Morrison: “Magical Visions”
University of Delaware Museums, January 2012
Curated by Keith Morrison
Essay by Keith Morrison
Terry Adkins, Sonya Clark, Melvin Edwards, Sam Gilliam, Barkley L. Hendricks, Kalup Linzy, Odili Odita, Karyn Olivier, Faith Ringgold, William T. Williams.
Magical Visions brings together ten artists who have made significant differences in American art over the last half century. Their ideas emerged at various times, reflecting changes in the art world and remain important today. Their works include assemblage, fibre, painting, photography, printmaking, quiltmaking, sculpture, and video with performance. Each of them has pioneered imagery independent of traditional art theories through their own visual perceptions, which are sometimes formally elusive, hence the title “Magical Visions.”
Terry Akins, activist, artist, commentator, musician, and poet, has been working in a variety of art media for more than twenty years. Adkins is like a shaman, playing formal and improvised instruments in ways that mesmerize and dramatize and ultimately expressing imagery about the African-American African spirit. His work includes installation concepts with sculpture, performance photography, poetry and, as noted, music. Often his work is collaborative, joining with other artists to perform, ritualistic and ceremonial environments. His art seeks to immortalize cultural icons and to replay historic occasions and associations especially about the African American past. His mission: to elevate or restore significant cultural and political icons who have affected the African American legacy to their rightful place in history.
Adkins’ art engages audience participation, sometimes with a group, sometimes solo. His art is essentially conceptual and minimal, seeking the most salient means to identify and symbolize his image. He researches his subject, establishes historic context and select or create objects and emblems that signify their meaning. Sometimes he presents his idea through photographs, alone or with objects to create an idea. At other times he adds objects and instruments to performance of music or verse he writes or plays. In the manner of the ancient carrier of traditions and messages, Adkins is a purveyor of truth through metaphor. There is no stylistic look to objects in his work, but a craftsmanship that refines found or manufactured objects in a way that brings to them a singular spirituality that makes their historic significance live again. As a musician, drumming, playing flute, saxophone or other, his music is refined, with tones echoing spirituals, blues, Jazz, and a complexity of contemporary sounds from the music hall to the street, from the formal to the vernacular. He may write verse to recite by himself, of in collaboration, sometimes with his audience, often improvised or spontaneous. He makes icons of scared places (Black minstrel material, pulpits, jail cells); historic Black people –Black and white (John Brown, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. Dubois, Ralph Ellison); or great musicians (Thelonius Monk, Billy Holiday, Max Roach, Ludwig Van Beethoven)
The photos in the exhibition, entitled Bishop, reference Catholicism (the artist’s roots), which Adkins renewed in a year living in Rome near Vatican City. They are about the scared and the profane, the hierarchy of government of perceived corrupt of the papacy. These images also appear to be related to priest-like musical and religious ceremony in African-American culture. As in many of his works, Terry Adkins uses the cultural lens in his African-American soul to explore universal stories with empathy and compassion.
Sonya Clark has come to international prominence over the last 20 years. Working from a foundation of a fibre artist, Clark has developed an extensive range of work including a variety of materials including textiles, glass, beads, amulets, textiles, cloth, found objects, plastics, photographs and other mementos, which she presents in two or three dimensional form, as wall hangings and environmental installations. Her art links objects and surfaces into imagery of material culture. She makes forms and environments of memory from found objects, fragments of her own past, and of her ancestral and cultural ancestry. A pioneer in elevating craft to the highest level of art, her works connect the act of art making to the experience of ceremony, to the occult, to cultural memory, and to reclamation of culture. Clark’s works are sometimes freestanding icons, sometimes environmental experiences or objects of adornment. Her work recaptures memory as much as it relives it, transforming imagery of the past into metaphors for the present. Clark’s art is steeped in human history with African history at its core, but no less respectful of European history. Her art manifests the importance of the hand as the maker of object and the purveyor of communication between people, and along with the brain, the dual tool central to visual anthropology. Her work is highly crafted. Objects and or found are hewn, woven, polished and refined with her hand with a sensibility or high deference for the historic ritual of making and transmittal of culture, not only as information, but as art as sacrament. Among the prominent themes she has explored is communication tools, including beads, and