“I do black and white because it’s nostalgic,” she said. “I relate to black and white.”
Her catalog, stored at a home studio in south Oklahoma City, is comprised of a lot of commissioned portraiture, from aging Caucasian couples to Commodores drummer Walter “Clyde” Orange, whom Pernell helped with airport directions in her day job with Southwest Airlines.
Unlike most portrait artists, she works in the Pointillist style, a method in which small strokes or dots appear to blend together from a distance.
“I think it’s unique [to use] the Pointillism,” Pernell said. “I had a knack for it, was good at it.”
right, Ronna Pernell looks at one of her pieces, “Nubian Queen.”
That a collection of dots feels alive and penetrating is a curious skill that likely helped land her a spot in “Afro- Americana,” an exhibit of contemporary black art opening Thursday at the Gaylord-Pickens Museum. Featured artists include Suzanne Thomas, Joyce Carley, Alex Kathilu, Lola Jenkins, Robert Hill, Arisha Burlingame, Andrew Akufo and Rene Refour.
In Pernell’s work, viewers quickly are directed to the eyes, the quickest way to the soul. The woman in “Nubian Queen” looks intensely; here, Pernell said she “started with the eyes.” In “Spiritual Embrace,” the subject’s eyes are closed, but as in “Queen,” she hugs herself.
Pernell said both works depict a woman’s journey.
“It’s a place where you are trying to be, but you don’t know the right path,” she said. “A lot of black women don’t know their full potential.”
Other pieces alight with the deep affection of the parent, like “Blessings,” depicting the moment when a father first holds his son. Pernell sketched it when she was going through empty-nest syndrome.
“Everyone was gone,” she said. “It gets so quiet in the house. But when you’re working, you don’t hear anything.”
Pernell’s first gallery show was at The Colonies Market Antiques, 1120 N.W. 51st, in 2006. When the venue asked for 15 pieces, she’d completed five, penned sporadically since 1983 during a winding, sometimes turbulent coming-of-age. Never having finished that many before, she answered nervously, “Yeah! Yeah, sure.”
When the other artist in the exhibit dropped out, The Colonies asked if Pernell could have between 35 and 40.
“Yeah! Yeah, sure.” Her confidence in her talent translates through pen and ink.
“You show all of yourself, inside and outside,” she said.