Artist Daphne Burgess not only does the kind of painting, sculpture and jewelry that shows her roots as a “California girl,” but her work also displays a deep sense of the rich heritage and culture that comes from her family’s Southern roots. Her art also takes a critical look at relationships in general. Burgess learned a strong sense of community from her family and spends a considerable amount of time teaching children how to express themselves and their culture at the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Art Museum. For many years, Burgess painted sets for theater companies throughout Sacramento, but she also has consistently exhibited her own art. Burgess is a part of the Second Saturday art scene, and her work can be found currently at Pronto restaurant, Kuumba Collective Art Gallery, Matrix Arts at R25 as well as Sojourner Truth.
Did you have a hard time putting your work out on display?
Yes. I didn’t show much of my work, in the beginning, until some of my friends in the business inspired me to show more. I felt that much of the work I was doing was too personal to show to the public. There are some pieces I don’t think I will ever show.
Ever? Ever, ever, never?
No. Some pieces I paint just for me. But it was interesting: When I reluctantly started displaying some of the torso pieces, I was surprised that someone bought one.
Do some of these personal pieces give you release?
Yes, I think so. Sometimes it’s good for me to paint just to get the idea out of my head. Still, I get people who see just a portion of my work and think that I am heartbroken or sad and that’s all that I paint. Which is not the case at all. I do a lot of other subjects. The personal art is a way for me to express something that I feel when it’s difficult or impossible to express it in words.
Who is your inspiration?
My grandmother, Ora Lee, who lives in Alabama, inspired some of my work, and one piece in particular. She makes quilts. I think about her a lot. We became very concerned because she has Alzheimer’s and would wander off by herself. The last time that I went to Alabama to visit, she didn’t recognize me at first. I did this quilting piece to honor her.
You seem to have reccurring themes.
Yes, I do that a lot. Sometimes I paint images with no heads, just a torso. This series started with the idea that sometimes, as women, we are more willing to give our bodies but not our hearts. It continued as I started looking at relationships and issues that arise from them. It makes for interesting conversations.
Are all of your pieces portraying black people?
I’ve done other kinds of works, but when I started doing more art for myself, I wanted to do pieces that would represent people like me. I paint portraits of relatives and close friends. I did some pieces of my dad after he passed away.
Is it important that it look like the person you’re portraying?
Yes, for these particular pieces dealing with family and friends, it is important to me that they have their likeness. My style has definitely changed over the years, but I still like to capture a mood about people.
Do you have a certain method of operation when starting a new piece?
I usually don’t have a completely clear idea in mind when I start working on a new piece. It comes as I work on it. It’s like something is guiding me. I like to talk out ideas; talking to other people sometimes helps me just get it out of my head on onto canvas. I don’t have to be alone when I work; I like to have music playing. I like having that kind of energy around me. I listen to a lot of jazz, funk, hip-hop and reggae.
How important is it having black art galleries, such as the Kuumba gallery on Del Paso Boulevard, to show your work?
If we didn’t have a gallery like Kuumba that shows mainly African-American art, I probably wouldn’t be as inspired to paint as much as I do. It’s something about knowing that I will have an audience to see my work that inspires me to create new pieces on a regular basis. As an artist and as a community, we should support smaller art groups like this, or places like Sojourner Truth that offer cultural experiences.