Painter DJ Hyde Matheny stands with Poet t.l. sanders, the subject of the portrait “If Only.” Photo by Shana Siren Kempton

Exhibit Explores Beauty in the Darkness

“The light sometimes cloaks that beauty just like happiness sometimes cloaks the beauty within grief.” 

By Shana Siren Kempton


Saturation of light blights and changes perception. The shadows, the depth, and the nuances are erased yet still exist underneath an overexposed façade. 

Two local artists seek to hold sacred the darkness that complements the light, to find beauty in and through the dark, and to allow pain and hope to coexist in an exhibit on display at HJ’s Youth and Community Center in Brookside.  

Titled “Beauty in the Darkness: Portraits, Poetry, and Landscapes,” the show is a collaboration between painter DJ Hyde Matheny and poet Poet t.l.sanders (sic).

Poet (which is his official first name) writes in the opening of his poem “Beauty is There:” There is beauty /  In the Valley /  When sun-soaked slopes cloak the life Night brings.’ 

He says, “The light sometimes cloaks that beauty just like happiness sometimes cloaks the beauty within grief.” 

The themes of darkness and the moments in-between being “on” bear witness to hope, to life, and to beauty in this exhibit by Poet and Matheny.  


The collaboration by Matheny and Poet was a year-long exploration into the darkness, exposing potential, light, and layers of understanding…layers of paint, layers of words.  Poems that started as one word, turned into line and then dialogue.  Paintings born in grief juxtapose light and dark as necessary elements to our survival and faith. 

The show allows one to sit with their emotions in brush strokes and in the cadence of poem.  Poet writes, speaks, and performs while Matheny paints moments of introspection with oil on canvas. 

The public is invited to immerse themselves in the multisensory impact of these mediums – painted, spoken, and written – at the opening reception on Friday, July 8, from 5-8 with poetry readings at 5:30 and 7 in the gallery at HJ’s. 


A soulful journey for viewer and creators alike, Matheny’s body of work for this series began in March of 2020. Through pandemic losses, political upheaval, and racial strife, what emerged is what Poet refers to as the “relief in grief.” 

“The beauty is in the potential that lies there in the darkness – the potential for transformation,” says Matheny. “You have to go through the darkness to get there. 

“So much has come to the fore over these last two years – so much that we need to examine. We need transformation.”

 Matheny hopes people find healing in her paintings by realizing they are not alone in their feelings of grief and of loss.

Matheny is a contemporary realist oil painter whose background as a hospice social worker appears in her current work. “I was a companion for people in dark times and it was very meaningful. The grief I was exposed to comes through, but it’s also my personal grief. We’re all grieving as a country,” says Matheny. 

Poet is an educator, performance professional, filmmaker, and poet. Included in the show is a painting of Poet titled “If Only.” In real life, the breathing, heart beating, three-dimensional human being that is Poet who brings words like pearls from the shells of life connected on string, is shining and joyful. Matheny describes the portrait of Poet as wistful and dreamy but it appears to be the inside of a man who is honoring pain. Poet’s feature piece complements Matheny’s vision and says it best:

Hoping for just once

Only if only the ground beneath us would quit moaning and groaning

Making miracles atone for this endless mourning

(except from “PO-etry” by Poet)

The portraits, poetry, and landscapes on display invite visitors to honor the shadows and the low places, and to also notice the glimmer within.  

“Beauty in the Darkness” premiers Friday, July 8 from 5-8. Located across from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church at 6425 Wornall Road, the Art Gallery at HJ’s is open Monday – Saturday from 8-11. The show runs through August 27. Admission is free.


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