amulets as symbols of current and historic connectedness. Networks of transmissions and reception are exemplified in her work through systems that relate to their use in ancient African cultures. Another theme is pairs, in which she uses eye glasses, and images of twins and Ibejji to celebrate two-ness or bifurcation. She has done work around the theme of heads and wigs, sometimes using complex mathematical formulas to develop patterns of headdress. Another theme is roots, having to do with ancestry, but developed within imagery of human cells, suggesting human growth, bifurcation, ancestry, branch structures, systems, physiology, and technology. Another theme is Shared cultural identity: African American flag, Ghanaian Kente Cloth, hand-woven weave structures on a European loom, or a gele (African woman’s headdress). The theme hands is her homage to the skill of making. Yet another of Clark’s themes, the comb, one of the most ancient of human tools, holds a special significance to human history, which Clark memorializes through its role in the African legacy. Striking a careful balance between exploiting its formal attributes and recognizing its significance to culture and identity, she explores the complex psychological uses of the comb as a tool for hairstyling, cultural heritage, racial identity, gender politics, standards of beauty, vanity, attitude, and intimidation, but also of fear and pain for hair found difficult for the comb. In this exhibition Clark presents two digital prints about hair, one of her most explored themes. One of these works, “Parting,” is a series of six digital prints with a human had parting hair. “The part,” suggests division, change, togetherness, and uncertainty. Sonya Clark extends concepts of craft into forms that are allegorical and tell a metaphorical tale through the trails of human history.
Mel Edwards developed sculpture that infuses abstract art with issues of African ancestry, slavery and African American experience. Much of Edwards’ inspiration comes from his American experiences and directly from Africa, where he spends several months each year working as a sculptor in Senegal. Edwards is known for his large public sculpture, smaller freestanding works, and the kinetic “Rockers” series. His large-scale works include “Mt. Vernon” and “Homage to Billie Holiday and the Young Ones at Soweto”. He is also formidable printmaker.
In the evolution of metal sculpture from about the first third of the twentieth century one could consider three important directions in to which Edwards’ work relate yet stands apart, which are the sculptures of Julio Gonzales, Henry Moore, and David Smith: Gonzales, for his pioneering drawing in space with metal; Moore for abstract metal sculpture with psychological allegory; and David Smith for enlarging totemic abstract forms that merge raw metal with manufactured form. Mel Edwards works sits among this group, involving some of their ideas, but taken in a different direction. Edwards’s art brings to reality the idea of subject matter in abstraction. The paradigm of modern sculpture had been the evolution of pure (non-objective) abstraction from Brancusi to, say, David Smith; and abstract figuration from Picasso to Henry Moore. The latter, of course, made important foray into abstract sculpture as much matter, but even he relied on the echo of his figuration for the basis of his abstraction. Mel Edwards’ abstractions are freed of figurative reference. This sculpture animates the cultural anthropology of the utilitarian object. He has pioneered the concept of the psychology of the image being carried through cultural memory latent in objects and tools. Edward’s forms are images of implements that suggest cultural struggle, echoes of harrowing bondage, cruelty, and toil. His sculpture transforms a general paradigm of abstract form in space to a more specific awareness of cultural iconography in space. His images, in substance and psychology, has the look of iron. Typically he makes his art from a variety of metal objects, including chains, locks, hammers and railroad slices, and charms, transforming them in them into emblems of an African ancestral past and its permutation through the Americas, North and South. His art conjures implements of slavery into abstract iconic forms that express the cultural spirit of the African international journey. Perhaps no better source of Edwards’ development of implements as sculpture are to be found than in his “Lynch fragments.” These are small sculptures informed by the history of brutality to Black people in America. These are welded metal wall reliefs, developed by the artist in three periods: 1963 to 1967, 1973 to 1974, and 1978 to the present. There are now more than 200 pieces in the series. These sculptures, most often less than a foot tall, are hung on the wall at eye level. The essence of these works lies in their transformation into pure abstraction while retaining the spirituality of their origin as utility and the spirituality of historic brutality for which they were used. Edwards uses a variety of metal objects including hammer heads, scissors, locks, chains and railroad splices as the essential materials for these works. These implements and tools are forged, welded, bent and stretched, and the process of transforms them into a new kind of sculpture.
