Farrow are gunned down for carrying a toy gun in their neighborhood (June 22, 2007, West Memphis, Arkansas) the disparity between white privilege and black reality becomes apparent: one mother teaching their child to go to the police, the other teaching him to avoid.

A blue holocaust is slowly devouring America’s children. Where blackness is a frightening assault to some who enforce the law, there will always be an imminent danger to the community. For when those who enforce the law break it, they weaken their relationship with the public. How many black boys lay dead in New World soil? We’ll never know. But we can change what was and build a better world. We can demand accountability. We can demand cameras on officers. We can prevent violence.

Hands up. Don’t shoot.

#BlueHolocaust is the second piece in a series dedicated to raising awareness and ending violence in the United States. This image shows three anonymous boys from the Holocaust in red and three African American boys killed in officer-involved shootings. The boys show are (from the top) Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, and DeAunta Terrel Farrow. Please share this information across your social networks and help end violence.
#BlueHolocaust was on display at Ink & Clay 41 at the Kellogg University Gallery at Cal Poly Pomona from September 19 – October 29. It has also appeared at Orange County Creatives in Laguna Beach as part of the “In the Neighborhood” juried selection and at Long Beach [ART]Walk, and Augmented Reality Show displaying art digitally.

#BlackLivesMatter

#ArtToEndViolence will be on display at LAAA’s Open Show at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles, December 12-January 8.

#BlueHolocaust at Cal Poly Pomona’s Ink & Clay

#BlueHolocaust is the second piece in a series dedicated to raising awareness and ending violence in the United States. This image shows three anonymous boys from the Holocaust in red and three African American boys killed in officer-involved shootings. The boys show are (from the top) Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, and DeAunta Terrel Farrow. Please share this information across your social networks and help end violence.
#BlueHolocaust is on display at Ink & Clay 41 at the Kellogg University Gallery at Cal Poly Pomona from September 19 – October 29.

 

Orange County Creatives Gallery, In the Neighborhood, Juried Competition, Summer 2015 | Long Beach [AR]t Walk, Summer 2015

Parents and teachers, please use your discretion when discussing the subject of violence with your children. I encourage you open a dialogue on violence, bullying and other subjects. These works of art may help you.

#BlackLivesMatter

Ink & Clay 41-3[1]