DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT: "Years ago, I made a series in which my friend, the muralist and painter Hershell West was one of the interview subjects. As I got to know him better, I realized that his life and his work were interesting enough to deserve a full-length documentary. This work is the result."
DIRECTOR BIO: Ma's work has screened and been in festivals on four continents in eight countries (USA, France, Germany, Spain, Greece, India, Indonesia, Peru). She produces and directs in both English and Spanish, and has made documentaries, dramas, and experimental shorts. She believes that the arts serve the important purpose of allowing us to know ourselves, and are an excellent medium for communicating across cultural barriers: hence this documentary and her other work about the arts.>
Born and raised in the small town of Enterprize, Alabama at a time when the South was still seggregated, a career in the arts was not what West, as an African-American, was expected to pursue. However, after graduating from high school and serving in the army, the GI Bill allowed him to enroll in the University of South Florida where he obtained first his bachelors and then a masters in fine arts.
Even before graduating, West had begun working in public art. He completed several murals in the Tampa area, organized programs for bringing art to the community, and worked in the Dean's office to use art as a means of bridging the gap between the town and the university.
After getting his masters, West moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to join the mural scene of the area and be close to a muralist he admired, John Wehrle. Soon, he found himself working as an assistant for Wehrle even as he executed his own private commissions.
Settling into the Bay Area, West became active in the art scene of the East Bay. He was a member and later president of the board of ProArts in Oakland and Richmond Art Center in Richmond. He served on the Oakland Arts Commission and the Richmond Arts and Cultural Commission, and was president of the latter. He helped organize an annual exhibition, TAOLB (The Art of Living Black), one of the largest of its kind in the nation.
And he taught: in the Richmond Art Center, in the Juvenile Justice hall of Alameda County, in programs for at-risk youth in West Contra Costa County, and through a Bay Area non-profit, in Boys & Girls Clubs. He has a great rapport with kids. In the process of teaching them art, he also passed on important life lessons such as the need for self-control, the possibilities of attaining ones dreams by staying on focus, and the benefits of collaboration.
In sum, a well-rounded artist who knows how to use his skills to contribute to society.