Austin Artists 2020

The Artful Healers

Isra Sharnez, Leah Chyma, Brooke Burnside and Saul Jerome San Juan’s work soothes in vibrant mediums

Words and photographs by Riley Blanks

Soulful bodies of work have the capacity to expand humanity’s horizons, moving us to applaud the selfless artists who create them. In this year of unprecedented grief and division, we spoke with four artists who dutifully treat their tool—be it carbon, canvas or camera—with thoughtfulness and respect.

Austin Artists 2020: Isra Sharnez

Isra Sharnez

is a portrait photographer resisting tokenism and oppression through her spontaneous, hopeful, vibrant imagery. As a Muslim woman of color filling a role often occupied by the majority, she offers space to BIPOC individuals with colorful, grandiose backdrops and warm, bright lights. She denies the traditional portrayal of Brown people as dramatic or exceptional by instead showing them in their most authentic, vulnerable state—whether at a lively bar or in an otherworldly forest. Sharnez artfully modifies elements such as atmosphere and postproduction editing, but when it comes to her subjects, she invites them to arrive just as they are, liberated and empowered.

The Divinity Project

For this project, Sharnez worked with local painter Rex Hamilton, who hand-painted the backdrop. Based on her own experience learning to embrace (rather than avoid) the sun, Sharnez invited her subjects to step up, take up space and be seen.

Austin Artists 2020: Leah Chyma

Leah Chyma

is an infectious mixed media artist and mental health advocate on a mission to literally protect the human mind. Two years ago, she had a traumatic scooter accident that caused three brain bleeds, three skull fractures and a giant epiphany: “Painting can alleviate the heaviness of life.” Chyma survived, adapted and embraced her new reality. “You feel pain every day when you break your brain,” she says. “It’s so internalized that it becomes a part of your identity.” But she also embraced healing through her art; birthing Knockin’ Noggins, she created a movement that changes how the world sees helmets through education, awareness and intricate custom designs painted by hand.

Chyma’s hand painted helmets are also certified by CPSC and ASTM safety standards.

Austin Artists 2020: Brooke Burnside

Brooke Burnside’s

meditative architectural drawings and ceramics have unexpectedly led to a deep passion for printmaking as she further studies her race and its position in the world. She often feels as though she has little control over her positioning in society and responds accordingly in her art. Burnside’s figure drawings of women’s braided hair explore space, perception and attachment. She poses the question, How do I deal with my hair in a way that is liberating? Her intricate, textured pieces utilize linoleum in an attempt to carry the notion of hair beyond scalp pores to better crystalize what it truly means to be an actualized Black woman.

Learn more about Burnside’s process online at Big Medium’s The Line Residency.

Austin Artists 2020: Saul Jerome San Juan

Saul Jerome San Juan

is a painter, curator and community builder from the Philippines who finds fulfillment in Southern hospitality, adventurous road trips and overcoming detachment. Though blue is his favorite color, he acknowledges that its presence in his work is in fact enhanced by its absence. He finds the color deeply personal in the eyes of his inviting, intimate and lifelike portraits “of the other: Blue-eyed men with white skin, sunburned pink in Yeti hats with sleeveless tees.” San Juan seeks to overcome prejudice, begging the viewer to practice humility—to take in only the essence of the humans displayed. Accepting that invitation, the viewer finds an incredible visual representation of what it means to listen, silently, without pretense.

A series of San Juan’s watercolors.


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