William H. Johnson, 1940-41, Breakdown with Flat Tire

During graduate school at Boston University, I investigated the art of William H. Johnson and viewed the styles he explored during his career.  I was interested to see the evolution of his artistic styles from American realism to European expressionism and his exploration and incorporation of African shapes into his artwork as he added personal narrative into his work.  Johnson’s style is very similar to the artwork of another America artist, Jacob Lawrence.

Jacob Lawrence, The Builders, 1947

An assignment back in the fall of 2010 was to illustrate a story from my life as a child in the manner of an artist or art style.  I chose to use these two American artists because of the similar style of art and the method of story telling they incorporated into their work.

Kevin Casto, The Tornado, 10/2010

I was adopted into a creative family, the son of a multi-talented artist, sign painter and art educator; I’m fortunate to have been raised in a stimulating environment.  I grew up in an idyllic small town called Willard, Ohio.  On May 10, 1973, a tornado suddenly struck Willard, impacting the lives of everyone in the community, causing several millions of dollars of damage, destroying many homes and causing the loss of life of six individuals in one family who were taking shelter in a garage near our home.

I chose this event because it signaled the end of my childhood and awoke me to the fact that our lives can be forever changed in a matter of moments.  It was one of those events that will be forever burned into my memory.  When my dad alerted our family to the imminent danger, we had only a few moments to be hustled into the basement of our house by my parents, since the tornado was approaching from the back field behind our home. When my family emerged from the basement after the terrible sound had passed, an unbelievable sight awaited us; it was like a war had been declared on our neighborhood, and everyone was in shock.  My family and our close neighbors had little damage but others a few houses away were devastated.  For some reason the tornado changed directions before reaching our property and headed in another path through Willard.

Edited News Story From The Willard Times, Thursday, May 17, 1973. They always said that Willard could never have a tornado, because of the hills or valleys or something.That proved to be another “it can’t happen here” opinion that was wrong. Willard had its first tornado in 99 years last Thursday evening on May 10, 1973, and everyone is saying that another one in 100 years will be too soon.http://www.huroncolib.org/1973WillardTornadoPage1

I chose an 18 x 24 inch masonite panel for my painting.  I created several pencil sketches and then transferred my ideas onto the panel with pencil, adding gesso washes and acrylic.  I attempted to incorporate simple shapes in a child-like manner with primary, secondary and neutral colors.  I tried to emphasize line and doubles in a way similar to what Johnson did in much of his later work.

My desire was to incorporate action and a sense of sudden danger without losing the sense of story in the image.  Jacob Lawrence and William H. Johnson were storytellers, and their medium was painting.  They depict the African-American struggle in the United States.  I have focused on combining their ideas and methodology of narrative in my personal image of my family and our encounter with the natural disaster of a tornado.


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