Sam Gilliam is one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. He burst on the scene of American painting early in the 1960’s. His landmark paintings floated the canvas from the stretcher, making color and form ethereal. Over the years he has expanded that concept; giving pigment visceral solidity and blurring the lines between painting and sculpture; adding collage elements that in ways that change the concept of space; charging color with scintillating light so that they seem a chimera; raking and building from the floor; making architectural structures and environments; and exploring forms that move off the surface in rhythmic and polyrhythmic pattern and counterpoint. Working amidst Washington Color School artists, such as Kenneth Noland, Morris Louis and Gene Davis Gilliam’s painting became distinguished from theirs as he freed the canvas from the surface of the wall and made it flow freely in space. Like many of his contemporaries, Gilliam applied paint to his canvas in ways that maintained flatness of the pictorial surface. However, he wrinkles, tears, creases and rumples his draped forms, varies the thickness of his pigments, with many tools to trowel, rake and spray his surfaces. Sam Gilliam brought to American painting an entirely new concept of space and surface and a dimension of media between painting and sculpture. From the early 60’s through the mid-seventies Gilliam explored draped paintings. In the ‘Seventies and Eighties he explored painterly construction, adding other materials, such as wood, plastic and metal to the surfaces, combining them with pigment, and sometimes returning the image to the wall. At other times during this period he made large wall paintings with layers of pigment painted and scraped with a restless hand exploring imagery that moved within the flat surface. In the late ‘Eighties and Nineties he made a series of large public pieces that were sculptural, combining metals and plastics with pigment for work tom be sown in or out of doors. From then until now he has explored the illusion of the tactile object, making forms that drape or flow, often with transparency, so that the space though tangible is disorienting. Gilliam’s art has long had a look of chimera, where what you think you see is not always what you get. Like his earliest Color School peers he is a colorist, but he separated from them with his use of using glittering surfaces, scintillating textures, and fractured light. His work in the present exhibition is an image that involves the architectural planes of the walls and floors of the gallery with the organic space of the draped canvas. Sam Gilliam’s art is at once visceral and cerebral. Sam Gilliam’s work has changed the paradigm of painting, extending it into sculptural and environmental space, and through complex surfaces and color, created a visual chimera that alternates imagery from the tactile to the mystical form.
Barkley L. Hendricks came to national attention as a painter in the early Nineteen Seventies when his work was included in the Whitney exhibition of African American art. His imagery spans a wide range of people and places, of different races, ethnicity, and locations. His African American portraits create a new kind of portraiture, with clothes and jewelry that tell of the hip urban life, bling and attitude. A Hendricks’s painting is a fierce, uncompromising statement about urban African-American style, guile, and ego. Using the dual eye of painter and photographer, Hendricks paints portraits and landscapes. His works in this exhibition are portraits. Hendricks figures typically appear to be oblivious to art or art history, like they are posing for the camera, revealing attitude more than inner self. However, his paintings are highly structured and sometimes conceptually formal and compositionally reductive. “Icon for My Man Superman,” in the present exhibition, is a case in point. The figure forms a curvilinear abstraction in silhouette against a flat background – and it also is in front of a faux frame, becoming a picture in front of a picture. The image of Superman burst from the stomach of the figure like an abstract explosion in space. Nevertheless, the initial effect of the whole is of a defiant black man posing in a superman shirt. What’s so compelling about a Hendricks painting is that it may be perceived on two levels; as a sophisticated composition and a social statement. The statement is about the irrelevance of black people to superman, reflecting Bobby Seale’s statement : “Superman never saved any Black People.“
Hendricks’s makes a camera-conscious painting of a black man with the affect of an image outside the archetypal poses of art history. His other print in the exhibition, “Iconic Dexter,” is quite abstract, an image in three interrelated tones, simplified into poster-like form that belies its compositional complexity. Hendricks people aren’t defiant; instead they are comfortable in their skin, showing their world and their style. His perceptions are ultra-keen as he captures the essence of his people through how they pose, how they gaze, or how they dress. Hendricks brings a cool street-wise style to the look of the portrait. He has pioneered art that anticipated issues being explored by a younger generation of artists such as Michelene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Jeff Sonhouse, and Kahinde Wiley. Barkley L. Hendricks’s works show him to be one of the seminal painters of the last three decades.
Kalup Linzy has come to wide attention in American art over the last decade with his seminal videos, first shown at the Studio Museum in Harlem, then at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney and Brooklyn museums. A multidisciplinary artist, Linzy works in video, music, painting, and live performance. His work is satirical, bawdy, thrilling and beyond categorization. His mining of stereotypical black characters, and queer life has expanded art and merged it with entertainment.
