“The Letter” by Grace Matthews


This portrait was part of an assignment from my freshman year of high school in which we were asked to create a series of expressive charcoal portraits tying together any work of our choosing from our English and Philosophy classes. The two works I chose to draw inspiration from and tie together were a stanza from Robert Hayden’s poem “Middle Passage” and Hobbes’ Leviathan.


The 11th stanza of “Middle Passage” is written as if part of a journal. Here, the narrator relays how Ophthalmia (blindness) has taken hold of many of the slaves on board and has now spread to the crew. The narrator expresses his fear that they will be condemned to drift on the seas sightless and how “writing eases fear a little/since still my eyes can see these words take shape/upon the page & so I write, as one/would turn to exorcism.”


In the Leviathan, Hobbes claims that in a state of nature (a scenario in which there is no government or sovereignty) every man is against every man. In the state of nature, each man seeks to increase and further his own power, and therefore, no one can be trusted.


In this painting, I wished to capture the sense of paranoia that comes with being stalked, whether by another person or by disease.


**Note: The two line drawings are semi blind contours and were exercises in seeing for The Letter.

About the Artist:

Grace Matthews is a 19-year-old freshman from Greenwich, CT and is currently living in Pennypacker. As of now, she is planning to concentrate in Biomedical Engineering with a secondary in either CS or Studio. Grace attributes her skills and growth as an artist to Tanya Larson her teacher throughout her childhood and her three teachers in college: Charles Noyes, Terri Moore, and Bradley Faus. She noted that, “Tanya is more than just an art teacher to me; I’ve had so many life-lessons from her she is more like a second mom. She not only taught me basically all the artistic skills I have but also showed me how to be confident in my artwork. During my time at Hotchkiss, I learned how to connect art to other academic fields; I learned how to take complex social issues or themes of novels or my own identity and transform them something visual. Art is has given me so much freedom, and for that I am truly grateful to those who have supported me along the way.”