The Harlem Fine Arts Show is in its fifth year, and it is visual artist Synthia Saint James’ first time showing at the annual event. “This was the first opportunity I had a chance to do so,” Saint James said from her Los Angeles home during a phone interview with HFAS. “I really wished that I could have been there,” she said, explaining that she hopes to make it out to next year’s show.
Saint James’ East Coast representative and framer, Lailah Greene, has worked since HFAS’s preview reception to fill attendees and buyers in on the renowned artists’ pieces and how the two met. In 1999, Greene received a phone call from an acquaintance who informed the framer that she might have an opportunity to meet Saint James. “From your mouth to God’s ears,” recalled Greene.
By early 2000, Greene and Saint James had formed a business relationship that evolved into a family bond. “She’s more than my framer; she’s my sister,” Saint James expressed. Saint James’ works have appeared on the set of The Cosby Show, on WB Television Network’s Steve Harvey Show and the reality-TV series Raising Whitley, which is currently on the Oprah Winfrey Network, and as the cover art for Terry McMillan’s book Waiting to Exhale.
Although Saint James’ work is well-known among African Americans, she coins herself as a multicultural artist. “I’ve always identified myself as a woman of color,” she said, explaining that she tries not to get stuck with the “black artist” label. Multicultural artists are making an impact in the art scene, but they still have a long way to go on their own journey into the pristine art world. “We don’t take a big interest,” said Greene, noting that there is a void in the African-American community when it comes to art appreciation.
Saint James explained that people who were born and who live in New York have more of an advantage when it comes to appreciating art. Saint James, who has family in Harlem and has also lived in Brooklyn, said that people who live within the five boroughs are exposed to art through theater, the opera, museums, art galleries and exhibits throughout the city.
Saint James, who is 65, has been in the art scene for 45 years and got her big break in the Big Apple. “I sold my first painting when I was 20 years old in New York. I was an accounts receivable clerk and I was commissioned to do my first painting, and it sold,” said Saint James, who started dabbling in art at the age of 5. “I knew this is what I wanted to do … It has been a wonderful journey.”
The Harlem Fine Arts Show returns to New York City this year at Riverside Church from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2.