About Body | About Face
November 19, 2020 @ 7:00 pm - January 16, 2021 @ 4:00 pm
Virtual Opening Reception: Thursday, November 19th 7:00 – 8:30pm VIEW OPENING RECEPTION
Virtual Artist Talks on Zoom:
- Wednesday, December 2nd 7:00 – 8:15pm featuring Davon Brantley, Jacques P. Jackson, and Yvonne Palkowitsh VIEW PART I
- Wednesday, December 9th 7:00 – 8:15pm featuring Lawrence Baker, Amanda D. King, and Tony Williams VIEW PART II
How we are represented in culture not only reflects our realities, it creates them. This is particularly true for people of color in America. Vilified, exotified, and commodified, for centuries black bodies have been treated as screens, a place to project white desires with little or hostile regard for their own experience. This November, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve (AAWR) will host About Body | About Face, a small-group, figurative exhibition which examines the representation of African American bodies in art and culture.
Featuring Lawrence Baker, Davon Brantley, Jacques P. Jackson, Amanda D. King, Yvonne Palkowitsh, LaSaundra Robinson, and Tony Williams, About Body | About Face highlights 7 Ohio artists from the massive 2019 seenUNseen exhibition of African American Art. The show includes large scale paintings, drawings, analog photography, mosaics, and textiles, creating a compelling display which is both a meditation and celebration of black identity.
Exhibited for the first time are the Renaissance-inspired self-portraits of Cleveland artist Davon Brantley. Stately and technically dazzling, Brantley’s pieces rewrite the narrow history of western art by inserting himself into the classical world. As he explains,“I reference Renaissance and Baroque portraiture and religious paintings, two era of art that are almost exclusively lacking in depictions of people of color. I disrupt that space by adding myself, an African American, within the fine art realm of realism.” These rich portraits harken back to the great, sweeping saints of Michelangelo and Caravaggio. “By filling that space, I am asserting that people of color and those considered ‘other’ are allowed to have narratives that are metaphors of tragedy, emotion and life.”
An important theme in the exhibition is the representation of women of color. On display will be several new abstract portraits by LaSaundra Robinson which reflect “the strength and beauty of black women,” by stylizing her subjects to let their “inner light come through.” These paintings combine multiple figures to create works which are not simply portraits of individuals, but universal possibilities of being. “I am a painter of women,” Robinson proclaims, “The process starts with finding a face that calls to me…One woman in my painting may consist of two or three images of different women. My work is about finding yourself and being comfortable in your own skin. I feel a lot of people hide their true selves and stereotypes… If you make it through the maze of fears and doubts, you can transform into whatever you want…I want to make paintings that allow you to feel the person you want to be.”
Photographer Yvonne Palkowitsh’s digital composites examine moments of truth and decision in women’s lives. “I explore the themes of turmoil, struggle and triumph,” Palkowitsh explains, “I am drawn to the story of existing and seeing a life’s story unfold before me and capturing the vulnerability, fragility and the very moment that a peace overtakes her.” Palkowitsh’s work takes on an almost pastel quality, with figures blurring in and out of focus as if rendered in the softest chalk. Characters repeat, sometimes infinitely, to show internal struggle and the pivot to revelation, crystallizing the moment when a fever breaks and insight is revealed. So too can they exude joy and whimsy, as in Tin Can Goodbyes which depicts a young woman boldly walking away from a shuttered and optionless world. As Palkowitsh describes, “The fantasy and surrealism throughout my imagery are intended to express how the reality of one’s life can often feel timeless and dramatized, yet we hold on for that ultimate moment of peace right before it all takes a turn.”
Also included in About Body | About Face is a piece from Amanda King’s collaborative project with photographer Matthew Chasney, To Be Born _____. The series, which references an 1873 sculpture by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, represents a radical reclaiming of the viewer’s gaze. Resistant to the traditional ownership of the white male photographer, To Be Born ____ creates meaning out of art history, personal artifacts, and innocent tokens of faith. As King describes, “To Be Born____ radically revises the conventional role subjects and practitioners play in the production of art. Chasney’s role as photographer reveals deeply entrenched aspects of the male gaze toward the female body and alternately attempts to undermine this by yielding to the artist as subject dynamic.”
