When you go to an art exhibit, you normally don’t expect the art on display to be created by the hands of a practicing attorney. For Brian Washington, he is as much an artist as he is a lawyer.
Speaking with Washington, he explained his vision to tell America’s story of the freedom movement through his passion for artwork.
Washington refers to his artistic journey as “highly unconventional and unusual.” His educational background was traditional and not rooted in the arts. While studying at Duke University, he pursued public policy before matriculating through law school. During his senior year, he sat and created art for a year as part of an independent study in the art department. It was there that the genesis for his Continual Struggle project began.
“I’m a professional artist. At a very young age, I’ve been fortunate enough to have major museum exhibitions and be in the process of having a major book come out. This project is very unique. It’s a very credible, highly executed body of artwork,” says Washington.
As an artist, Washington has a unique background. He believes his educational influences have made a great impact on the type of art he creates. He believes that had he gone directly to art school, his interest in the subject matter and the way he wishes to use art would have been different. “My parents went to segregated schools. That’s just one generation. I went to Duke University. That kind of upward mobility is only possible through the struggles and contributions of those in the Civil Rights Movement,” says Washington. As an African American man being educated in a white environment, he became aware of social justice issues that his white counterparts were not cognizant of.
For those who believe that segregation is no longer around, he wants all cultures and people to understand that though the laws may be changed, some cultures are just now being afforded certain opportunities. Washington wants to provide all Americans a visual map of their history, in order to educate them. “I thought that it could be a very powerful thing to be executed and used in artwork. And I was right. It was very inspirational,” says Washington. The characters in the Continual Struggle are not only the famous figures in the few pages of history school books devoted to the freedom movement. Washington considers the common people just as important: sharecroppers, moms and dad that continued to take their children to church despite bombings and students who were violated while participating in sit-ins. “You couldn’t execute a movement like that with just famous people. You needed people. The people went through a lot and risked a lot in order to affect change. That’s overlooked a lot of times. It’s kind of summarized and put into a package with a bow,” says Washington.
Many long nights at the studio went into Washington’s passion for creating this project. As he continues to practice law, his artwork would not be what it was without his legal background. “I don’t do random paintings. I do collections of work about scenes, with the intent for them to be educational,” says Washington. He predicts that towards the end of his career, he will have created several projects depicting issues that society has faced, many of which will deal with social injustices in American history.
“It’s always best to be at the bottom of a ladder that you want to climb, rather than at the top of one you don’t want to climb,” says Washington. Realizing his most unique talents were in the arts, he knew that he would not be doing himself justice if he did not use his gifts to the best of his ability. As he journeyed out to follow creative dreams, his decision to pursue something other than law was questioned. “A lot of people see things according to a box and sometimes unique people do not fit in a box” says Washington. Nonetheless, he has rewritten his own history and set up a different future for himself, versus one that would have been predetermined.