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Artist Nacogdoches creates art in honor of lives lost in violence

“God gave me the meaningless name and then I just lowered my head and started drawing, researching various people, their lives, their life story, who they were.”

NACOGDOCHES, Texas – Over the years, we have seen many lives taken away from senseless acts of violence. From the latest mass shootings to individual lives taken too soon.

A Deep East Texas artist pays homage to those lost lives in his artwork and series known as “Senseless”, where he highlights 25 men and women killed by acts of violence.

(Sandra Bland, Melvin Rogers, Jr and Richard Collins)

Nacogdoches native Gary Roberts was inspired to create this series last year and created 25 charcoal and paper portraits in one year.

“God gave me the meaningless name and then I just lowered my head and started drawing, researching various people, their lives, their life story, who they were,” Roberts said. “Talk to some family members and get to know them.”

(Philondo Castiglia, Ronald Greene, Tamir Rice and Laci Patterson)

Roberts’ drawings date back to the 1920 lynching of Elijah Lige Daniels, to faces we have seen in the headlines such as George Floyd, Breeona Taylor and Trayvon Martin.

(Right: James Bryd Jr. Left: George Floyd)

Before picking up the pencil, she reached out to nearly every family member to get permission to draw loved ones and get their personal perspective.

“Basically, I wanted to come alongside the family and just to help keep their legacy alive, because before they were black, before they were white, they were human,” Roberts said. “It was so surreal to talk to family members and just get their point of view on their loved ones.”

While drawing these portraits, Roberts made sure to focus on every detail, focusing on their smile and their eyes to give meaning and depth to each portrait.

“I want to focus on the eyes because the eyes are either the do or the soul,” said Roberts. “Knowing them, who they were and the facial features of each drawing, just trying to make their faces smile because even there they were happy, they had families who loved them”.

Roberts said one of the more challenging portraits was the Emmett Till piece. Reshaping her tragic and graphic lynching of when her face and his body were brutally beaten and thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi in the summer of 1955.

“I want to get every detail of the bullet holes where they cut off his ear,” Roberts said. “A 14-year-old boy who went to Money, Mississippi, to spend a summer with his family, not knowing when he would get on that train, it would be his last train ride alive.”

Each portrait represents a life that disappeared too soon, but their mark still remains with us.

“All of these individuals are still making changes, even if they are no longer with us. They are making positive changes,” Roberts said. “So they are also fulfilling their purpose through death.”

Roberts is working on another series that highlights the lives lost in the recent mass shooting. It will include the casualties lost in the Buffalo, New York mass shooting and the 21 lives lost in Uvalde.

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