This was Deborah Roberts’ second of three shows this month. The third was at StoneMetal Press in San Antonio. Upon entering the darkened gallery I saw pickaninnies, again. Since I met Deborah and her pickaninnies (
Hurrah Hey-Ho girls when I first met them) about a year ago, they have had the same look. Standing in line and seemingly stomp dancing.
This time they were different. The pickaninnies were all over the page. There were some in concentric formation, there were some with trees and in a different pose. Then there were the ones cut from brown paper lined up in an upside down question mark. Or is that a noose? These little girls are coming of age here. Flanking the noose piece are collages with prints of bifurcated figures. In one of them, it appears as if the pickaninnies have run into each other and are melding together. In an other, one half is male, the other female, coming together to copulate and give birth to a third element at the bottom of the page. These are some exciting moves from the cookie-cutter pickaninnies.
Even more drastic changes occur as Ms. Roberts abandons the monoprints and sticks with just inks or watercolors. Her pickaninnies give way to the bifurcated figure as it gives birth to a pile of monkeys. All while a group of law enforcers stand to the side ready with their batons (or as I grew up knowing them: nigga-beatahs). There is more energy and description emanating from these works as they no longer rely on the repeated familiarity of the archetype little black girl. They’ve moved from “spunky” to “say-what?!”
Presented on the opposite walls were John Livingston’s paintings. Closest to the entrance were a group of portraits. Whether the people or the city were the subject, I’m not too sure. Mr. Livingston painted quirky characters in ramshackle landscapes. The people were front and center, but it was the multiple buildings each on its own horizon that caught my attention. Towards the back of the gallery there were three paintings that had no figures in them. I enjoyed these more as the character of the landscape was able to present itself better. Uplifted planes and crooked horizon lines added some funkiness to cityscape.
It was kinda like my reaction to Angela Fraleigh’s work where less of the figure was better. Although the figures were emphasized more, there seemed to be more of a commitment with the landscapes. Even with the simple color schemes, the attention to detail on the buildings and street corners revealed an attraction to the city that the figures did not represent.
Mr. Livingston’s paintings were okay, but I couldn’t compare them with Ms. Roberts. They seemed disparate and I wondered why the two artists were being shown together. Regardless, I thought the show was GOOD.
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees.