by Melanie Eversley
NEW YORK — A cool, fall night in SoHo, a group of people sip wine and study art propped on tables or against exposed brick walls at a private art salon. The paintings have names like “A Turks and Caicos Sunset” and “Festival” and feature brown people wearing brightly colored clothing or landscapes with water or grass. The energy in the room swirls around a delicate-looking woman with close-cropped hair and shiny black sneakers. She looks intently at people and smiles as they talk to her.
She is the artist Synthia Saint James, known for her vibrantly colored painting on the cover of the 1995 book “Waiting to Exhale” by Terry McMillan. The book was not only a groundbreaking ode to the lives of single African-American women, but its cover art helped put Saint James on the national map. It also spurred a collection of copycat artists who mimicked her style of clean lines and bright colors.
But the people in the room know her not just as an artist, but also as a friend, poet, Hollywood businesswoman, and are supporting her art salon to benefit the enCourage Kids Foundation, a program that brings art therapy, teddy bears, even family trips to sick children in New York City hospitals. Twenty-five percent of the proceeds from the sales of the signed prints and original paintings at the salon will go to enCourage.
Saint James said she feels compelled to do good with her talent.
“I really think it was a gift from the creator and I also think that with that gift comes responsibility,” said Saint James. “I like to share and I like to work with a lot of nonprofits and other organizations to encourage and help. I am not money rich at all.”
Once she does business with someone, it seems they become friends. One man tells her that she and her work are beautiful. She smiles and hugs him.
“She’s just warm and inviting — she’s a people person,” said songwriter and friend Matthew Smith, 59, of Queens. He met Saint James at a dinner in Los Angeles 20 years ago and owns several pieces of her artwork. “Her work speaks for itself. It’s universal. Everyone can relate,” he said.
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