Community art is what drives Fairfax artist Sharon Virtue

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  • Independent Journal of Sherry LaVars/Marin

    Sharon Virtue is one of three members of the Fairfax Artist-in-Residence Collaborative this year as well as a recipient of Art Works Downtown’s Max Thelen Studio Residency.

  • "It is important to recognize that different stories exist.  And different...

    Independent Journal of Sherry LaVars/Marin

    “It’s important to recognize that different stories exist. And different ways of seeing the world exist,” says Sharon Virtue.

  • Artist Sharon Virtue working on her painting "Spring" in Fairfax....

    Independent Journal of Sherry LaVars/Marin

    Artist Sharon Virtue works on her painting ‘Spring’ in Fairfax. Hanging on the wall are ‘The Sunny Path of Racial Justice’, to the left, and ‘The Whirlpools of Revolt’.

  • Fairfax artist Sharon Virtue works on a painting.

    Independent Journal of Sherry LaVars/Marin

    Fairfax artist Sharon Virtue works on a painting.

  • Sharon Virtue paints a racial justice themed image for "Perspectives."

    Independent Journal of Sherry LaVars/Marin

    Sharon Virtue paints a racial justice-themed image for “Perspectives.”

  • From left to right, Zoe Fry, Winona Lewis, Sharon Virtue and Mill...

    Courtesy of Zoe Fry

    From left to right, Mill Valley’s Zoe Fry, Winona Lewis, Sharon Virtue and Naima Dean participated in “Perspectives: Past, Present, Future” which was exhibited at Mill Valley Depot Plaza.

Art has been a way for Sharon Virtue to connect with people around the world. Through her community art practice, she painted alongside homeless people on a mural in Manchester, England, worked on an art therapy project for Haitian children after the devastating 2010 earthquake, and worked on “Perspectives,” a Mill Valley community art project that tackled racism.

After moving to Fairfax last fall, she connects with other creatives in Marin as one of three members of the Fairfax Artist-in-Residence Collaboration and recipient of Art Works’ Max Thelen Studio Residency. Downtown.

Her ceramic work and colorful paintings addressed climate change, racial justice, and her Jamaican and Irish heritage. See and learn more at virtuvision.org.

Q You reflect on climate change and our relationship to the world in last year’s State of Nature exhibit in Oakland. Why?

A I am very inspired and refreshed by nature. This is my happy place. I got a residency to go to Esalen, and that’s where I really got the concept for this show. I had just lived in Oakland, George Floyd is murdered, there are riots in downtown Oakland and there is this incredible wave of artists who show up to give their voice in a different way. I painted two murals in downtown Oakland during the riots that were going on there. My dad is a black man so I was like I had to say something now. In my residency, I would focus on how we could work towards a world with more equity and less racism. When I arrived and started talking to the locals, they had been through a forest fire and were all traumatized by it. What I realized is that climate chaos or climate change is happening now – the fires, the droughts. It’s not some sci-fi fantasy thing that’s going to happen in the future. So it hit me. It’s the elephant in the room, that nature comes for us.

Q What inspires you?

A My work is very much about beauty as well as magic, magical creatures and mythological creatures. I have always been inspired by this aspect of the supernatural. It’s a way of creating an escape, but a lot of these stories, especially the Indigenous ones, are based on teachings. They told these stories to teach their children important things about the balance of life. I was really inspired by that aspect of storytelling.

Q What do you hope to accomplish with your work here?

A When I came to live in Marin, I was very aware of the disparities between black and white communities and took a look at the local artistic communities. I want to broaden people’s perspectives and also provide opportunities for people of color who live in Marin who might not have access or be able to take art classes. I want to bring other people, Indigenous people, queer people, different voices into the picture because it’s important for young children to hear different versions of the stories we tell. It is important to recognize that there are different stories and different ways of seeing the world. I got a grant from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to allow me to bring artists of color to Fairfax to talk about their work and lead workshops. That’s the magic of community art. It is a melting pot of compassion, empathy and understanding.

Q Travel plays a role in your practice, including inspiring your work in community arts. How did it start?

A I went to see the solar eclipse in Mozambique in 2001. Mozambique is one of the poorest countries in the world and I realized that I was in this place where people are visibly suffering and very poor – what could I do to help if I was going to do anything. I try to encourage and inspire people to look beyond the current situation, helping them open their minds and see possibilities beyond their situation that come from within. I would continue to work with homeless children in Mozambique and help them build a classroom, a creative space where they could go.

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