Realist painter Alinda Saintval experiments with new forms amid a year of racial unrest
Amid 2020’s summer of racial reckoning in the United States, artist Alinda Saintval contributed some of her most visceral work to date.
Debuting at the Grassroots Gallery at Arts Garage last August, her series “They Let the Wolves Guard the Sheep” consisted of paintings of nine Black faces, many of them in states of anguish, with reminders of their worth scrawled across their skin: “I am Human,” “My Life Matters,” “Don’t Shoot,” “My Skin is Not a Threat.” The backgrounds were deep blue or deep red—symbolic, perhaps, of a divided America—enhancing the boldness and immediacy of these statement pieces.
It was the first time in her young career Saintval has incorporated text into her work, a change of pace that seemed to meet a national moment. “Because I have a very literal mind, I feel like you have to say what has to be said, very bluntly,” she says. “I just felt there was no way to beat around the bush.”
The paintings, part of an exhibition of racial justice-themed works, have received the most attention of any of this emerging artist’s paintings. Saintval is ambivalent about this success; after all, she doesn’t consider herself a political artist.
“I’m not saying I’m not grateful for [the attention], but I don’t want to create pieces like that if it’s going to be because it’s a trend. Because if you think about it, Black people dying for no reason isn’t a trend. … I don’t want to gain more followers and Likes because I am creating pieces based on unnecessary deaths.”
But stripped of this sort of charged context, Black faces have long been a focal point for Saintval’s traditionally realist approach. “I got interested in mixing several different colors in browns,” she says. “People tend to forget that there is a spectrum of color in black skin. There’s blues, reds, oranges. I guess mixing those colors and being able to find the different shades of brown really stuck with me.”
Saintval grew up in Boynton Beach and Delray Beach, and she picked up her zeal for art from her oldest cousin, fine artist Andre Clermont. She exhibited an aptitude for portraiture at an early age.
“At the age of 5 I’m not all that great, but I did find that, in school, I was able to get more detail than other students. … Kids would do stick figures, and lines for hair, and lines for arms, I would get fingers in, and strands of hair.”
She ultimately attended the University of Florida, graduating in 2019 with a degree in Individual Art Studies. Her work has been exhibited at UF’s FACC Juried Art Exhibition and at the Diaspora Expressions Expo, dedicated to Haitian-American Art, in Washington, D.C. She has also seized entrepreneurial opportunities to make some extra cash off her art.
Around 2015, as she prepared to leave for college, Saintval painted an image onto her backpack as a conversation starter. It worked: She began painting friends’ backpacks, and joined a Facebook group called Black Artists Collective. Her creative designs went viral there, and she would go on to paint backpacks for customers in at least 12 states and five countries. “That’s how I paid for my textbooks and some of my classes freshman year,” she says.
When the backpack trend died down, around her junior year, Saintval began painting custom images on an even more unorthodox canvas: graduation caps. The vibrant images, of mostly Black faces and often accented with jewels and glitter, served as individual tributes to what for many clients was the proudest moment of their young lives.
“It was so dope,” Saintval says. “The way people would explain it to me was, ‘you’re playing a big part in my ceremony.’ It really is a big part of their graduation, because I’m getting their thoughts across on their caps, and other people are seeing their accomplishments.
“One was a 40-year-old woman who had to stop college three times because of children, and a car accident that almost took her life. She decided to go back to school and get her bachelor’s and master’s. I really like hearing the stories of other people. … It helps my creativity.”