DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – A portrait painted by a Durham artist will now be part of a permanent collection at the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Artist Jim McKeon grew up in the New York and New Jersey area but now calls Durham home. His portrait of Camille A. Brown hung in Durham’s 5 Points Gallery before making it to the Met Opera.
McKeon has been a fan of ballet and contemporary dance for many years. He said he wanted to do a large mural featuring African American dancers as role models for breaking down barriers—that’s how he first got connected with Brown.
He painted a mural featuring her in Rocky Mount before painting a portrait of her titled “Breaking Glass Ceilings.”
“I wanted to really concentrate on her and her accomplishments in the dance world. Even though she was in the news about the upcoming Tony awards, something kept pulling me to the opera ‘Fire Shut Up In My Bones at Lincoln Center,'” McKeon said.
The Met Opera is located on Broadway where Brown had recently choreographed and co-directed for Terence Blanchard’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in the 2021–22 season. The Met says Brown will return for the premiere of Blanchard’s Champion in the upcoming season.
“I started looking at pictures of the Opera House and whammo, there it was. The chandelier. That’s what’s exploding behind her. She is standing in the fountain in the plaza of Lincoln Center,” McKeon said.
Brown earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from the UNC School of the Arts. She is an-award winning dancer, choreographer, director and educator. She made her directorial debut on Broadway with revival of “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.”
Brown was the first Black woman to not only direct but choreograph a Broadway show in nearly 70 years.
McKeon said he was barely able to function and was overwhelmed to learn “Breaking Glass Ceilings” would be a permanent part of the Met Opera.
“…It was a struggle to keep it together. And of all the places on the planet, I mean Lincoln Center! That wasn’t even in my stratosphere of something that could ever be possible. Lots of tears,” he said.
The artist says the portrait shares a similar themes of diversity, racial equality, pro-female, social realism and positive energy.
“I like and respect people who do despite the odds, not the ones who complain about why they can’t. My message is keep breaking glass ceilings,” said McKeon.
Physically getting it to the opera house is another part of the story.
“I wanted to walk into those hallowed grounds carrying my painting and just soak it all in,” McKeon said.
That was no easy feat with the portrait measuring 86×54. McKeon custom designed and built a cage on the back of his Toyota pick up truck. It took him two days to build and design. The time and effort all worth it for this milestone moment.
“Validation of 35 years of never stopping, never deviating. All of it. It was overwhelming.”