Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tha Artivist's Mentor and Friend gets recognition for artastic and humanitarian achievements

David Kennedy photo - Clayvon Ambrose Wesley's art has taken him from St. Louis to other parts of the world. He is shown with his 8-by-6-foot painting, "Our Life Shall Not Have Been in Vain," part of his "Journey" series.
Artist's journey takes him around the world

By Jan Pollack

Clayvon Ambrose Wesley is known on four continents for his ability to address social and political issues through art. He also is recognized as a philosopher, fund-raiser and social activist.

Wesley, a former social worker who lives in Black Jack, is no shrinking violet. At 6 feet 4 inches, he has a commanding presence and a quick wit that adds to his natural storytelling ability.

Many of Wesley's paintings are contemporary and physically large, with bold geometric shapes and vivid colors.

His "Journey" series falls into this category, and it also demonstrates his philosophic side.

"Life is about a journey," Wesley said.

The series attempts to show the journey to the top of wherever it is "you want to go in life," he said.

Wesley paints life as a series of colorful levels and doors that represent choices. Stairs necessary to move from one level to the next are sometimes hidden but always present.

In his 10-part "Paper Bags" series, he uses a monochromatic technique, employing shades of browns and white. Names for some of the works in that series include "Justice," "Selfish," "Coupled," and "Homelessness."

Wesley graduated from Saint Louis University in 1973 with a degree in fine art and art history.

But his pursuit of an art degree was not his first choice.

"I had to overcome some obstacles in college," Wesley said. "I wanted to be a mathematician and scored 500 on my math SATs but, while I could do the work, I was told I didn't understand the theory."

He also learned he wasn't cut out to be a physician. Turned away from the pre-med curriculum, he chose to major in English only to learn, from the head of the English department, that he couldn't write a simple declaratory sentence. Even though he spent an entire summer writing to improve his skills, the program remained closed to him.

Finally, after ranking near the top in art on a battery of placement tests, he entered the university's art program on academic probation.

In 1982, Wesley studied at the Institute of the Arts for Restoration and Painting in Florence, Italy.

"I learned Italian on the Hill. And I took flash cards with me and whipped through them in about two hours," he said. "I had memorized some words used in art - draw, paint, colors - and I learned to speak only in the present tense, none of that past tense or present-perfect tense. All the preparation I had done was good because only Italian was spoken in the class."

While in Florence he boarded with a woman who spoke English, but when she found that he was learning the language, the two would have three-hour conversations in Italian.

"I could speak Italian in eight days. Total immersion works," he said.

Wesley is among the artists featured in the "African-American Artist: Past and Present" series of educational tapes studied in more than 40 percent of America's public schools, colleges and universities.

He worked about 10 years ago with area Catholic schools to create a juried art exhibit that drew about 4,500 entries.

They then created a St. Louis art exhibit for Senegal, Africa.

"We took the best 100 artworks to Senegal in 1999, where they eventually created a museum to house the works," Wesley said. "At the same time, Senegalese children were creating art. While there we picked the best 35 and put them together with 35 pieces of art created here in the area. This St. Louis-Senegal art exhibit traveled to schools in the city, county and throughout the state."

The trip opened his eyes.

"While in Senegal, I saw their realities of life," he said. "The French had pulled out, taking with them all the country's infrastructure. There were libraries without books."

When he returned to St. Louis, he began a book project for Senegal. First, he and his father sent 450 books. Eventually, with the assistance of others, Wesley shipped another 11,000 books.

He said that he is "immensely grateful" to his wife LaRena for the opportunity to meet with presidents, senators and foreign leaders in the United States, Europe, Africa, Brazil and other locations.

"Life is a series of obstacles, not excuses," Wesley said. "Who you meet on the way up is who you'll meet on the way down. Be good to them, for many of them can help you find your way.

"If you hurt, step on or cause great pain to someone while you're going to the top, rest assured that when it is your time to come down the steps (of success), those people are not going to stop and give you the time of day. You will receive your just desserts from those you injured," he said.

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In my own words: I am glad to know this amazing man and of his amazing accomplishments..He has a heart as big as the African motherland and I wish him nothing but continued success in all of his endeavors...He is a true pioneer...Sometimes it's hard to recognize what or who we have in our own backyards or lives in terms of great value and worth to our existence, but let's make sure that priceless and selfless contributions made by people like Mr. Ambrose Clayvon Wesley won't be forgotten and always be cherished for the true jewels that they are because when we honor those type of people we honor the best in all of us!!!

1 comment:

Tina Hamilton said...

Mr. Wesley is an inspiration to me and I consider him to be a real live hero that my students can identify with and to look up to. He is a miracle in our midst, and I will be sure to show my gratitude and use him as a very important tool to help my students grow into the adults that I hope they will become.