Linzy’s best-known work is a series of video art pieces satirizing the tone and narrative approach of television soap opera. He performs most of the characters in his videos himself, many of them in drag. He also performs many of the same characters on stage. Through his characters he explores issues such as vanity, family neurosis, racial stereotype, and materialism. Whereas the meaning of the subject matter art of other excellent artists can be difficult to access, Linzy’s is the opposite, engaging his audiences’ ability to identify with his characters and narrative. The African American experience, good, bad and comical, is at the essence of his art. From his early study of visual communication art (rather than filmmaking) Linzy learned to focus on popular media and narratives. his work relates to a tradition of African American TV humorists, such as Flip Wilson, Red Foxx, Richard Pryor, and filmmaker Tyler Perry. Linzy’s work is distinguished by the clarity of his wit, his aesthetic, the poetry of his narrative and a sense of sexual confusion and role reversal. Like the Black comedians mentioned, it is through wit that he draws in his audience. He creates characters like his sister Lucretia and his grandmother, both of which he plays himself. This is performance art of the self in many guises, telling as much about the characters as about our social mores. His aesthetic is not the one -liner but like the short story: his charters tell about events, and responds to situations or fantasized aspirations. Typically they put themselves in situations that fuels the audiences’ mirth. Linzy arranges his own lighting and effects for the shooting of his videos, and creates his own mascara for each of his characters in exquisite detail. The strategy of his tableau is self-reflection and unconscious self-deprecation. Linzy’s characters are confident in their delusion and oblivious to the humor they reveal. Linzy’s art is the duality of the vulnerability of his characters and their absurd conceit . Linzy’ “sister Lucretia” reminds one of Flip Wilson’s “Geraldine” in the TV shows of the seventies, yet there are significant differences between them. Wilson satirized black women through Geraldine but his own persona was separate. Ditto the late Red Foxx and Tyler Perry who use Black culture as a basis for satire on TV and in film. However, Linzy is not afraid to reveal himself through his characters: it is not simply a satire of Lucretia but of Linzy himself in drag. Linzy‘s art is not like a TV show or a movie, rather, it bridges a gap between imagery of popular culture and imagery of art, and is a seamless relationship between made-for-TV and performance art. His art also breaks down the barrier between an artistically informed eye and the perception of the non-art-conscious person on the street. His work not only brings Black pop culture to performance art, it brings new audiences as well. Yet, as his art entertains it also disturbs. At the center of our discomfiture may be the chimera of his cross-dressing: we enjoy the voyeuristic experience it provides, but are uncertain of the persona and sexuality it reveals and challenges us to examine in ourselves.
Odili Odita emerged onto the art scene in the 1990’s making paintings, photomontages, objects and conceptual imagery in a variety of materials as he searched to create an art of new cultural fusion. His work in this exhibition exemplifies his abstract voice in a time when many thought abstract art a revered but closed book. Odita reopened its pages to explore new strategies for abstract meaning. His paintings are of zigzag patterns and color variations that tease and surprise. He explores a visual language of forms that pulsate with staccato colors that vibrate like musical rhythms. His paintings echo different environments, yet elude specificity. His paintings, sometimes large sometimes installations, have moved the concept of abstract art from formal analysis, expression or reductivism, into a realm of mass cultural association. An intercultural liminalism is at the center of Odita’s abstractions. As has been often noted, Odita was born in Africa, grew up in the US, where his father is an African art historian, and studied art in some of the best institutions in the land. And has also been often noted, his work seeks to synthesize his cultural duality, involving imagery of African patterns, US and world pop culture, fashion, advertisement, mass media, television bytes, and science fiction. An important issue at the core of his painting is an irony of self-identification through stereotype. His work seems futuristic and scientific, but at the same time temporal and personal. His imagery reminds you of Madison Avenue and at the same time of Timbuktu. His music-inspired rhythms span continents, may be just as easily associated with Philip Glass or Miles Davis as with Fela Kuti or Salif Keita. This trans-continental vision is not sterilized into “objectivity,” or cultural avoidance, but is the vision of an artist whose perception explores specific cultural codes – Kente cloth, tropical colors, African patterns, persistence of rhythm through the lens of the Black experience – developed from a fundamentally African platform. Yet his imagery isn’t parochial or ethnic, but a reinterpretation of symbols in a way that reveals them to be metaphysical, like codes in a new cosmogony. Odita’s art reflects the pulse of the African landscape discharging its energy into cyberspace. His palette changes with moods or personal visual intention more than from formal visual logic. Yet, if his formal choices are personal, his imagery is identifiably public. He is a highly personal artist whose imagery reveals a universally shared mnemonic. Odita’s art reflects the pulse of the African landscape discharging its energy into cyberspace. His palette changes with moods or personal visual intention more than from formal logic. His visual choices are personal yet his imagery is identifiably public, like a magical deception: a highly personal artist whose imagery reveals a universally shared mnemonic. Odita’s art is not about the formalist issues Kenneth Noland or Barnett Newman, nor the optical illusions of, say, Bridget Riley or Victor Vassarely, although his work is informed by all of those. Conceptually, his work may be closer to Rothko, finding mood and a sense of place in abstraction. His visual codes form a new international cultural synthesis and a framework where people of different cultures and classes may find a common aesthetic. His art is about the ability of the individual to identify his/her world through commonly shared cross- cultural associations.
