A Talent to Watch: Saydee Lanes

Ed Newman

Trepanier Hall, home of the American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) in Downtown Duluth, has become host to a number superb arts, poetry and music events this past few years. In early May they curated an exhibition of emerging artists which provided a nice glimpse into the work of a number of new faces to watch in the local arts scene. One of these was Saydee Lanes.

Ed Newman: How did you take up an interest in drawing?

Saydee Lanes: Well, I have been drawing since I was just a little kid. It began with just coloring in color books, then I became curious as to how the images I was coloring were created. So I started to draw what I had seen, mainly Disney characters. I would try to make my drawing look exactly like the characters. When I was 7 years old, you couldn’t tell the difference between what I drew and the original image.

Around this time my father left, and was no longer in my life. As a kid the first I thought of why he did leave was because maybe I wasn’t good enough at something. So I drew more and more. My mother had to get two jobs. She was hard working and had to support three kids on her own so she wasn’t able to be around much. So I thought if I became an even better artist, she wouldn’t have to work so hard. Naturally, I drew more, and more. My father was an artist, and the closest thing I had to a dad was my uncle and grandfather. They both loved my drawings and art, so I figured the better I became at drawing the more love I had, and the more deserving I would be of it, and just maybe it would bring my dad back and fix everything.

EN: What kind of training have you had?

SL: I am self-taught. When I was younger, just a little kid, my great grandmother would teach me how to draw and color. She would often point out details I would miss, which helped me greatly. She loved my drawings no matter what I did but I always wanted to impress. She is also an artist. She paints, but whatever she would create was always most lovely.
My uncle (the one who was a father to me) is a fine artist. He would critique every drawing I did. He would tell me techniques and how to improve or get to the look I wanted. He often would give me challenges. He would find complicated photos to draw. Actually my Wrinkle Meat drawing was my biggest challenge he gave me. I was 16 years old and was mastering his techniques and creating my own. So he said if I could draw Wrinkle Meat exactly like the photo, then my skills would be truly impressive. And so I did. Everything I know and apply as a technique is either something I created on my own or was picked up from my uncle or by watching another artist draw. All of my drawings are done by using a mechanical pencil, kneaded eraser, and blending tools (blending stump, Q-tips, and kleenex).

EN: You mentioned your Viet Nam Vet  grandfather as being an inspiration for some of the pieces. Which ones and why?

SL: I drew the drawing of my grandfather in the Vietnam War because I often felt his and the other veterans, and today’s soldiers’ sacrifice is often forgotten. We show our forgetfulness when we quit on ourselves, when we show ungratefulness by littering on the beautiful ground people have worked hard to keep beneath us. When we feel as though we deserve more then what we have truly worked for. I drew my grandfather and the image from the war not only because I love my grandfather and appreciate his sacrifice but because it was the only way I could say how sometimes I feel.

EN: What does “Wrinkle Meat” mean? What’s the story behind Three Century Man?

SL: The Wrinkle Meat drawing I did as a challenge to draw exactly what I had seen from my uncle. The story behind the man I drew, I must say, was a bonus to the challenge. His name is John Smith. Wrinkle Meat was a nickname given to him because of the way he looked. It is said this man lived to be 138 years old. Others say he didn’t live to be that old and he only looked to be so old because of a skin condition.  I call the drawing the Three Century Man because he was born in the late 1700’s and died in the early 1900’s. If he did live to be 138 years old he lived through three centuries. Now whether this is true or not, I don’t know. But I choose to believe he did live through three centuries. And I don’t know every little thing about this man, but in my book, he is impressive and has earned a spot in my portfolio no matter what anybody else says or believes.

EN: One of the pieces featured peacock feathers. Can you explain the backstory on this one?

SL: The drawing with the being wearing the mask with the peacock feathers I call “Being Human”. And what it represents is this. All of us, belong to one tree of life. And this being wants to be apart of it, in my head if a being did want feel as though it is apart of our tree of life it would wear that intricate and colorful mask. Now why this is, well ill leave that up to my audience to decide....