Artists usually let their work speak for them, preferring more expression than explanation. So a new Art League of Long Island exhibit titled “Black Voices” offers a rare opportunity to not only examine the work of 21 artists from Long Island, Queens and Brooklyn, but to hear them discuss their pieces and the creation of them in video interviews.

The artists include painter Ann Tanksley, of Great Neck; sculptor David Byer-Tyre, of Farmingdale; Robert Carter and his wife, Panchita Carter, of Dix Hills, an oil painter and jewelry designer, respectively; and Ernani Silva, a collage and mixed-media artist who splits his time between Florida and Long Island.

“To be an artist is always a challenge, overcoming things in life,” said Silva, 68, who has a studio in Brooklyn and also is exhibiting his work at the African American Museum in Hempstead. “My studio is my sanctuary. That’s my church.”

The exhibit is on display in Dix Hills at the Jeanie Tengelsen Gallery. It coincides with the recently observed Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday and Black History Month in February. On its website, the Art League said the exhibit is meant to “initiate a dialogue between the individual Long Island communities — all of whom, together, make up the larger Long Island community.”

Some of the featured artists spoke to Newsday recently about what motivates them, inspires their work and how they pay it forward.

 

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Sculptor David Byer-Tyre, 45, Farmingdale

A bit of background: Byer-Tyre teaches sociology part time at Farmingdale State College. For nine years he was the director of the African American Museum of Nassau County in Hempstead. He also works with the Long Island Educational Opportunity Center at Farmingdale State, which provides academic and vocational training programs to disadvantaged students. “Education is very much what my artwork is about,” Byer-Tyre said. “Being able to provide art to fill in that gap. This center is helping to do that.”

Who or what inspires you?

“My work is inspired both by the history of African-Americans in this country and our struggle for inclusion in American society, and justice. All of my recent work involves Black Lives Matter, the intensity of violence against people of African descent and what does it mean in modern society for blacks to be isolated or treated as ‘the other.’ ”

What do you want your artwork to reflect?

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“To raise a level of consciousness about what African-Americans are experiencing daily and to make historical connections to what African-Americans are experiencing in the modern world.”

What advice do you have for artists in any stage of their career?

“You have to be true to yourself and understand that art is an extension of something you have to say. You have to be committed to it. You have to know about your history or your art won’t have purpose.”

Parting words: “My art is about a truth that often goes untold.”

 

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Textile artist Madona Cole-Lacy, 60-something, North Bellmore

A bit of background: Cole-Lacy grew up in Sierra Leone. As a young girl, she said her parents served others through adult literacy, education and various community service initiatives, a commitment that also inspired her. “My artistic journey began back in the days when, as a young child, I would go home from school and do sketches of family members, paintings of my garden, sew dolls and make clothes for them. I was so obsessed with art that my high school art teacher, Mrs. Celestine Blake, advocated for me to be the school’s first science student to be granted permission to study art. The absence of distinction between culture and art in the African setting was quite fascinating to me. . . . One did not have to make trips to the museum to appreciate art.”

How is it you came to be an artist?

“I do not recall any conscious effort to be an artist. It is rather, that I came to recognize and appreciate the artist within me earlier on in my life and consequently chose an academic path that would afford me the opportunity to maximize the potential for me to operate in that capacity.”

What do you want your artwork to reflect?

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“I want my artwork to reflect the common thread that binds all mankind, through the projection of my appreciation for, and the celebration of multiethnic art and culture as dynamic, and a major contributor to functional and aesthetic art around the world. . . . Through my brand of visual expressions, I am able to create African-inspired wearable art, dignity headwear for hair loss and wardrobe enhancement for women. I feel a sense of accomplishment when I provide a wearable art solution for someone who may not be able to readily find what they want in the commercial marketplace. When I conduct and facilitate multi-ethnic art-related cultural enrichment workshops, I break down barriers between people and make the world a smaller place.”

What advice do you have for artists in any stage of their career?

1. Be true to yourself and always stand up for what you believe in. 2. Surround yourself with other artists and art professionals who embrace the concept of giving back and paying it forward — people who are willing to point you in the right direction and help you succeed. 3. Do not sell yourself short over the promise of being an overnight sensation. 4. Do not allow anyone to downplay your importance as an artist. Artists are just as capable of being as analytical as they are of being creative.”

What attracted you to the Art League exhibit or did they approach you?

“I have been a member of the Art League of Long Island for many years now, and was honored to have been asked to participate in the planning committee for this exhibition. . . . This is refreshing to me, as one who has been on the receiving end of the restrictions and rejections levied by calls for art submissions that were expected to be presented ‘framed,’ with much disregard for the artist who might want to drape his or her art or even present it in the form of a wearable piece.”

Parting words: “It is the way that you position yourself as an artist that will determine your worth to those you serve.”

 

Collage and mixed-media artist Ernani Silva, 68, splits time between Florida and Long Island

A bit of background: Silva came to the United States in 1969 from Rio de Janiero, Brazil. He was 19 and came alone, arriving in Miami with the help of friends. Two years earlier, in 1967, he was in a shop in Brazil when Harlan Blake, a retired professor at Columbia, was trying to make a purchase. Silva translated for him and the two stayed in touch. Blake has been a longtime supporter and has bought many of Silva’s works, though Silva said his patron and friend doesn’t consider himself an art collector.

Who or what inspires you?

“A few things inspire me. My mother was from the Amazon. When I was 4 or 5 I was trying to paint. I grew up in poverty and didn’t have resources for art supplies. Around me was a beautiful forest. I used the fruits in it — wild berries and grapes — for paint colors. When it rained I would use the mud to paint a mural and paint my name with a stick over and over again. I play drums as a hobby with friends when I am in town. I bring the rhythm with me from Brazil. So my inspirations are 1. The Rainforest. 2. The Hill of the Singing Rooster. 3. The Samba and the music of Brazil. 4. The people of Brazil.”

Was there ever a time you were not comfortable having your work on display?

“No, but I didn’t show up at my first show in the West Village because I couldn’t tie the knot in my tie. I was so embarrassed.”

What do you want your artwork to reflect?

“To bring a message to the human race of the tragedy, pain, joy. Life is not always beautiful. One day it’s warm and sunny, the next day it’s rainy. Racism, discrimination, terrorism, abuse, madness; I take how I feel about that and put it on canvas. I want it to help people reflect in the mind on what’s going on.”

What is the life of an artist like?

“A challenge for all the steps we face in daily life. It’s not easy. My family wasn’t supportive of my choice. My father told me to get a real job. It was a struggle finding supporters and a studio to paint in. But being an artist is a lot of fun. I was born to be an artist. I was abused as a young person and can relate to children who are abused. I feel my art can help heal them. Art heals me of the pain from the past. Some people use the blues, I use paint.”

What work/exhibit are you most proud of?

“ ‘Strange Fruit.’ It’s a painting about slavery in the 16th century, about slaves being separated from their families and sent elsewhere, or they run away from the plantations they’re on.”

Are you going to be in Brazil this summer for the Olympics?: (Laughter) “No, it’ll be too crazy. The crowds.”

Parting words: “If you have fear, you cannot be a true artist.”