Karyn Olivier is a conceptual artist whose work has come to prominence over the last decade. Her media are sculpture, installation, public works, photography, and video through which she explores social interaction with familiar objects and spaces. Her work involves changing character of intimacy as it fluctuates between a personal and a social experience.
Olivier’s work, which borders on a relationship between crafted and found objects, elicit nostalgia, sentiment, and historical memory. They are architectural in the sense that they inspire an appreciation of functionality and understanding of new kinds of space. Although her objects are identifiable, each work a bears a sense of abstraction in how it rearrange our space perception beyond its literal reality. Some of her works are installations of objects (e.g., toys, playgrounds, fences) . At other times she makes videos of the urban language (e.g., bill boards, signs, buildings). Often in her work there are social contrasts and abrupt transitions: industrial to rural, rich to poor, refined to shabby, all positing experiences of psychological and sociological differences, changes or growth. This is also shown in the atmosphere of the environment she: light to dark, day to night or natural to artificial light. Olivier’s work is often about dwelling: how and where people live, and in the contrasts in the dwellings and furnishings that form the spaces they occupy or make for themselves. Her works reinterprets space and objects, making furniture architecture, trash decoration, or kitsch icon. Her exterior installations such as swings, carousels, have a sense of child’s play, yet are like precursors to adulthood. It is as if they were foundations for civilization created from the found objects, improvisation and vernacular cultures. Olivier’s sculptures are meticulously crafted and engineered: furniture is well made and fitted to architectural environments, playground swings and shoots are well designed, machines such as carousels work properly. Her aesthetic is less about what is discarded and more about imaginative recycling, beginning perhaps with the skills learned from childhood play. Her sense of the city, whether she takes us into it through a video or across a playground, is perceived in her oeuvre as building through play. Her work is about the spaces and objects that form urban anthropological evolution. A sense of time is a significant catalyst in her work: child’s play to adulthood; transformation from the basic to the complex; objects recycled from one utility to another; things transformed from new to old; forms evolving from detritus to the precious from precious. Karyn Olivier’s art is an ecological evolution through time and space.
Olivier’s work in the present exhibition is five photographs showing aspects of urban dwelling. In “Double Sided” we see identical houses side by side, a duplication and anonymity yet subtly suggesting by their lack of conspicuous manicure separate individuality within. Her “Favelas” show the density of the teaming inner city, underscored by the wood slab attached (although part of the photographically) to the side, an image of the dilapidated inner city. “Black Sculptures” show the persistence of African imagery and the maintenance of dignity in the picket fence and garden even in a limited and perhaps inappropriate space.
Faith Ringgold, began her artistic career more than 50 years ago as a painter and is one of America’s most renowned artists. Over that time she has done paintings about her life experiences, travels, the Civil rights movement and a great variety of issuers in our time. Ringgold has been a forceful voice for feminism over the last four decades. Her American People paintings (1963–67) and Black Light series (begun in 1967) sought to examine how traditional color values could be modified for black subjects. From there she explored traditions of “women’s work” in fabric, first in collaboration with her late mother and then in her Story Quilts, which have become her signature statement.
