Najja Elon Lawson’s path less traveled
As long as Najja Elon Lawson’s art is in on display in Augusta Regional Airport, no passing traveler will have a mundane day. The presence of her paintings could even be a metaphor for her own vibrant and unconventional journey: After five years in the U.S. Navy, Lawson (B.F.A., graphic design) “knew I wanted to study art, and I liked how open and spacious SCAD Savannah is, how it’s part of the city itself.” She enrolled in fall 2019, and has been a Bee in clover ever since.
Najja Elon Lawson:
I’m originally from Philadelphia. When I graduated from Cheltenham High School, I realized I wanted to see the world, so at age 17 I joined the Navy. My first two years in the Navy, I lived in Japan. The workload in the Navy is so intense it’s hard to explore your own hobbies. Then in 2016, while stationed in Jacksonville, I went on a whim to a “Painting with a Twist” event. I was so into it! I thought wait, I need to really do this.
When I came to SCAD, I didn’t have any knowledge of digital applications or digital art, I just knew I wanted to broaden the scope of my abilities. I began investigating the Adobe Creative Suite, and earned my Adobe certification. I have a separate romance with the app Procreate, which I use to make work that’s a digitally rendered version of my style.
Last year I saw a post online that Augusta Airport was looking for artwork. I thought, the worst they can do is say no. I submitted my portfolio, and a month later received an email from the airport public relations manager Lauren Smith saying: “We’ll show your artworks as long as they fit the dimensions of the display case.” I picked three paintings, drove them there, and as soon as she saw them, she said, “YES!”
The larger painting is called “Living Later.” It’s about how some people try to stretch their youth throughout their entire lives. The painting “Oluwatoyin Salau” is a portrait of a BLM activist who was murdered. I want people to engage with the work and remember her name and the work she did.
It can be hard to make your work standout online because the internet is such a crowded place. The opportunity at Augusta Airport showcases how diverse my art is, and has made me more excited to experiment. That space is traversed by people nonstop. I mean, it’s an airport!
In the Navy, I traveled to 23 countries. In the Philippines, there are people darker than me. In Malaysia, I met people with my skin tone. Places you wouldn’t expect “us” to be. I think it’s important for people to see different colors of Black. That’s why I don’t necessarily paint Black people black.
I’m attracted to color. Colors that complement. Colors that differ. I don’t like to stick to one color, because your relationship with that color might be different than mine. The point of having a multi-hued palette is to allow people different interpretations of the work. I want you to have your own experience.
I didn’t realize how many things I wanted to do until I got to SCAD. There are so many options here. This quarter, I’m taking Topography 1: Form & Space with graphic design professor Stephan Geissbühler, and Painting for the Non-Major with professor Denise Carson. I write down what my professors say and apply it to my art, even in different media. I want to be multidimensional. I’m committed to learning new things.
Visit Najja Elon.
Photos of Najja: Erin White (B.F.A., photography, 2019).