Painter Jesse Lane is used to living in pain. Lane, who signs his artwork as Sparrow, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when he was a toddler. Sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to be shaped like sickles, or crescent moons. This slows, or blocks, blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body. It has led to regular hospital stays throughout Lane’s life.
“When you have a chronic disease, you are very aware of fragility of life,” Lane explained. “In high school, this made me feel isolated, or removed, from the people around me. Art became a way to communicate those feelings without dwelling on them.”
Lane, 22, began drawing when he was young, as a way to pass the time during his hospital stints. But by his junior year at Atherton High School, it became an obsession. That’s when he adopted the moniker of Sparrow.
“I hallucinated in the hospital about this flock of birds,” he said. “It seemed to me that they were vulnerable, minute, but graceful. Most of my old friends still call me Jesse, but I feel like I’ve been Sparrow all my life.”
Lane is a senior at the University of Louisville, where he is studying sociology. Last year, he put together a group show with fellow UofL students at the Vault 1031, and he had a solo show at The Little Loomhouse. Earlier this year, Lane was part of a group show at the Open Gallery. He hopes to do a solo show there too.
Lane’s paintings and drawing often feature nudity and such provocative titles as “Afterlust.” He said it is a response to the way young black males are stereotyped as primitive and hypersexual.
“I feel if I’m going to be labeled, let me have a little bit of control over that. Let my primitivism, as far as the pain (of my disease) goes, let it be something carnal and sensual,” he said.
Only about 50 percent of sickle cell anemia sufferers live to age 50. This awareness of his mortality has pushed Lane to do as much creative work as he can in the time he has been given.
Earlier this month, his photographs accompanied a Huffington Post article about bipolar disorder. Last year, he starred in “Murder the Devil,” a play by former Courier-Journal feature writer Larry Muhammad. He intends to pursue art full time after he graduates from UofL.