Professor Jerome Walford’s illustrations of everyday immigrant life explore aspects of the immigrant experience that merge into and enrich American culture. The images are a mix of the literal and dreamlike. The latest in his series are about to appear in Gwan Anthology, Volume Two, a collection of art and short stories by immigrant artists from around the world.
A woman contemplating numerous bagel choices; an American flag T-shirt worn under the jacket of a devout Muslim, a beleaguered stranger with a steaming cup of coffee, these and other images with “unintentional patterns and alignments of people and places,” as Walford calls them, are the basis of his work.
“I focus on unexpected sightings that shed light on human experiences,” says Walford who teaches Computer Graphics and is also managing editor of the collection. “They are glimpses of things we can relate to.”
The second Gwan Anthology, to be published by Forward Comix in spring, 2020, includes short comics, illustrations, and prose from over 30 artists and writers from 15 countries.
“Professor Walford’s work is inspiring for its ability to represent the immigrant experience and our city’s rich diversity, while imbuing all that he depicts with a sense of hope and beauty.” – Troy Richards, School of Art and Design
“Gwan,” or “Gwaan” is a word common in greetings in Jamaican patois. “’A what a gwan?’” isn’t just ‘How are you?’” says Walford, “but an invitation to a conversion about life and one’s personal journey. It makes it fitting as the title of an anthology centered on the immigrant and foreigner experience.”
Walford’s images of “seemingly ordinary occurrences” are often of things he notices on the subway, in parks, cafés, and other public spaces.
His “Mother Daughter” illustration (above) is of an encounter he observed at a subway stop in Brooklyn.
“It was striking, this young woman sees herself as American, while also wearing distinctive clothing suggesting an adherence to religion. It shows her love for the country and pride in her cultural background,” says Walford. She’s shown as “a typical teenager rolling her eyes at her mom while leaning toward her with affection.”
“Mother Daughter” was a Selected Winner for American Illustration 38, a hardcover, juried annual regarded as among the best sources for top image-makers. It was also on view at FIT as part of a year-long exhibit on theme of civility.
Other work portrays “fantastical transformations,” as a means of making a larger point, says Walford.
“‘Being Fruitful’ was inspired by something that is not often recognized. Immigrants who come from challenging circumstances are often the most fruitful in our society.”
“Jerome Walford offers a diverse and real view of the world in his beautiful work.”- Tim O’Brien, President, Society of Illustrators
The collection is not explicitly political, says Walford, yet it serves as a response to rhetoric on immigration. “We’re looking to present a strong and beautiful counter-argument to that,” he says.
Walford communicates in real-time with Gwan Anthology artists worldwide. “We do Skype calls. For some of us it’s the end of the day, and for others they’re just waking up! It’s fun! Some of the countries represented from abroad include Canada, France, Australia and China. In the U.S. artists hail from Nigeria, Jamaica, the Philippines, and Brazil.
Perhaps no food lends itself to the depiction of immigrant life like the bagel. “Being introduced to all these choices of bagels!” says Walford about the illustration “Lip Service.”
“If you can’t decide there’s an ‘everything’ bagel. There’s just enough information to tell you that this woman is not from Eastern Europe but likely of Asian descent. I cropped ‘the news’ (from a newspaper in the bottom left) because no matter what other events are going on, we need to eat!”
Lip Service was shortlisted by Communication Arts annual illustration competition.
“Ascent” (above) “is a fictional piece with a real-world connection,” he says.
The illustration appears in Walford’s graphic novel series “Nowhere Man” that follows a young man who has visions of his father, a 9-11 responder, whom he envisions ascending the annual light tribute at Ground Zero.
His work on “Nowhere Man” was a way to use art to help process tragedy. “It started within the context of the story and evolved into something much more,” he says.
“Ascent,” is currently on view in the “Wow Moments” exhibit currently in the Lynn and Carl Goldstein Gallery on the ninth floor of the Feldman Center. It won a bronze award from the Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles.
Walford wants the Gwan Anthology to challenge views “about people we see on a regular basis whom we may have initial perceptions about, ones that don’t tell much of the story of who they are, or what they’re going through,” he says.
“We use the phrase ‘looking for a place to call home,’” he says of the artists he works with.
All images used with permission.