One word comes to mind when shaking Janice King’s hand for the first time: strength.
The 70-year-old is the family matriarch — the third oldest of five siblings (and the oldest surviving sibling), the mother of four sons, and a two-time lymphoma survivor.
Born in Chicago to a single mother, King’s life always had an artistic influence. At 7 years old, she won first place in a citywide Chicago Public Schools art competition. Her abstract piece called “Time Square” was displayed in the Art Institute of Chicago.
Despite her passion and obvious talent, King’s art was overshadowed by the natural chaos of daily life.
“I always liked the arts for as long as I can remember, but when you get in school and you grow up, other things become more important; plus, I became a mom early,” she says. “I went to school and did what I had to do, but the arts kind of took a back seat.”
King received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Roosevelt University, Chicago, and went on to work for Fuji Film as a chemist for 31 years. After her husband Maurice passed away in 2000 and she retired in 2008, King moved to Evansville in 2009 to be closer to her two sons.
Surviving COVID-19 and now facing her third cancer battle, King has found her way through life’s hardships and back to art. With a signature 3D-style and a display at Twymon Art Gallery, she expresses her personality and proud Black history and culture through each piece.
How and why did you decide to get back into art?
After I moved back here, I got into jewelry and little things on the side to keep me busy and fill up my time. I’ve been enjoying it and I just love art. Anything that’s art related, I’ll do — make jewelry, wreaths, anything that’s creative. A few years ago, I met a guy and he invited me to have a night to do art, so we went to Dollar Tree and got a bunch of stuff. And I don’t know, something just popped in my head to do it like this. I made one for him called “A Night
The 3D elements and subject matter of your paintings have become your signature. What do you like about this style and the themes of your pieces?
I thought the paintings just looked so flat. So, I wanted to do something different and jazz it up. Eyelashes are so popular now, so with the women, I put some eyelashes on them. I try to use the glitter beads in each piece somewhere.
I’m kind of into my culture. I want to do something cultural because I’m Black. I can’t do nothing about it, so I love it. Our kids need something to make them remember who they are, because it’s like the government is trying to wipe it all away. So, I want to try to leave something, at least some semblance of it.
Art has been an outlet for you throughout your life and COVID-19. How did the pandemic effect you?
For me, I’m 70 years old, and I’m just trying to live my life and get some enjoyment out of it, do something I want to do, like art. I got COVID — a mild case, thank God. I recovered from that, but there are these aftereffects, so now I have a heart murmur. And then I go to the doctor and they do a biopsy, and I got cancer in my uterus. The surgery on June 2, 2021 removed it all, so then hopefully I’ll be back to 100 percent.
I can just take off right where I left off with my art after that. That’s what life is, though: You have a good run, and then you run into problems. Stay positive, and you get to where you need to be. So, I’m going to beat cancer; it isn’t going to beat me. I already beat it twice. Now I’ll beat it three times — a home run. That’s what life is, a bunch of ups and downs, so just keep on pushing. That’s what I try to do.
You’ve only been back to art for a couple of years. What plans do you have to continue in the future?
I’m going to be working on a piece of bigger size. For me, it’s going to be like a symbol of coming out of slavery and getting to freedom. This vision is all in my head. But I went to Mississippi a few months ago, and I actually saw a cotton field for the first time in my life. I stopped the car and got out and I picked some cotton.
I will put some of those pieces that I picked, along with cotton balls, in the piece. But it’s going to start with a caterpillar and it’s going to transform, and then I’ll show him coming out of the cocoon. It’s going to be a progression of the caterpillar from birth to butterfly. So, the end will be the butterfly with a bunch of pretty, bright flowers and a Black person standing at the end.
I want to put some good stuff out there. I think it’s really important, especially art about people that our younger generation knows absolutely nothing about. They know about Tupac and Biggie. But Black people do more than that. I went to school. I have degrees. I’m not a thug, you know. I’ll probably do a few more people like maybe Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr. We need to let Black people, Black children, know ‘you’re smart. You can be smart; you could be whatever you want to be.’