Since the reception was a week after the opening, I was able to get a preview of the work on my way to the office. I duck in and check out the work to establish my reaction without external influences.
I first approach the three drawings by Zoe Charlton. Because of the white hoods they remind me of Kara Walker and the prominence of the female parts say Nicole Eisenman. But since Walker works with dark silhouettes, Ms. Charlton’s work is the opposite and shows descriptive marks within the forms. The middle drawing, Sailor, holds my attention. I wonder if it is male or female, what is it doing, and the legs make me think of Frank Frazetta and Joe Kubert.
I continue to my left and head toward the Joyce Owens paintings, but instead begin to watch the multi-monitor video by Cauleen Smith. The huge green circle painted on the wall behind the monitors helps set off the colorful costumes of the characters in the video. It looks like a boppy-pop video with the volume turned down. There appears to be four to six narratives going on, but they also seem to overlap with the characters interacting with each other. Maybe its just one story, like Crash. I turn around to examine Ms. Owens’ paintings. The Pillar Series features black women in old fashioned garb painted in vivid colors. I notice that they are rendered in very static and stable poses that they look like statues. That concludes the colored half of the exhibition.
The other half contains color, like the blue in Amalia Amaki’s quilts or Deborah Roberts’ use of red in her pickaninnies, but for the most part the work is graphic. Amalia Amaki’s quilts are designed with a reversed image of a face, a waving American flag and buttons. I’ve yet to decipher the imagery on the quilts, because the face distractingly looks like a reversed version of Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison. I know that quilt-making is a culturally significant activity, but I need to know more than that for me to figure out how successful I think the artist was. Next to Ms. Amaki’s work were Deborah Roberts’ pickaninnies. Using cutouts, monoprints and collage, Ms. Roberts creates gritty yet humorous episodes. As the picaninnies congregate around Venus de Milo, they influence her like Eugene Levy in Bringing Down the House. With newly acquired red lips and learning about demeaning vocabulary, you got her straight trippin’, shawties. The largest work by Ms. Roberts features a lone pickaninny and reminds me of Michael Ray Charles, which was interesting because he attended the reception. They both use the graphic arts, but where Mr. Charles uses advertising design & illustration to present “Angry Black Man”, Ms. Roberts uses the more tactile printmaking techniques to present “Spunky Black Woman”.
Another type of black woman with attitude is described in Vicki Meeks work. In the Urban Tapestry Series a foxy mama, one with short shorts, tight tank top and dark shades, you know, one you could slide a credit card through her buttcheeks in a music video, stands atop the portraits of who appear to be spiritual leaders. I recognized a couple of the faces, but I admit I can’t name anyone specifically. All the faces were whitewashed and shaped into stands or pillars. Above and behind the figure is some text that was difficult to read, but according to the catalogue is Yoruba sacred scripture. That would explain the cowries attached to the scroll ends. The rendering of the figure was novice. It lent an “outsider” feel to it, but I feel it wasn’t the proper technique. In the show, their was the gruff, graphic depiction by Roberts, a comic book, linear quality in Charlton’s, a proper, old-fashioned look in Owens, a vibrant, pop-reality in Smith’s, an obscured, patterned portrayal by Amaki and then Meeks drawings attempt to be flashy and sexy, but respectful. I’m thinking photography could have achieved the slickness to contrast the handmade quality of the other works, but provide a realism that neither Smith or Owens present.
This show has a lot to offer. There are many issues being dealt with here that it is almost overwhelming. Were I to have hung the show, I think I would have switched the placement of Owens with Amaki. The work seems to be segregated according to color and technical approach. Making that switch would integrate the work more and provide more direct comparison between Owens’ pillars & Meeks’ shoulders and the domesticity of Smith’s tvs and Amaki’s quilts.
I strongly believe I will revisit my thoughts on this show. For now, this show is GOOD. I highly enjoyed and recommend the show, but the relationships of the works are complex and a little overwhelming. Let me kick the show around some more in my head. That will give me chance to dissect Amaki’s work some more. Its borderline right now. If I make a change it will go up.
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.