Her work includes textiles, sewn fabric, weaving, quilting, embroidery, beadwork and other kinds of crafts. She has written and illustrated more than 17 children’s books, and has engaged with childhood and adult education in schools, museums and other institutions. Her books such as “Tar Beach,” “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky,” “The Dream of Martin Luther King,” and “Cassie’s Word Quilt,’ tells stories to capture the imagination of children and adults alike. Issues of child’s play, naiveté, intuitive tendencies, and raw experiences permeate her work. Ringgold, painter, qultmaker, author, and educator is a storyteller. She came to prominence during the Civil rights ear of the ‘sixties, with ionic paintings such as “Die,’ expressing the violence and turmoil of race relations. She has remained committed to investigation of issues of race in art, including illuminating the color white from her palette for a period of time. Ringgold is a narrative painter, telling allegories in forms that are inventive, sometimes provocative or strident at other times highly personal and somber. Her work is not didactic or preachy, but allegorical. Although born and bred in Harlem, New York, Ringgold’s work has always shown a connectedness to the African American south, through some of its vernacular narratives. And so the transition in her work from painting to quiltmaking is seamless since the latter is the more historic medium of visual art in the African American south, especially among women. Joining the long tradition of African-American quiltmakers, Ringgold makes painted story quilts, combing painting, quilted fabric and storytelling. Her work tells stories of today as much as of the past. Yet, quiltmaking before Ringgold had been essentially an art outside of painting, and considered more as a (secondary) craft. Ringgold has brought quiltmaking foursquare into the concept of painting and in so doing merges a stream of African American culture with issues of contemporary art. During slavery when education was outlawed and writing denied Black people, the African American quilt became the source of Black history. Ringgold’s work picks up on that tradition in new dimensions. Her work tells stories, often historical, sometimes, personal, with an irony revealed through complex changes in pictorial space and tension between modernist pigment surfaces and gestures, and traditional techniques and pictorial arrangements. Ringgold’s work also retains a sense of play, childlike charm and simplicity that suggest freedom, never naiveté, even as her imagery is sometimes drawn like by a naïf. “Subway Graffiti,” her work in the present exhibition, is of a population of just about every kind of person, every race, color, size and status, all seemingly posing for a camera shot. Made of a complex arrangement of squares and grids, “Subway Graffiti” is also an abstract pattern or rhythms and scintillating glimpses of light resulting in shifts of perception.
William T. Williams has been at the forefront of American abstraction since the late 1960’s and remains one of the most important artists of our time. He has developed form and color from perception rather than from formalism. He invents his own iconic images and makes variations on them in shape and color, sometimes creating images like visual anagrams and orthographic encoding. Over the last four decades his work has taken several distinct shifts, but an overarching world view of iconic abstract and variation remains at its core. His paintings of the sixties and seventies explored iconic forms from the center. In his paintings of that time, what at first appears to be a central diamond shape or rhombus is never really that, but a rhomboid(trapezoid or kite shape), ever varying and often augmented by another relating rhomboid in a different color or a negative form, completing the vertical appearance of the whole and revealing it to be a larger but fractured rhomboid, which, seen diagonally, becomes a rectangle. Spiraling forms weave in and out, locking the center to the outer most rectangular border that forms the edge then spring back in bombardment. The fracturing of these forms changes the space, so while the whole is a complexity of rhomboids, its parts break the picture plane into complex dimensions of space. William’s art suggests energy gravitating from a central core, like nuclear fission, to edges or boundaries from which they reverberate (i.e., a rhomboid exploding within a parallelogram). Energy released from the center returns to the core and back to the edge in a continuum. His was a new kind of kinetic energy in painting with complexities of visual energy, ever evolving, never allowing our eye to stabilize the image as a whole. His work would change markedly in the ensuing decades while retaining a foundation of the iconic image created through Complex visual fission. William’s paintings of the seventies explored shifting planes with colors and lines dissecting one another and moving in counterpoint. In the Eighties the shapes become more organic and the space deeper. A great complexity of what could be mistaken for patterns come to prominence in this period of his work. But more than patterns they are cultural notations: music notations, African symbols, and Islamic calligraphy reinterpreted into a new holistic gestural language. In the late Eighties-Nineties we see William’s work take another dramatic direction as the forms become more three dimensional. The central rhomboid becomes conical, circular shapes become spherical, spiraling movement of explosions, adding to the work humor and a cartoon-like drama to abstraction, which reveal a new kind or random structure resulting from the explosion of order, like a kind of quantum physics. The new century found Williams bringing more graphic gesture to the fore, sublimating explicit shapes and substituting a color field aura. His works on paper in this exhibition are excellent examples of this phase of the artist’s work. Now the solid forms are transformed into filters, their solidity implied beneath like visual silence, as the graphic gestures play freely, and you sense that the whole would fall apart without that implied beneath. The gestures include imagery such as West African symbols, fauna, music, graffiti, Asian, and Islamic calligraphy, imagery the artist has explored in his work over many years. With an intellectual discipline of steel and abstract imagination, William T. Williams constructs complex geometry to bare the spiritual essence of his imagery and to make some of the strongest, most original and beautiful paintings of our time.
