Free… well at least in your mind.

I was asked to contribute a cover drawing for the Spring 2021 issue of the Santa Monica Review, and decided on a simple, black and white portrait drawing of a present-day young black woman. I named the likeness “Free.”

"Free." Mark Vallen 2020 © Pencil on paper.
"Free." Mark Vallen 2020 © Pencil on paper. 17" x 21" inches.

The title is a declaration—that only when we break the chains in our minds do we step towards freedom. The oracle of Funk, Sly Stone, put it best in 1969: “Don’t you know that you are free, well at least in your mind if you want to be.”

If you take the portrait as nothing more than a straightforward, realistic drawing, I would be satisfied. One of my objectives as an artist is to return figurative realism to its rightful place in contemporary art, but my artworks have always had a social dimension focusing on the human condition. So why would I deliver my philosophical musings on liberty by placing the portrait of a youthful black woman on the cover of a nationally distributed literary arts journal? The better question is, why wouldn’t I?

My drawing is an expression of gratitude, an acknowledgement by an American artist that he wouldn’t be the man he is without the influences of an infinite number of black artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers. And while I’m handing out thank you notes, allow me to toss the rest of humanity into the mix.

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