Other themes presented in the show include the celebration of human form, and the resilience of African American culture. Jacques P. Jackson’s intimate mosaics exalt the body in its endless variety as the locus of communication and connection. “I wanted to create sculpture that celebrates the design of the human body, both male and female” explains Jackson. “In our society, we have been presented with ideals for perfection. I believe that we must learn to appreciate what we have, and therefore, I explore different shapes, proportions, and sizes.” Jackson’s pulsating and primal creations evoke movement, passion, and the vibrance of the human spirit. “Body Language is a form of communication we all use,” Jackson notes. “It can be purposeful, instinctive, seductive, or inadvertent…Through my works, I use the figurative canvas of the body to tell both simple and complex stories. They are stories of love, stories of good times, stories of culture, and occasionally stories of politics and drama…. This human body has many stories to tell; no tongue is necessary.”
On display in About Body | About Face is a new body of work by textile artist Tony Williams which evokes the image of the warrior to empower communities of color in turbulent times. “In a year of fires, storms, social unrest, and the pandemic, my work has taken on a different look and feel,” says Williams. “The warrior figure has emerged as a voice of an unheard and unseen population.” Using indigo dye and paper, Williams has created banner like pieces, some up to 6 feet tall, which fully immerse the viewer. Figures emerge from cross-hatched backgrounds into solid, palpable forms, mythic yet fully human, with the weight of skin and muscle. The use of indigo dye also has a deep, historical significance. “Indigo has been the foundation of centuries-old textile traditions throughout West Africa,” Williams explains. “In West African culture, Indigo symbolizes sacred associations… The blues run through my soul like my DNA my blue-black skin glistening in the sunlight.”
The early figurative work of Archived Artist Lawrence Baker will also be exhibited. A native of Jacksonville Florida, Baker worked as a visual arts instructor for the Cleveland Municipal School District and received his BFA, MA, and MFA, from Kent State University. His large portraits are striking in their simplicity, using bold, flat plains to transmit stillness, longing, and even anxiety. As Baker describes, this “simplicity is an innate clearness, which can beautiful. It doesn’t matter if a man or nature manipulates it.” Baker depicts his subjects in ordinary clothes and settings, undergoing average moments of thought or even unflattering stress. In this way, his portraits become graphic snap shots of daily life. “I am well aware these everyday observations are things we busy society sometimes take for granted. As a result, I am determined to show the qualified beauty in all of them.”
A virtual opening reception will be held on Thursday, November 19th 7:00 – 8:30pm on Zoom which features a preview of the show, a talk by curator Mindy Tousley, and remarks by the exhibiting artists. To accompany the show, the Archives will also host two artist talks on Wednesday, December 2nd and Wednesday, December 9th, 7:00 – 8:30pm. The exhibition, virtual reception, and programs are free and open to the public. Gallery Hours: Wed – Fri, 10am – 4pm. Saturday: 12pm – 4pm. Visit artistsarchives.org to read more about our visitor safety protocol.
About seenUNseen: In the Fall of 2019, The Artists Archives of the Western Reserve in partnership with The Sculpture Center presented seenUNseen, an exhibition which combined selections from the renowned Kerry and C. Betty Davis collection of African American Art with work by 32 Northeast Ohio artists. Shown for the first time out of Atlanta, selections from the Davis Collection included 32 works by Charles White, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Richard Hunt, Romare Bearden, Sedrick Huckaby, Sam Gilliam, and Mildred Thompson. The story of the Davis Collection began in Atlanta, where Kerry worked as a postman and his wife as a television producer. Over 30 years, on a modest budget, they amassed a collection of over 300 paintings, works on paper and sculpture which includes some of the nation’s most significant emerging and established African American artists. This vibrant body of work now covers every inch of the Davis’ suburban residence, transforming the space into an “in home museum” that provides community access to the important, and often “unseen”, legacy of American artists of color. For more information on the seenUNseen exhibition and the Davis Collection, click here.