In keeping with the mandate of the gallery, the artists are of African American or African descent. Each is not only among the best African American artists, but among the very best artists of any race, ethnicity or nationality worldwide. Each is highly sophisticated, well informed about relationships of their work to art history and to contemporary art. Each one has brought a new dimension into the dominant cultural parameters of contemporary art. The title of the exhibition, “Magical Visions,” supports the idea that the work of each of these artists springs from perceptive originality and joins the established visual conventions each of these artists knows so well. By perceptive I mean a personal set of choices, which though well informed of established norms, develops outside of the prevailing art conventions that attract the artists. These are not “outsider” artists in the sense of being indifferent to conventions. Their perceptions are neither reactionary nor rebellious, but in each case, in different ways, artists whose works are borne from a freely confident search for originality by pushing boundaries of contemporary art. Their ideas are attuned to vanguard art theories and directions of our time, but bring to the table new dimensions of image making. They bring to their works new dimensions to art that is known by adding ideas which though often parallel, have not been focused upon by prior conventional art analysis. There may be a temptation to conclude that there is something inherently African American about this, but if that is true I cannot substantiate it. What I can say clearly is that ten of the most original points of view, developed apart from the conventions of our time are to be seen in the work of these artists. Their art reveals that some of the best African American artists have expanded or shifted the visual paradigm of contemporary art. Although certainly not alone in this venture, their works have added to the vocabulary of art, so that what was essentially a Euro-American paradigm a short half century ago has evolved, in no small measure by the work of these artists, into a more global concept, making contemporary art more reflective of the cultural heterogeneity of our time.
Adkins, Terry: email to Keith Morrison
Binstock, Jonathan: Sam Gilliam a Retrospective, University of California Press, 2006
Brenson, Michael: “Studio Museum in Black Art of the 60’s,” New York Times, May 31, 1985
Campbell, Mary Schmidt: Red and Black to D, Studio Museum, 1982
Carvalho, Denise: NKA Journal of Contemporary African Art, Fall/ Winter, 2000
Clark, Sonya: email to Keith Morrison
Cotter, Holland: New York Times, “A Star is Born,” March 25, 2005
Cotter, Holland: New York Times, Art Review, Nov. 16, 2001
David C. Driskell Center: William T. William, Variations on a Theme, 2010
Dodd, Lois: “Unpainetrly Painter; Transforming Sculptor,” New York Times, March 31, 1996
Lewis, Samella S: African American Art and Artists, University of California Press, 2003, p210.
Olivier, Karyn: email to Keith Morrison
Oguibe, Olu: BOMB Magazine, issue# 89, Fall 2004
Ruble, Casey: “Kalup Linzy,” Art in America, March 1, 2009
Schoomaker, Trevor: Birth of the Cool Barkley L Hendricks, Nasher Museum, Duke University, 2008
Simpson, Ashley: “Linzy-Franco Collaboration,” Art in America, July 7, 2011
Skov Holt, Steven and Skov Holt: Mara: Manufactured, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NYC, 2008
Smith, Roberta: “Melvin Edwards, Sculptures, 1964-2010,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 2010
Trescott, Jacqueline: “Sam Gilliam: An Ever-Changing Force,” Washington Post, Jan. 30, 2011
Wright, Tillett: “Notes from the underground,” New York Times, June 30, 2011
YouTube Play: “Wit de Churen,” August 5, 2006
YouTube: “Conversation Wit de Churen,” May 20, 2008
YouTube: Kalup Linzy “Proud Mary/James Franco,” May 21, 2010
YouTube: “Faith Ringgold: “The Last Story Quilt”
YouTube: William T. Williams