Liberty Station artist is honored by San Diego African American museum as a ‘Keeper of the Culture’

Artist Andrea Rushing in his Liberty Station studio
Artist Andrea Rushing, pictured in his Liberty Station studio, was recognized for helping to “keep Black culture alive in San Diego.”
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Painter and sculptor Andrea Rushing, who teaches art at his San Diego Art Academy at Liberty Station in Point Loma, has been honored as one of four “Keepers of the Culture” by the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art.

The museum board started the event four years ago to recognize people “who have helped keep Black culture alive in San Diego,” said Gaidi Finnie, executive director of the museum. “We really try to recognize some of the elders and we want to make sure that we highlight people who’ve been doing their work for a long time. Those two things really guide us in terms of who we choose each year.”

“It’s really important that we point these people out ... every year because there are more and more people who need to be recognized,” Finnie added.

“San Diego has been changing with regard to Black people. When I first got here, there was Black radio, there were nightclubs, there was more than one Black newspaper, there were places where people went on a regular basis. Now, depending on where you live, you might not see a Black person at all. We really want to … be a place where people can have more knowledge of African American history in this area.”

This year, “Keepers of the Culture” was held May 27 at Quartyard in downtown San Diego. In addition to Rushing, the honorees included storyteller, actor and writer Alyce Smith Cooper; jazz musician Nathan East, a founding member of contemporary jazz group Fourplay; and visual artist and playwright Calvin Manson.

Rushing, 64, is originally from Chesapeake, Va., and has lived in San Diego for more than 30 years. After a few years in the Navy as an aviation structural mechanic, painting logos and insignia on aircraft, he worked for General Dynamics and Rohr before returning to art and earning a degree from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University.

His work has since been featured at San Diego State University, Cal State San Marcos, San Diego Museum of Art, Michael J. Wolf Gallery, Sparks Gallery and others.

He took time to talk with The San Diego Union-Tribune about his work and what it means to be honored as someone uplifting Black culture in San Diego.

Q. What does it mean to you to be recognized as one of the “Keepers of the Culture” this year?

A. I’m particularly pleased with this award. It feels as though my efforts have not gone unnoticed. I certainly try to uplift people of my race, but also people in general, to offer them a better understanding of their place in the universe.

Q. What has Black culture meant to you as an artist and an individual?

A. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a community where the education system taught Black history when I was a kid, so I’ve grown up informed much more, unfortunately, than many people. I really try to put that knowledge out there and remind everyone, particularly Black people, of their history and of their place in the world.

Q. Are there examples of your work where you’ve done this? Can you talk about your approach in the selection and process of creating those works?

A. Without trying to get too political, I would say over the last five or six years, I’ve focused on the Black male. I do feel that he is the most disenfranchised of anyone in society and continues to be. I’ve tried to paint the Black male in a way that shows strength and beauty and intelligence, all the things that he possesses. I do think that the Black man is, in some ways, an endangered part of the culture, of the country, and I just like to help in correcting that.

Q. The museum’s executive director has been quoted as saying that the honorees each year are selected because of the way they are leaders in the expression of Black culture, nurturing it, keeping it alive, expanding it and, in some cases, founding it. How do you see your work in that context?

A. I just am trying to always portray Black folks with positive imagery. It’s a personal point for me. I just never painted Black people in a negative way, won’t do it, don’t know why I would. That’s been the main thing. I always try to paint us as we are.

Q. What do you hope people take from your work and understand because of it?

A. I think my work is really based on just wanting people to think. I don’t want to tell people what to think, I just want them to see my work and for it to be a point of departure — a place where it triggers thought and they look around themselves, see the world and try to understand themselves a bit better.

Q. Your website says you’re interested in the human condition and the insights that come from the way people respond to that condition. What comes to mind for you about what the human condition means?

A. Basically, just being human and how we react to the world. I taught elementary school for many years and I teach high school now [at SCY High, an Orthodox Yeshiva boys high school in Clairemont], and I don’t think age is the real measurement of how people relate to the world around them. I came to see [that] how you see the world is how you respond to stimuli, how you see it and how you relate to it.

Teaching at my own art school, San Diego Art Academy, has given me a lot of insight into people and how they think and respond. I think I’ve been successful at teaching adults, certainly because I teach to personality; I don’t teach in a one-size-fits-all way. Everybody learns in their own way and takes in knowledge in their way.

Q. How have you seen yourself evolve and grow as an artist over the years?

A. I try to remain a student. I think successful people in every profession and thing that you do ... try to stay in a student mindset and are learning every day, are gathering information and are trying to perfect and evolve. ... I consider myself pretty fortunate that I can do my life’s work, the work I chose, so I work very hard at it.


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