Trayvon Martin + We Are All Trayvon Martin (pair) by Rudy Shepherd
8"x10" + 8"x10" ($48) | 11"x14" + 11"x14" ($120) | 16"x20" + 16"x20" ($480) | 24"x30" + 24"x30" ($2400)
It’s about time. We’ve been following fellow New Yorker Rudy Shepherd’s work for a while now and couldn’t be prouder to present his debut edition—a pair of images that prove the power of context and the ability of art to awaken.
Though the artist moves seamlessly between multiple media and subject matters, Shepherd is perhaps most well-known for his watercolor portraits of people in the news. In an effort to capture the complexity of life—“not to just flatten it out”, as the artist says—he paints a broad swath of individuals, from victims of police violence to mass-murderers to pop culture icons. It’s an approach that’s bound to discomfort and disrupt the news narrative, while each portrait also incites an individualized abundance of other complicated emotions.
In the case of works like Shepherd’s series of portraits focused on the victims of the Charleston church massacre or today’s poignant pair of images, painting these people is a memorial, an homage to their immutable humanity. These are regular folks living good, loving lives. Underscoring their ordinariness is of crucial value in the midst of a climate of unjust inhumanity. Giving these subjects a life beyond the media storm, Shepherd urges the viewer to deepen our limited conceptions of them, to honor and preserve their memory. He invites us into an intimate, even familial space, lifting images of black life from the stereotypically bleak to the richly human—while refusing to avoid the tragic realities of systemic racism.
Trayvon Martin from Trayvon Martin + We Are All Trayvon Martin (pair) by Rudy Shepherd
Trayvon Martin is Shepherd’s interpretation of a photograph he encountered shortly after 17-year old Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman. The painting is an extension of Shepherd’s interest in portraying people the news has served to grossly over-simplify and often mischaracterize. In the original photo, Martin stands aside his father, who plants a kiss on the boy’s cheek. The photo brought Shepherd to tears “for many reasons”, the artist says, “one of which is that I have a son and I can only imagine the pain that father must be going through”.
Struck by their similarities, Shepherd was compelled to re-create the photo with his own son. He then produced a second painting—We Are All Trayvon Martin—and paired the two images together. It’s a pairing the artist says “cuts through the politics of the story and forces people to empathize”. This kind of incisiveness, the appeal to our shared humanity, is what Shepherd believes to be “key to fixing the problems that this story epitomizes”.
We Are All Trayvon Martin from Trayvon Martin + We Are All Trayvon Martin (pair) by Rudy Shepherd
Conveying humanity is something Shepherd is especially adept at. For one, he has a way with eyes, those famous windows to the soul, and has captured Trayvon Martin’s so masterfully the viewer not only recognizes the boy immediately but feels naturally drawn into his gaze. Shepherd's textural brushstrokes also make each image vibrate, make them feel more alive.
Part of what is so deeply affecting about these prints as a pair is that they’re both wholly wholesome images of father-son love, and they are so loving. There’s a tenderness to each image, and an undeniable intimacy. Martin was not a thug in a hoodie—he was a boy. With a family that loves him. With a dad who’s proud. Just like Shepherd’s son, to whom Shepherd clings in the complementary image.
Looking at the image of Trayvon Martin and his father, a viewer brings their own experiences to the table. The takeaway could involve an infinite range of emotions, among them a profound sense of grief, warmth, anger, loss, or familiarity. Shepherd’s image of himself and his son is both a recreation of and a reaction to the Trayvon Martin photo. Martin and his father are pictured together in a moment of casual father-son love. By contrast, Shepherd's hold on his son appears more intense, more deliberate.
One might say Shepherd’s portrait of himself and his son is his takeaway, reflecting on their commonality, recognizing his own pain at the thought of losing his son, squeezing the boy tighter in response. He has painted himself into the narrative because it feels so close to home. The color of their shirts, the blue and black baseball caps, the pose—these details are visual cues to emphasize the two pairs’ similarities. In this way, rendering and then emulating Martin and his father is an act of healing and reverence, the process of creating it a deeply personal experience.
Shepherd’s work is an exercise in visibility that goes beyond fleeting imagery. His paintings have true depth and tangible permanence. It’s art that demands to be seen.
With art for everyone,
Jen Bekman + Team 20x200