NORFOLK, Va. - Sometimes looking at a piece of artwork can change our perspective.
As a young man in his 20s, Norfolk artist Clayton Singleton realized his paintbrush could hold the power to be that change.
His latest paintings resonating with people are part of his series "There's A Beautiful Black Man." The 10-image series is a compilation of paintings showing the worth and depth of men of color.
"When you see a black man, you need to see a beautiful black man. You don’t need to see this character that you’ve been taught to see," he said.
Singleton said for centuries, society has framed black men in a demeaning way instead of celebrating their strong and individualistic qualities.
"There are all these different types of black men: short, light, dark, thin, plump, hair locks, long hair, tall, [some that have] crazy hair lines like mine," he said with a laugh.
Those differences inspired his summer series "There's A Beautiful Black Man."
As he looked at each painting displayed at Gallerie Ukwensi, he explained where the inspiration came from.
One headshot reminded Singleton of a man in his neighborhood when he was a child. Another was more symbolic - portraying strength and a carefree aura.
He said the desire to show this beauty is not new. "It’s always been important. It’s also always been talked about. Right now, it just seems like more people are willing to listen."
Even just the simple fact that his artwork is displayed at Gallerie Ukwensi, Singleton said, is significant. He believes all of the artwork inside offers refuge and healing for anyone that views it.
“This space allows you to have a story that has a root, but also expands. With the different type of artists, there is no restriction as to the voices. I think that’s what America is trying to become now - that there are no restrictions to the voices. Isn’t that what we want?" he questioned.
With what's happening across the country, Singleton said he hopes these paintings can shift painful racial biases and encourage people to share their stories.
"Maybe these pictures are a way to just remind people of the beauty," he said.
Singleton's artwork also transcends race. He has been recognized by Norfolk's NEON District for his painting "Protect Your Personal Growth."
The painting is of a woman wearing boxing gloves with a determined look on her face. He said the message is to remind people that they need to protect themselves from naysayers who want to tear them down.
He adds, if you don't protect your own growth, then you can't expect others to.
The NEON District posted on Facebook that Singleton's artwork, along with others, will be featured on neighborhood signs.