“I’m trying to discover something that I miss.”
Earl Debnam founded the Northwest African American Museum in Seattle, Washington with a group of fellow activists - an experience that was both one of his greatest challenges and proudest achievements. He worked for eight years to establish the museum and maintain its sustainability. During this time, Earl endured three strokes.
Earl now devotes his days to creating artwork, remembering advice that his mother gave him as a child: “She asked me to paint her a picture when I was troubled, and so I continue to paint a picture through my life experiences to show how I feel.” Earl infuses that idea into his artwork. During his stroke recovery, he began to view the role of art in his life in a new way. He describes, “I got a light in my head that said I was an artist, and I had something to share with the world.”
Earl works in various media, including acrylic paints, water based oil paints, pencil, and crayons. When thinking about his creative process, Earl reflects, “I can work from a spontaneous point of view and continue modifying the event on canvas, cardboard or paper. [Creating a work of art] may take me five minutes or five years, but most of the time it takes about three months.” He draws inspiration from newspapers, photographs, and his own memories.
“I paint and express myself as I pass through different experiences along the journey of my life; my art is the story of my journey,” Earl writes. One of the most poignant examples of Earl using art to communicate his journey is the painting entitled Why? which depicts Earl’s brother alongside other heroic figures and victims of gun violence. He writes, “In 1971 my brother was shot and killed just because he was black. The experience of losing my brother to gun violence while he was talking to me on the phone has impacted my life ever since.”
Earl currently resides in Seattle, WA. He creates and displays his artwork through Art Healing at Seattle Brainworks, a program that seeks to support the growth and recovery of individuals living with traumatic brain injuries. He also takes pride in editing the quarterly Bees News newsletter at Seattle Brainworks. Earl is looking forward to sharing his work with viewers across the country through his participation with ArtLifting.
Prints by Earl Debnam
ArtLifting empowers artists impacted by homelessness or disabilities through the celebration and sale of their artwork. Learn more here.