Under the Hood And at the Easel
John L. Loyd makes his life story artfully inspiring
At his garage off of Greenwood Road, John L. Loyd is an artist under the hood of a vehicle. At his Caddo Heights home, he is an artist of a very different sort.
The front room of Loyd’s home is filled with his paintings, from vibrant, colorful abstracts to his re-creations of significant moments in history. On the easel is his latest work in progress — a portrait of local celebrity and news guy Bob Griffin.
Loyd’s introduction to art came in a Beaumont, Texas, prison. It was the first step on his road to redemption.
Loyd went to prison on racketeering, conspiracy and drug-related charges. “I came to a fork in the road and said I am not going to do this anymore, so I stopped. That’s when I caught myself going straight.”
He said he was supposed to go to prison. It was the fulfillment of a premonition in a childhood dream he had.
“I went to school at J.S. Clark,” he said. “I had a dream one night of going to prison, but it being like school. When you dream of a place, you see it from above looking down on it. I saw a place with a fence around it with dorms. I didn’t know it was a prison in the dream. When I went in, it all came back to me.”
Loyd said he enjoyed prison. “God asked me why I am so happy (in prison),” he said. “I said, ‘Why get mad? Why be angry?’” It wasn’t until 2005, when he transferred to a prison in Texarkana, that he took up painting himself. “I saw someone else paint,” Loyd said. “It looked so beautiful and so real.”
He bought painting supplies from another inmate who was being released. And that’s when he discovered something in painting that he had been missing in his life — peace.
“I asked God to show me everything,” Loyd said. He would walk the “yard” and talk to God asking him to show him how to paint and he did. “Everything I asked for, he gave it to me the next day — he told me to paint the background first, so I painted the canvas black and then I saw the image and how to paint it. Then He told me how to blend colors, how to make a painting look three-dimensional.”
His first painting was an image of Muhammad Ali. A big believer in black history, Loyd’s favorite is a re-creation of a photograph of Rosa Parks being fingerprinted. He has also since then painted other historical figures and celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, Queen Latifah, Martin Luther King and Tiger Woods.
“I never thought about style,” he said. “It’s just real, I guess. I have to see something in order to do it.”
When Loyd was released from prison in 2008, he left behind some gifts — three paintings of the department of corrections seal that still hang on the walls today.
“I did it like I see it,” he said. “The eagle looked like it was looking at you.”
He left prison with a gift, too — the respect and friendship of other inmates. “When I got ready to leave, guys were coming up to tell me, ‘man, if I’m not up, get me up.’ When I got up, I went down every dorm and got them up. In jail, you don’t wake a guy up. They get mad. I had all these guys who wanted to wish me well.”
Loyd said many other inmates were drawn to him “like a magnet.” One particular inmate, Jeff Love, became known as Loyd’s “shadow” because they spent so much time together. On that last day, Love slipped a two-page letter into Loyd’s pocket on his way out.
“He started telling me (in the letter) how much I changed his life,” Loyd said. “He used to smoke. He was sneaking tobacco in, and he’d get caught every time. When he started hanging with me, he stopped smoking. He told me that the most colorful thing about me was my stories.”
Loyd learned to be a mechanic back before prison from his stepfather and Mr. Walker, his teacher at Booker T. Washington High School. Loyd makes his living at the garage, but his artwork remains his passion. Both are very distinct parts of whom Loyd has become.
“It’s very different from cars to canvas,” he said. “I see things on the canvas that aren’t even there. I see colors that aren’t even there. I put colors together, and they will bleed into each other.”
Aside from a few paintings he gave to fellow inmates in prison, Loyd has all of his original works.
“I don’t want to sell them right now,” he said. “I want to sell copies. I get attached to them, like a dog. Plus God gave me this talent for a reason, and for now they are a reminder of my journey with him.” He did say that he had painted a painting of the late Princess Diana and John Travolta’s iconic dance at the White House for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding present but that it was sent back to him – twice, he chuckled. Maybe Mr. Loyd’s achievements will be heralded here as well as “there.” Who knows God’s plans?