Culture, faith and positivity: Dowagiac artist featured internationally for Black History Month

Published 10:34 am Friday, February 25, 2022

DOWAGIAC — A website with more than 400 million monthly viewers from around the world has placed one local artist’s work on its home page.

Editors at E-commerce website Etsy have selected the art of Dowagiac resident Kandy Grady, owner of the Simply Faith by K Grady shop, to be featured as a Black-owned business on the front page of Etsy.com.

“It’s an honor that I get to represent my community on an international platform,” Grady said. “I like the Etsy platform because it gives me an avenue to keep creating art, because people keep purchasing art.” 

While all of Grady’s listed art comes with an “Etsy’s Pick” tag throughout the month, the piece featured on the front page is “Our Thoughts Bloom Wisdom.” The painting is a vibrant depiction of four heads with multi-colored faces and connected by flowers.

“I love coming up with the concept of this painting because I love to paint flowers and people together,” said Grady, in the product description. “The flowers symbolize strength and the people symbolize unity in positivity.”

In addition to the Etsy feature, Grady said 2021 was a stellar year overall. She was juried into several shows, including the West Michigan Area Show at the Kalamazoo institute of arts and Michiana Area Artist Competition at The Box Factory For The Arts in St. Joseph. She gave an artist talk at the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, as well as sold a piece to the Ascension Borgess Cancer Center.

“It was a very rewarding year,” she said. “It was a year I think I’ve grown … in myself, in my artwork, confidence, in knowing what I want to represent.”

Staying true

Grady describes her style as fantastical, illustrative and colorful. She primarily uses paint, but often incorporates mixed media techniques. 

“If you want to see the piece in person, you’ll see that there’s a lot of different techniques I use to create my art,” she said. “It’s just like me – I want to be free and I want to be able to express myself using different mediums and different approaches but still maintaining my signatures.”

In addition to the illustrative style, one of Grady’s signatures is the way she paints faces. Generally, a gender-ambiguous face with its eyes closed.

“In my mind, my art is unique because it’s me – it’s unique as I am,” Grady said. “I don’t really cater to trends, I just try to stay classically creative.”

Faith also plays an important role in Grady’s art, with several mixed-media pieced including text from scripture. One piece titled “Simply Faith” is a collage painting inspired by John 21:6, when Jesus guided his disciples to cast their net and catch some fish. 

“I feel like the paintings remind me of being in Sunday School and hearing these stories for the first time with my child mind,” said Grady, in the Etsy description. “Not doubting but Simply having Faith.”

Additionally, Grady said she wants her art to be representative of her culture.

“That’s important, because that’s who I am,” she said. “I’m an African-American woman, a person of color who is a mother, daughter, sister, friend – so I had to stay true to that. So how do I stay true to that and reach millions of people that are different than me? I just stay true to who I am.”

On one of her current pieces, Grady was inspired by a photo of her friend with his arms full of oranges he grew at home.

“If you look at how he’s cradling all these oranges, because he grew them – that’s his fruit,” Grady said. “A Black man can be fruitful – to me, that’s what this symbolized. Like ‘I can bring forth good fruit, if you let me tend my garden.’ … Even in political climates like we have now, there’s something good to be said.”

Positivity

To Grady, her art is also about sending out a message to the world that she wants to receive back.

“I’m not going to put anything negative out there, I refuse to do that,” she said. “There’s enough negativity out there, and there’s a lot of brilliant artists out there who do that well. For me, it’s about positivity and self-assurance. I want people to think ‘Okay, I’m going to try to put good into the world. Maybe if I see this [art] every day, I’ll realize the world isn’t so bad.’ Maybe it can inspire somebody to get up and try again another day.”

However, all that positivity doesn’t mean Grady ignores the injustices happening to people in her community.

“I can’t rise above it, because it very much effects who I am,” she said. “As an African American with the police shootings and everything, it’s difficult. It’s sad. It weighs heavy on you, but that’s when you have to use your faith. You have to practice it. You have to vote.”

Something Grady said helps her stay positive in times of darkness are looking to the future. She has painted a piece representing one of her daughters, who recently graduated from college. 

“All three of my children, they’re educated and they’re the future,” Grady said. “So, I look up to them as that hope. … Other families, they look to that person in their family they can lift up and say ‘we’re going to come together as a village to lift this person up,’ because that’s very much African American culture.”

For Grady, talking to her friends who are non-people of color also helps her process her emotions when she sees something like a police shooting of an African American person.

“I have friends that are very much supportive of my emotions when I see something like that,” Grady said. “If I have a friend who is not a person of color, I don’t hide the fact that we’re not the same. We have to see each other as we are, just like you have to see the world as it is to keep moving in it and be an artist in it.”

To view or purchase more art, visit her Etsy store at etsy.com/shop/SimplyFaithbyKGrady.