This month, we are highlighting two artists in our network: brothers Jordan (Jordy) and Josh (Douglas) Earls, a poet and painter/writer, respectively. What follows is gathered from our correspondence with the artists, the work they have generously shared with JAC, their descriptions of their work and processes, and an interview with their parents, Penny and Bobby Earls.
Josh: “Josh Earls did not create art most of his life. It was during the turbulent and sometimes terrifying first months incarcerated that he discovered the therapeutic powers of art. After nearly a year of simply coloring and keeping busy, someone impressed upon him to try to ‘create.’ Since then he has worked hard to develop skills in drawing and oil painting, painting a diverse range of subject matter matter from detailed, realistic portraits, to colorful songbirds to abstract forests and even his own mother’s red velvet cake.”
Red velvet cake. It’s an image that, for many, calls up sensory memory: getting the sticky, tangy cream cheese frosting on the tip of your nose, or getting the honor of cutting the first smooth slice of cake. Josh and Jordan Earls’ work is different in many ways, but childhood, and their mother’s red velvet cake, brings both of their works together in the shared memory of home and family.
According to their mother, Penny, the red velvet cake recipe (passed on through generations, traveling from an aunt to Penny, who tweaked it just to make it “even better”) was initially reserved for the special occasion of Christmas. Her sons took such a liking to it, though, that it became a consistent treat: “once I started making it, the boys just latched on…” Bobby jumps in to clarify: “EVERYBODY latched on!”
Josh painted this picture of the cake as a gift to his mother. She says it is still one of her favorite pieces by him.
Josh and Jordan Earls grew up in the foothills of North Carolina. While they didn’t seriously pursue visual art or poetry growing up, both brothers were gifted writers. Part of what Penny calls a “musical family,” Jordan and Josh taught themselves the guitar and Jordan began writing songs: “they were always real pretty. A lot of Christian songs, contemporary songs… very melodic and very pretty. He always wrote his songs because he wanted to touch people, to grab at heartstrings,” says Penny.
Josh: “I create paintings and drawings that I hope that viewers will be able to connect with on some emotional level. Though my subject matter may be diverse, each of my paintings have been of a person, a scene, an animal or an object which pulled on the strings of my heart in some way. Whether that is by eliciting a nostalgic longing, portraying an often-felt emotion or simply evoking awe in its beauty, they all somewhat represent me.”
In addition to the the subject of their personal stories, memories, and family relationships, the Earls each explore a number of different themes in their work. Both have an affinity for nature:
Josh: “If I had to say what my favorite subject is however, it would be the figure and portrait, particularly with a fantastical spin, but I’ll love my birds forever”
Jordan: I don’t know, I wanted to write about the lightning bug!
Josh also explores fantastical elements in many of his recent works.
Josh: “… I have drawn inspiration from fantasy short stories that I write myself and try to paint the characters and themes.”
Josh: “Always in my composition I try to achieve a balance in placement, but also a nice, colorful composition too. I like to place complementary colors next to each other and let them vibrate on the canvas.”
Josh: “I am often inspired by the ones who life has sort of hung out to dry.”
Most recently, both Josh and Jordan have created pieces on the current reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Josh: “I wanted to paint something just to add my voice to so many others who are already expressing their love and gratitude for those medical professionals out there who are saving us all. Really, nothing makes you feel more helpless than when you see your loved ones in need and yet you are completely unable to do anything to help them. I don’t get to use my time in quarantine to add my hands to my father’s as he fixes up the house, or to pick up the things for my mother that she needs to make a trip to the store for. I can’t help prepare a meal for my sister who still has to work through this. I can only sit here. And most of all, if someone I care for is sick, I can only rely on these miracle workers to meet their needs and to make sure they are still “home” when I’m allowed to be there. So I just want to, for any who may be listening, say thanks to the good folks on the front lines. May the appreciation and gratitude of our nation point to them in this new paradigm we are moving into. As one who has all but had their voice taken from them by this punitive system, I’ll let my humble art be a voice.”
Bobby and Penny Earls are very proud of their sons’ work. They hope Jordan and Josh’s art will move people, and help them to see the brothers for “who they are, not who people think that they are.”
This echoes a sentiment from Josh, for whom those that overcome hardship or “battle with one’s emotions and vice” are a major artistic inspiration:
Josh:“… I can’t say why it inspires me so much except that I hope that down the road people will appreciate my humanity as well.”
Please consider joining our pARTner Project to connect directly with an artist in prison. Find more information and sign up by clicking here.