SAUL HAYMOND SR.'S PAINTINGS ON DISPLAY AT THE TUPELO ARTIST GUILD GALLERY
What: "Voices and Visions of the Past" exhibit.
Artist: Saul Haymond Sr. from Tchula.
Where: Tupelo Artist Guild Gallery.
When: Through March 22.
Other: For more information call the TAG Gallery at 844-ARTS.
By Terri Tabor
"If a person hasn't had a past, then he can't have a future." Those words spoken by Tchula artist Saul Haymond Sr. are the secret to his success.
The 49-year-old, self-taught painter is not ashamed to admit he didn't learn how to write his name until age 25; that he didn't enter school until age 12; or that he grew up picking cotton in a Delta field.
"At that time (black) people weren't allowed to start school, they had to get the cotton out of the cotton field," he said about entering school so late.
It's his rugged past of growing up on a sharecropping farm that has made him the creator of expensive artwork and a recipient of fellowships totaling more than $90,000 from the John Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, the Adolph, Esther and Gottlieb Foundation, The Lugwig Vogearstein Foundation, the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Southern Arts Federation.
Haymond will display some of his works at the Tupelo Artist Guild Gallery through March 22 in conjunction with February's Black History Month.
Despite the acclaim and rewards, Haymond hasn't changed his style of living. He still lives in a tiny house on his farm and paints out of a "small, cramped-up place" in his home.
"If I had $50 million or $50 billion, I'd still be the same. When you set yourself up to be real proud, you stop learning," Haymond said.
Learning is something Haymond knows all about. From reading and writing to painting, Haymond himself was the only teacher he ever had - with the exception of a book of Leonardo da Vinci's and Michelangelo's works.
After a hard day's work in the cotton field Haymond, at age 7, would take a coal from the fireplace and draw on old newspapers and corrugated board in the darkness of his family's primitive home. But it was at the age of 12 that the artist was truly inspired.
Haymond remembers walking along the side of the dirt road to his home and seeing an old magazine on the side of the road. He took it home and later found an advertisement for a book about da Vinci and Michelangelo. Haymond cut out the ad and saved up $1.25 to purchase the book.
"They are my two favorite artists," he said. "I was intrigued by their work and how they were able to master a subject and make it come out."
Using his own ideas and subjects, Haymond follows suit with his oil and watercolor paintings and pen and pastel drawings. His works reflect African-American heritage in his home county before, during and even after his time. Most of his works seem to represent a life centered around a Mississippi cotton field, the life he was most familiar with.
Relying on ancestral stories and his own imagination, he paints a time line of African-American history, dating as far back as slavery in 1789. Haymond doesn't exclude anything, not even controversial subjects. Some of his paintings depict the cruel treatment of blacks by whites decades ago and the modern-day issue of black-on-black violence.
"What I've done is recorded history the way I saw it. My work is based on acts of people. My memories take me back in that time period. They make you visualize you lived there even though you may not have," Haymond said.
Preparing for exhibit
With strong, vivid colors and detailed contouring, Haymond's canvas oil paintings take on an animated, three-dimensional quality. "My paintings have a sense of realism because I put the image of the person in the painting."
Haymond is never without his camera, sketch pad, pencils and tape recorder, which he says aid his memorization process. When he visualizes a subject, he immediately sketches it on his pad. "My sketches are like negatives," he said, adding that once he has a drawing he decides on what size he will make it and whether he will use watercolors or oil. The finished product can range anywhere from an 8x10-inch work to a 12x10-foot painting.
The artist usually doesn't hurriedly produce works for small exhibitions, but instead takes his time for prestigious shows in places like New York's Gallery Atelier A/E, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, N.C., and the Hilton Legion for Art in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
"When an artist paints too fast, his work turns out to be garbage," he explained. "Usually when I try to hold an exhibit, I hold a big one."