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Powerful Portraits Spotlight Black and Brown Women of New York

Tim Okamura thinks storytelling is inherent to portraiture—so his paintings tell the stories that too often go untold.

Painter Tim Okamura has lived in New York City for the past 25 years, and he’s a Brooklynite through and through. Like a true New Yorker, he qualifies the two years he spent in Chelsea with the disclaimer that he lived there in the early 90s, “when it could it still be described as a sketchy neighborhood.”

"Anyone who has ever spent any time [in Brooklyn] will quickly recognize there are many facets to this amazing borough, many different vibes, many fascinating personalities both in terms of people and the physical environment itself,” Okamura tells The Creators Project. The people he paints are the stars of his work, though in setting his paintings against city backdrops of bricks and street art, Brooklyn is always a presence.

The White Dress

Okamura’s portrait practice has largely focused on depicting black and brown women. The women in his works are beautiful and powerful, from a black Rosie the Riveter sporting an African head scarf in lieu of a bandanna, to a Madonna crowned with an afro as well as a halo, to a group portrait of women in boxing regalia. "Growing up in western Canada as a geeky half-Japanese kid, being 'mixed race' in that environment was somewhat unusual, and I had always been made to feel somewhat of an outsider, and resultingly was drawn to others who shared that feeling,” he writes.

Begin Transmission

"At some level I think we all felt a little out of sync, perhaps neglected or rejected by the ‘mainstream' of what was deemed cool and acceptable.” He also recognized that Western portraiture hadn’t historically told everyone’s stories, and wanted to paint people "who had perhaps struggled for their voices to be heard in one way or another.” This storytelling is inherent to his practice as a portraitist, says Okamura. "A large number of my subjects have been friends, neighbors, and acquaintances in Brooklyn, either born and raised or transplanted, but all with one thing in common: a compelling story."

Courage 3.0

"Living in Brooklyn offered me a great synergy of subjects that covered all of my artistic concerns and I was able to focus on discovering and painting subjects who I felt deserved— in fact, unquestionably needed—to have their strength, courage, beauty, and dignity portrayed on canvas."

Ian Curtis

The Promise

The Defender

The Commitment

Rosie

I Love Your Hair

To learn more Tim Okamura’s work, click here.

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