Dana Richardson finds inspiration in French realism for Starland Mural addition

Jxahk Gallery member Dana Richardson’s amazing 2-d work hangs brilliantly on the walls at 33 Barnard Street, but did you know she is also quite the accomplished mural artist? With stunning completed pieces featured at the Jepson Center for the Arts, the Savannah Morning News recently shed more light about her recent participation in the Starland Mural Project / Fence Art Project. 


By Rob Hessler for Do Savannah

“WHAT DO YOU WANT TO PAINT ON A WALL?” Painter Dana Richardson wrote in all caps atop a page in her sketchbook. She’d been doodling out several ideas for her piece for the new Fence Art Project, and nothing was quite sticking.

“I started out with several small sketches in my sketchbook, various shapes interacting with each other: A small ziggurat shape for climbing up on; a little circle pushing a big one,” she described.

“I was thinking very hard about how to illustrate the topic of ‘Building Together,’ which is the concept of this mural project.”

After turning the page in her sketchbook, both physically and metaphorically, and writing the aforementioned words of encouragement, the answer to her conceptual conundrum came quickly.

Artist Dana Richardson with her canvas on the construction fencing on Drayton near Bolton Street. Richardson’s work is a part of the Starland Mural Project Fence Art.

Artist Dana Richardson with her canvas on the construction fencing on Drayton near Boldont Street. Richardson's work is a part of the Starland Mural Project Fence Art. Richard Burkhart / Savannah Morning News

“Easily I drew some sketches that became the final painting Exodus,” said Richardson. 

The piece is loosely inspired by "The Flight into Egypt," a pencil drawing by French Realist Jean-Francois Millet. Like her painting for the Fence Art Project, Millet’s Flight features two people intimately connected, something which immediately stood out to Richardson when she first saw it during a lecture on the video meeting app Zoom. But it was the way that a more well-known artist was impacted by Millet’s images that really influenced the Savannahian in her own work.

“[Vincent] Van Gogh only saw black and white reproductions of [Millet’s] work because of the limitations of printing in the 19th century,” Richardson recounted. “Instead, he would do what he called ‘color translations.’”

'The flight into Egypt' by Jean-Francois Millet

'The flight into Egypt' by Jean-Francois Millet WikiArt

Essentially, the post-impressionist master would take the monochromatic prints that he had access to and add his own colors to the composition based on his instincts. Richardson became “enamored” with this process and has taken to using a similar technique with her paintings.

“I photograph something in black and white film, develop it in the darkroom, and then invent the colors as a way to build my faith in my own perception,” she explained.  “So in Exodus I felt free to imagine the scene and the colors in any way I want.” 

“I encouraged myself  to express my personal feelings knowing that it would be on a wall,” she explained, “that it would be big and that people would see it in life; not on a website like so much art is seen now.”

Artist Dana Richardson with her canvas on the construction fencing on Drayton near Bolton Street. Richardson’s work is a part of the Starland Mural Project Fence Art.

Artist  Dana Richardson with her canvas on the construction fencing on Drayton near Bolton Street. Richardson's work is a part of the Starland Mural Project Fence Art. Richard Burkhart / Savannah Morning News

The new painting overlooks Forsyth Park, hanging alongside two other Fence Art Project pieces that decorate the temporary walls currently enclosing the new SEDA building. With it, the artist is hoping that viewers will experience a little bit of the kind of unexpected connection she has found over the past year.

“The interesting part of the (Fence Art Project theme) was ‘together’ and what that feels like now during the pandemic,” Richardson added. “My circle of friends, which has always been small, has gotten smaller. Rather than all this making me sad, I feel like this close knit family I have is how I should have been living all along.”

With the challenges we’ve recently faced and continue to face as a society, finding ways to be closer together is something we could all use more of.

Artist Dana Richardson’s canvas decorates the fencing in front of the future SEDA office on Drayton Street.

Artist Dana Richardson's canvas decorates the fencing in front of the future SEDA office on Drayton Street. Richard Burkhart / Savannah Morning News

To see more of Dana's work at Jxahk Gallery, click here.