Monday, December 22, 2008

Martin Puryear

"I want to make objects that somehow have their own history and their own reason for being and their own sense of themselves. … It's equally crucial that there exist in the work a recognition of the maker, of who I am," wrote Martin Puryear in 1978, when his career was just taking off.

Now at the peak of his powers, it is still instructive to ask who he is and what is revealed in his work about its maker.

An African American artist who deals with issues of racial identity only tangentially if at all, he was called "America's Best Artist" in 2001 by Time magazine critic Robert Hughes. In that same year a show of 12 of his sculptures organized by the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, which traveled to the Berkeley Art Museum, was declared the best Bay Area art event of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Having seen that show, which was one of the best exhibitions by an American artist I have ever seen, I looked with anticipation to viewing his current exhibition of 47 sculptures at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I was not disappointed.

Including several of the works from the Berkeley show, it offers a survey of his career in depth that affirms Hughes' assertion and tells us more about who Puryear is without destroying the wonderful sense of mystery conveyed by his singular and stunningly beautiful work.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Thomas Miller: Pioneering artist honored for his stellar career

A room filled with people ate lunch at tables with white linen tablecloths. And they were all there because of Thomas Miller.

Looking sharp in his dark gray suit, Miller, 88, sat back in his chair in the dining room newly named for him and reflected on the day's event.

"This is quite an honor and I certainly appreciate it. Thank you, thank you, thank you," he said Tuesday at Smith Village, an assisted-living center at 2315 W. 112th Place in Chicago's Morgan Park community.

Miller has lived at Smith Village for several years. An artist since boyhood, Miller has created countless pieces of artwork, some of which now hang on the walls of the Thomas Miller Dining Room.

"It's unbelievable. This is one of the best things that's ever happened to me," Miller said.

One of the first black men to become a graphic artist in Chicago, Miller has a long history of bringing art to people's lives. And that's after he battled through racial discrimination often encountered in his life and career.

A display of his work can be found in the mosaics he created for the rotunda of the DuSable Museum of African American History. He helped design trademarks such as Motorola's M and a 7Up logo redesign, along with the trademarks for the Peace Corps, Second City, Hi-C and Quaker Oats.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Fabrics: Birmingham Museum of Art

Two concurrent exhibits at the Birmingham Museum of Art trace the cultural influences of fabric design from West Africa to the American South.

Opening today, "Fabric of Life: African Textiles and Quilts from the American South" and "Kente in the Community" will reveal the vivid colors and strikingly original patterns of African textiles and how they made their mark on African-American quilt design.

Many objects in the exhibits are part of the museum's permanent collection, but are rarely exhibited.

"The Museum is fortunate to have a truly outstanding collection of Alabama-made quilts and textiles from Africa," noted Gail Andrews, the museum's director. "We are very pleased to offer this opportunity to see exceptional objects that, because of their sensitivity to light, are rarely on view."

In addition to the museum-owned works, the African textiles at the exhibit are lent from Birmingham families. Some are made from cotton, others from Kente cloth -- a woven fabric from Ghana that was worn by kings and chiefs of the Asante and Ewe people. The unique patterns, which range from brightly colored fabric to subdued tones, exerted their influence across the Atlantic.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.


James Spooner, like a lot of kids growing up in Southern California in the 1990s, was into punk rock.

But unlike most of the kids in the scene, he's black. Sometimes, this posed a problem.

"I was in this tiny desert town that was pretty much all white, and the punk scene was very racist," he recalled. "You would go to shows and it was blatantly white power, swastikas, all of that."

But when he moved to New York during high school, Spooner found "a gang of black kids" just like him. For the first time in his life, "I could be who I wanted to be," he said. "[They] made it OK for me, you know?"

The fundamental contradiction of black kids feeling left out of rock — which from its very beginning was based on black music — has played a large role in the creation of Afro-Punk. And while there have been many black artists who have been embraced by white rock fans, from Little Richard to Sly and the Family Stone to the Bad Brains, the Afro-Punk movement has found fans bonding and creating communities, organizing shows and shooting films in a whole new way.

