By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – At one time, art was the only thing that made sense to Victor Brinkley Jr., but he let it slip away for a while.
“I play harmonica and keyboards,” the 27-year-old Tupelo resident said. “I was focused on music for a couple of years.”
A series of conversations with Tupelo folk artist Billy Clifton nudged Brinkley back toward his lifelong passion.
“I wasn’t doing anything,” Brinkley said. “I met him, and he got onto me about letting it die.”
It helped to have someone pushing him to work.
“I don’t want to be lazy. I don’t want to let him down,” Brinkley said. “He kind of got me moving.”
Now, Brinkley is directing his talent toward a deadline, March 27, for an art exhibit called “Black History after February.”
The event will be 1 p.m. until on March 27 and 28 at A.M. Strange Library in Tupelo. It’ll feature work by Brinkley, Clifton and Don Mosely.
Brinkley’s goal for the exhibit is to get a conversation started about African-American history, as well as African history.
“We’ve got people who think aliens built the pyramids,” he said. “Egyptians, who are Africans, built them. They’re saying aliens did it? We’ve got to face the facts, people.”
Brinkley was an Army brat, traveling as his dad was posted at bases in Alaska and Georgia.
Art was a good thing to have, he said.
“I remember sitting at the kitchen table in Fort Benning, Ga. That was when I was in preschool,” he said. “I was drawing a Native American scene with a Native American standing by a tepee. He had a fire.”
When his father left the military, the family moved to Saltillo. Art remained a companion, and it became a refuge.
“I got bullied in school. Teachers looked away. Friends looked away. Everybody looked away,” he said. “They told you to be strong, to turn the other cheek.”
He drew pictures for bullies to get them to leave him alone. He also funneled his anger onto the page. His scrapbook from middle school includes a drunken Winnie the Pooh and a messed up Mickey Mouse.
He took inspiration from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes,” and drew Calvin holding Hobbes, a stuffed tiger that’d been ripped in two pieces. Another picture has a pilgrim shaking hands with an Indian with one hand and holding a knife to the Indian’s throat with the other hand.
“You’re lucky I had art,” he said. “I could have shot up a mall.”
After high school, he joined the Army, where he met his wife, Sara Brinkley.
“We knew each other for four months, then we got married,” she said. “We’ve been together about seven years.”
When they left the military, they moved to Tupelo, where that connection with art reasserted itself. Sara Brinkley had a hand in that, too.
“We both bought cork boards for bulletin boards,” Brinkley said. “She didn’t like it plain, so she painted a scene on hers.”
He had to paint his own scene, and he became entranced with a new medium: cork board. During the Elvis Presley Festival, he was moved to render images of Tupelo’s favorite son. Then he began a series that was inspired by National Geographic.
“I was trying to focus on people who have less than us materially, but who seem happy,” he said. “That’s what I was going for.”
Some of those black and cork-board tan images will be included in the exhibit. Other cork boards will tell stories that trace back to the old gods of Egypt.
“I’m hoping I can prove that we’ve been trained not how to think but what to think,” Brinkley said. “I think I can prove that with several of my pieces. It’s putting the focus on African history and culture that’s not usually recognized.”
He’s hoping people will bring open minds and questions to the exhibit.
“My work should speak for me, but if you want to have a discussion, I’m happy to do that,” he said. “This is as good as ‘The Maury Povich Show’ on TV. Come see it. I think it can have a big impact.”