By Franklin Abbott
Paris-based painter Ealy Mays is featured in a show at Atlanta’s Hammonds House Museum through June 26. “To Pass Through and Be Gone,” an exhibit by Thorton Dial, Thorton Dial, Jr. and their contemporaries, is also running concurrently until Sunday.
Mays, who has spent the last 15 years living and working in Paris, is hailed as one of the most outstanding African-American artists of his generation. The child of a doctor, Mays grew up in Dayton, Ohio where he was evaluated as being “slow” and put in special education classes in his all white elementary school. He proved his teachers wrong when he attended medical school in Mexico. While in Mexico he found his true calling to be a painter. He was deeply influenced by the major Mexican artists of the day including Frida Kahlo, Diego Riviera, Clemente Orzoco and Rufino Tomayo, who became a mentor. Tomayo’s paintings of red watermelons were inspirations for Mays’ paintings of blue watermelons.
Mays has a remarkable memory and can recall thousands of images, movies and song lyrics. He says he works from both his memory and his imagination. One of his daily rituals which gives him inspiration is his 5 p.m. walk through Paris where he explores the “glorious garbage” discarded by the rich. He says, “the older I’ve gotten the more in tune I am with what I am doing.” He believes that when a work of art is finished it has a spirit that shines through it. Shining through Mays’ paintings are the spirits of his mentors Rufino Tomayo and Jacob Lawrence, images of Mexico and Paris and Mays himself who says in claiming his own soul, “you’re not going to beat me in the game of passion.”
For more information about the exhibition, visit hammondshouse.org.
Franklin Abbott is a psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer living in Atlanta.