Imagine entering a room full of famous women from the past and present who have inspired world change. Imagine the feeling of awe that would follow.
That is the exact atmosphere Lawrence artist John Sebelius aims to simulate with his upcoming art exhibition, “Powerful Women.” It will display 54 portraits of historical icons and modern innovators, all of whom are women.
Sebelius, 37, has always had an interest in art, and he has been pursuing it seriously for the last 15 years. To him, art is a passion and an effective way to comment on social issues, so he chose to use his talents to bring attention to the underrepresentation of women.
After dedicating three years to the project, he was ready for others to feel what he had been personally experiencing through his work.
Among the highlighted women in the series are the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history, Deb Haaland, actress and transgender rights advocate Laverne Cox, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and many more.
Recently, Sebelius became inspired by Stacey Abrams, the first Black woman to become a major-party gubernatorial nominee in the U.S., and her efforts to increase voter turnout in Georgia and beyond. He felt empowered by her and wanted to show his appreciation.
Through this exhibition, Sebelius feels honored to host a space to “celebrate the spirits” of these women, as he put it.
To create such unique, vibrant masterpieces, Sebelius used watercolor paint in droppers and let the ink flow naturally.
“I love the lack of total control,” Sebelius said. “I have an idea of the direction I want to go in, but I allow myself to give in to the organic nature of the art materials and let the imagery evolve.”
Attendees who visit the exhibition will be submerged in a visual and auditory experience. While they observe the art, they can also enjoy a video that demonstrates Sebelius’ art process. The video also includes audio right from the mouths of the inspiring women depicted in the paintings to add another layer of power.
The initial gallery room will feature a select number of pieces, and the show will continue into Sebelius’ studio, where the walls are covered in the remaining colorful artwork.
“I wanted to keep part of my studio as is to have a raw and intimate setting, and with all of the portraits up on the walls, people will feel like they are in great company,” Sebelius said.
Sebelius reached out to his friend and fellow Lawrence artist Jennifer Burkhead to write his artist statement for the exhibition as he wanted a woman’s voice at the forefront. According to Burkhead in the statement, Sebelius’ style is “one of frenetic motion and speed.”
She goes on to describe Sebelius’ responsibility as a white man during times of social unrest and explains the importance of women to his development. His mother — the 44th governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius — was a prime example of a powerful woman in his life. In addition, he went on to marry a strong woman, and the couple are raising a daughter who will eventually grow into a strong woman.
Sebelius said he appreciates how this project forced him to dive more into the history of women leaders. He hopes his artwork will be a catalyst for much needed conversations.
The exhibition was originally scheduled to open in Los Angeles in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic showed no mercy, so the show was canceled.
Nonetheless, Sebelius is happy to host “Powerful Women” now in his hometown where he feels local art is supported and celebrated by the community. It will premiere from 5-9 p.m. this Friday, July 30, at SeedCo Studios, 840 Delaware St. No. 7. The event is open to the public.
Following the opening event, people can book private viewing appointments through mid-September by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sebelius will donate a portion of his profits to the Willow Domestic Violence Center, which provides a safe place and resources to women and children facing domestic violence. By doing so, he hopes his efforts will help women in his own community find their inner power.