Chester Elmore, Castro Valley Member Since March 2008 Artist Statement Art has always been a part of my life. I was fortunate enough to have been born in San Francisco, which has always been a cultural beacon for art in general but for African American Artists in particular. The social conditions of my neighborhood (Haight Ashbury) as well as the rest of the country at that time, allowed for voices to be heard that had heretofore been muted.
I was born into a Family that contained two formally trained working artists (my uncles). From an early age I made enough of a pest of my self that it became impossible for either of them to ignore my desire to learn from them. I began to imitate their works and eventually refine technique by critique and impromptu lessons. At that time there were few venues that would exhibit the work of African American Artists on par with their white counterparts. To counter this fact many of the African American Artists formed a collective to create their own venue, (The Black Man’s Art Gallery). Through my mentors I was able to meet many of the artists.
It was at about this time that I discovered the studio of Eugene White a block and a half from my home. As a working artist, he took great interest in the neighborhood children and ran an informal art program for them. He taught us the connection of art to the community and the social obligation of the artist as a catalyst for change.
As a child and adolescent I took advantage of the many free public programs for youth in San Francisco. One that was most helpful was the one offered by the DeYoung Museum where students were provided with materials and instruction and also allowed access to their collection spending many hours copying the masterworks. At age thirteen I received a scholarship to the San Francisco Academy of Art. I attended class in the evenings and weekends while attending Roosevelt Junior High School. I worked in the graphic design shop and the Fine Arts Department. This was a turning point in my life as I was told emphatically: that there was no place for art depicting black people; that there was no classical standard for African Art; and that there would be no professional career for Black Artists. This was the challenge that drives my work today.
I joined the San Francisco Police Department in 1978. I was nominated by the department to attend the FBI Police Art Course. There were twelve slots open and 30,000 applications for the course. At the time a total of 220 people had graduated the course. I passed and began work as a regional artist. I did composite drawings from interviews, Forensic reconstruction of skeletal remains, photo retouch, and model making for courtroom use. I worked with Time Life and the Smithsonian to identify the mummified remains of a cowboy found in a traveling carnival. I retired from the department in 1988.
I began creating again in 1998 when I discovered scratchboard. SInce 1996 I have worked in the medium of Scratchboard. People are not generally familiar with the process or the material and ask me to explain what it is.
Scratchboard is a masonite panel prepared by the application of several layers of clay that is subsequently covered by a thin coat of black India ink. This results in a smooth even deep black surface that can be carved into using sharp tools. The medium is pressure sensitive and marks progressively lighter the deeper it is scratched. While unforgiving, the lines resulting from this reductive process are rendered very cleanly and can be placed with great precision. It was this quality that made scratchboard ideal for scientific and medical illustration in the 1800’s.
I enjoy working with this medium because I relate philosophically to creating with scratchboard on many levels. I regard the freedom as well as the limitations of the medium as a metaphor for life. In my struggle to gain a deeper understanding of the board, I have gained helpful insights into my life journey.
The topic I have chosen to explore in this series of pieces is the streng