Toward the end of a quiet Live Oak street, steps away from abundant green space that provides country-calm in the midst of the city, a white picket fence borders a front yard. But that’s where a sense of predictable conventionality ends-the house behind the fence is painted turquoise, green and purple. In a converted backyard garage is painter Myra Eastman’s light and airy studio. And inside the studio, through Myra is not a loud person, it’s anything but quiet-visually speaking-this is. And then there’s the street dog who Myra and her husband rescued as a pup and brought home. Black-and-white Max is the embodiment of energized movement as an expression of curiosity and love. Myra’s painting are expressions of the same.
Though the world’s complexities and troubles may be at the physical distance from her studio, they’re front and center in Myra’s mind and hear and, thusly, in her work. The large, boisterous paintings are lush with life’s cacophony, vibrant color and tumultuous action.
Some art offers viewers a respite from current events. Not Myra’s. This artist is not one to turn away; rather she engages. Her paintings say, “Sure, life is complicated, but look and see, and respond! Standing before her canvases, I’m captivated and don’t want to look anywhere else. Myra say, “I am bombarded with an overload of human misery…I can only make sense of it if I tear off a tiny piece and create works of art that speak to humanity and dignity”. she tells me, “Ill hear something on the radio while I’m working, so I can’t not paint it.”
For many years, while working as a public school teacher, and for some of those years as a single mom, Myra painted late into the night, long after her children were asleep, because that was the time she had. Such was her artistic drive. This painter is after “the intersectionality of experience,” which, truthfully, is how like comes at us, doesn’t it-unremitting, all at once, from every direction, one event colliding with another? Myra embraces life, even when it brings her to her knees, as today’s concerns do, from the #MeToo movement to the immigration injustice facing our country.
Though not an immigrant herself, like most Americans, coming from elsewhere is part of Myra’s origin story, Her paternal grandparents fled the pogroms in Russia. Myra’s ferocity and empathy hit the canvas running. Her series The Great Migration: El Salvador to Santa Cruz and Migration North explore the hell of having to flee home-as poet Warsan Shire clarifies, “no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”. These paintings address experiences of being mistreated at the border, of migrants living in Santa Cruz terrorized by ICE raids, of what it means to be a refugee, to be told you don’t belong. Myra says, “These are dire times for our souther neighbors who seek to escape gangs, violent or extreme poverty,”
Each time I went to talk with Myra and be with her paintings, though I stood firm on the hardwood floor, I felt anything but still. James Baldwin said, “For nothing is fixed, forever…the earth is always shifting, the light is always hanging…Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have.” That thinking is evident in Myra’s work-the sense of creative responsibility to witness, document and respond.
Most of her paintings give viewers more than a single story; they offer multiple narratives and vignettes. Look closely at the work that is both quilt-and collage-like and you’ll discover stories within and behind others and images used iconically, such as coyotes, hidden cameras, secret doors. “In order to avoid regurgitated tropes and cliches,” Myra says, “I use metaphors. They may be ambiguous to viewers, and that’s okay with me.”
“The path gets crooked,” Myra tells me, “I have pieces but they have to come together as a whole. That’s the challenge for me; how do I bring it together?” It maybe a challenge-isn’t that part and parcel of art-making-but you’d never know it looking at her finished pictures. She gives us like’s rough and tender beauty, bold and brilliant truth-telling. Myra’s paintings invite us in, and once we enter, what may have seemed afar is now near, and our empathy enlarges.