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Young Jamaican artist set to enthrall San Francisco

Published:Sunday | April 10, 2016 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Fine Arts Graduate Student - Danielle Matthews
Florence, Italy - Danielle Matthews
A painting by Danielle Matthews
Sake Time by Danielle Matthews
Danielle Matthews with her work in Italy

Danielle Matthews is a Jamaican painter currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in Painting at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, California since Fall 2014. She is slated to become the first Jamaican artist to debut at the prestigious Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco de Young, the largest public arts institution in the City of San Francisco and one of the largest art museums in the United States.

"Words cannot express how excited I was when my piece was chosen. Tears came to my eyes and I am not an emotional person so it really means a lot for me to be showing at this event. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world visit every year so this is really a very significant achievement for me," Matthews said.

This year's theme is 'Sanctuary' and through her painting she expresses how music, particularly the music of the legendary Bob Marley is her sanctuary. Tourists from all over the world visit the de Young Museum, and she is proud to represent both her school and her country at this event.

"When I listen to music, I am taken to a different place I am taken to my sanctuary. My particular place of sanctum is found through the words and music of Bob Marley. His words have spiritual meaning, which transports me to a tranquil place while at the same time empowering the sensibilities through lyrics of justice, peace, love, and happiness," Matthews said.

"Through his music, I am deeply connected to the roots of my people and the oppression which they have faced for several generations, while maintaining hope for the future. On top of it all, the aesthetic of his music conveys a feeling that cannot be fully described but what I can say is that it gives me a Mellow Vibe," she added.

The three day event at the de Young will feature a showcase of visual art and film with museum object talks, an art history symposium, music and performance by university and college art and art history students inspired by the theme and by the permanent collections and special exhibitions of the de Young.

For several years Matthews worked primarily in the information technology sector however after migrating to the United States in 2013, she made a life changing decision to follow her dream of becoming an artist.

Throughout her childhood, she was surrounded by art and creativity. Matthews' mother loved interior decorating and collecting art especially paintings of Jamaican painter Richard Hall, while her father was a photographer.

While attending Meadowbrook High School her favourite subjects were Mathematics and Art, however she did not see the latter as a lucrative career choice and instead chose to study Mathematics at The Mico University College.

"Art has always been a part of every aspect of my life from doing my own and classmates' art homework. At the time I did not see it as career path and when it came around to CXC I considered doing something more lucrative," Matthews said.

"At Mico I would hang around the Art department and do sketches and drawings. There was a point where the head of the Art Department asked me if I was happy doing mathematics because he felt I should be pursuing art. Most people were surprised I was not an art major," Matthews said.

After graduating from Mico she started teaching Mathematics at St. Andrew High School for Girls. After four years, she started pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Computing, majoring in Information Technology with Multimedia, at the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) while teaching.

After studying part time for three years, she ended her tenure at St. Andrew High in 2011 and switched to full time enrolment for her final year at UTech, graduating in 2012 with honours.

In 2003 she met her husband Barrington Henry with whom she shared interest in Mathematics, technology and video games that led to a blossoming friendship. Henry moved to the United States in 2013.

Shortly after she arrived in San Francisco, Matthews started studying front end web development for desktop and mobile platforms (on her own). In 2014, she enrolled for the fall semester at the Academy of Art University (AAU) to pursue a MFA in Illustration. The following semester, she transferred to the Fine Art Department and is now pursuing an MFA in Painting and Drawing.

"It has not been an easy task as it has been a journey into the unknown. But I love every step of the way. The progress has been good and some of my lecturers are surprised that I do not have a background in art education," Matthews said.

In summer 2015, she studied Landscape Painting in Florence, Italy through the school's Study Abroad programme. While in Florence, she participated in student group shows at the Santa Reparata International School of Art (host school for the summer programme).

For her final thesis, Danielle has proposed to do a series of paintings featuring Jamaican life and culture entitled, "Jamaica: Life, Culture & Heritage". Having passed her midpoint review in March of this year, her proposal was approved, and she will move on to complete the project. Time will be spent in Jamaica towards this endeavour.

"I want to capture as much as I can about different aspects of the Jamaican culture from the pan chicken man to the children playing on the streets," Matthews said.

In the future Matthews wants to exhibit her pieces in Jamaica while also encapsulating her love for web design to include colour and design concepts. "One day I want to see my work in a gallery exhibition. I want to continue the series on Jamaican culture incorporating more images and work surrounding our motto of 'Out of Many One People', Matthews said.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco have rendered over a century of public service in the arts. de Young Museum will be hosting its 20th annual New Generations Student Showcase to be held from April 22 24, 2016. This is a juried showcase of works of art open to students from various schools to apply and Matthew's self portrait painting entitled 'Mellow Vibe' has been selected to be a part of the showcase.