Many images from Richmond’s summer of protests have struck a chord with the community. Now, a painting has captured the spirit of the summer.
Richmond artist S. Ross Browne’s “The surrender of Lee (reverse mandala)” takes a bird’s-eye view of the Lee statue surrounded by layers of rainbow-colored graffiti.
Browne started the painting in June as a commission from local art patrons who wanted him to capture a moment in time in Richmond. He took his inspiration from a drone photograph of the Robert E. Lee statue surrounded by graffiti.
As he painted, he said he began to feel like he was painting a reverse mandala with layers of meaning and messaging emanating out from the center.
Browne teaches therapeutic art classes where he encourages his students to create mandalas, a geographic configuration of symbols that represent the universe in ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions.
“I teach people to paint from the outside in: to feel the chaos and the things they don’t like until they get to the center, which is your most cherished aspect of life. But with this, I was painting from the center out,” Browne said. “The statue was the catalyst that spurred all this self-expression.”
The painting itself is incredibly detailed with layers and layers of graffiti — messages like “F12” and “I was here” and peace signs — covering the steps.
“I was looking at every single piece of graffiti, reading it like some tragic novel. It can get to you on an emotional level. You’re taking in everyone’s outrage,” Browne said.
He posted the painting on social media where it was shared and commented on many times.
“The surrender of Lee (reverse mandala)” is currently on view at the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia at 122 W. Leigh St. through Oct. 24 before it goes into private collection. Signed limited-edition poster prints are available for $50 at the museum. Fine art editions are also available for $150 on Browne’s website, about half of what his prints typically cost, to be more accessible to a larger audience.
Browne’s work has been collected by such museums as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Valentine.
Over the summer, he’s been participating in the Mending Walls mural project, a public art project addressing societal change on 16 walls around the city by different artists.
Most recently, he completed a massive mural of a young Black woman wearing knight’s armor at Cary and Robinson streets. It was commissioned by Schneider Laboratories to address social justice and climate change.
As for “The surrender of Lee,” he described it as a “timely painting” that people could connect to universally.
“It expressed a moment that everybody was living through together. It encompassed everybody’s anxiety and anger and happiness,” he said. “Like, ‘Wow, look at this outpouring of expression in a way that really epitomizes what America is supposed to be about: expressing yourself freely.’”