JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Jakeith Hairston stood before a large painting in his hometown Saturday, reflecting on art, culture and a Johnson City that had just shown tremendous interest in a show comprised of work by people of color.
The night before, more than 200 people had streamed through the new Fischman Gallery across from King Commons Park on Commerce Street for the opening of “Art is Our Voice,” a Juneteenth Art Show engineered by UMOJA and sponsored by the Tennessee Arts Commission.
A 2002 Science Hill High School graduate, the self-taught Hairston has been away from Johnson City for years, including 14 of them in New York. The former star Science Hill and college athlete was in front of his “Something About Nature,” a complex work that is one of five Hairston works up at the gallery through June 26.
Hairston, who recently moved to Greensboro, N.C., said it was “an instant yes” when he learned UMOJA’s Angelitti Bradley and Nancy Fischman, who runs the gallery, were planning a Juneteenth-themed show for the gallery’s first major exhibit.
“This was my priority, just to be able to come back and show and share and be a part of my community again,” Hairston told News Channel 11 as a small group of people browsed the show featuring more than a dozen artists.
“That’s what you leave to come back for. You leave to grow and come back and share and learn and pass it on.”
For Hairston, part of that joy included reconnecting with school friends like Tramel Fain and Jason Flack as well as the older Lynn Bachman, whom he called a “hero to a budding creator.” All of them also have work in the show.
“Javan Collie as well,” Hairston said. “These are my good friends that I grew up with. It’s amazing to see that we all had our own life experiences but we’re able to come back in an expressive fashion, a creative fashion.”
Hairston, who said his artistic journey has been one of “going off feel and being a vessel,” said his art is very personal.
“I call my exhibition here a collection of mile markers,” he said. “For me, these are kind of snapshots of different growth periods in my life — just a lot of energy right there in those colors and lines and expressions.”
Hairston said he loves Fischman’s vision of sharing the community’s artists through the gallery’s shows and exhibits. And he said the UMOJA community, whose leaders he grew up around, is “just showing what they’ve already known has existed” in its celebration of Black artists.
“We’ve always been creatives, we’ve always been smart, intelligent, so it’s just putting it out for others to see and love as well,” he said.
“This (art) is part of everyday life. This is regular, this is breathing, so for the fact of UMOJA just tapping into a market where they can showcase it, I think that’s amazing.”
Asked about whether art could play a role in helping bridge some of the divides that currently plague society and culture, Hairston said art was about “feeling something.”
“I think art can be healing. It should be healing, I think. It’s all from a real place, it’s from us — thoughts become things. But I think it’s all necessary, it can be used as tools and I think that we should utilize these tools of expression to communicate, to relate.”
The Fischman Gallery, located at 133 Commerce Street, is normally open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.