Read the Rest ot the Story Here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sculptor Isaac Duncan III took an indirect path from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to Chattanooga. He completed a bachelor of fine arts degree at University of Notre Dame and a master of fine arts at the University of Kentucky. Between degrees, he worked for an economic development agency in Benton Harbor, Mich. Mr. Duncan came to Chattanooga in 2004 to work for sculptor John Henry.
The owner of Duncan Sculpture and Services on Watauga Street, Mr. Duncan commissions, exhibits and enters his art into competitions.
Q: Where does your art come from?
A: My sculpture comes from a whole bunch of places. I create nonobjective artwork, which is funny because they're very objective. They're based off of my own philosophy of creating and how I put things together. I like to challenge the fundamentals of sculpture. When I'm creating, I have a specific vocabulary I work in. I always create pieces that create a sense of motion; they're not kinetic. I used to create pieces that were just one simple unit, but I've gotten into creating modular unit pieces.
Q: Which artists do you admire or want to emulate?
A: I don't want to emulate anybody, but there are people who I respect, such as Richard Hunt, who I consider a mentor or an "art father." I respect our local sculptor John Henry. You have people like Mark di Suvero in New York. You have the grandfather of modern sculpture, David Smith. There's Marcel Duchamp. I come from those lines of sculptors. The ones who are dead are the ones who paved the way for what I'm doing. The ones who are alive are the ones who are pushing the boundaries. They keep me honest.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Harlem Renaissance: Legacy and Beyond

Bakersfield is about to discover just how beautiful black is — at Harlem Renaissance: Legacy and Beyond, an exhibit of 1920s and ’30s African-American art that opens Thursday at the Bakersfield Museum of Art.
“As far as I know this is the first major Harlem Renaissance exhibit in California,” said Charlotte Sherman, director of Heritage Gallery in Los Angeles and the exhibit’s guest curator.
Running through Feb. 15, the exhibit features 40 paintings and sculptures together with relevant books, essays and other documents representative of the movement that highlighted African-Americans’ contributions to art, music and literature.

Chotsani Elaine Dean at the Hunterdon

CLINTON —This winter, the Hunterdon Art Museum will showcase ceramic artist Chotsani Elaine Dean. The exhibition, "Chotsani Elaine Dean: Clay Quilts/Post-Emancipation," opens with a reception on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009 from 2 to 4 p.m. The show will run through March 29.

Dean's bold, three-dimensional clay quilts consist of irregularly shaped ceramic tiles grouped as installations on a wall. The ceramic pieces are gathered into arrangements based on relationships of pattern, color, and meaning. Motifs include textile patterns, stripes, botanical forms, and a variety of symbols. Several of the tiles consist of colorful, loosely painted abstract compositions. Some have text embedded in the clay, a melding of the visual and historical traditions that have inspired the artist.
The exhibition title, "Clay Quilts/Post-Emancipation," reflects the artist's commitment to her African American heritage. She has studied the imagery and construction of African American quilts from the time of the Underground Railroad of the antebellum South to the quilts of today. She finds that such domestic, utilitarian arts often were, and are, records of personal and communal memory. "My intention is to salute and remember this powerful history and memory, to support and manifest the survival and legacy of my ancestry," said Dean. Chotsani Dean reconceives these traditions and their significance through the filter of her artistry, creating an unusual and highly personal body of ceramic art.
The artist studied at Hartford Art School of the University of Hartford (BFA) and at Washington University, St. Louis MO (MFA). She has received attention in a number of solo and group exhibitions, including mention in Ceramics Monthly, the major publication of the field.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama and the Black Male Image

Riverside -- “They strut through the world like some dusky colossus looming larger than life itself: a nightmare, a fantasy, an American original, feared, emulated, shunned and
desired. They are as complicated, as intriguing, as American history and in many respects, every bit as confusing. Nevertheless the Black man strives in the midst of progress and peril.”

When the great sociologist and scholar W.E.B. Du Bois penned those words more than 100 years ago little did he know a nation founded by slave owners, seared by civil war and generations of strife would elect Barack Obama the son of a Kenyan father and a white
mother President of the United States of America.

“Barack Obama’s victory will force people to look at race and equity differently only if we can get
past the narrow images that linger in the public mind,” says Melvin W. Daniels, Jr., 52 a self employed former Marine, handy man, painter, cleaner, and jack of all trades.

Even as he and millions of Black men celebrate Obama’s historic victory, many wonder if the President-elect’s astonishing ascent to power and consistent drumbeat of hope and change will help redefine America’s attitudes toward Black men.

“I wish my mother and father were alive to witness this moment, they would say without hesitation ‘all things are possible’. Black people can accomplish anything they set their minds

Over the last 100 years, perhaps no segment of the American population has been more marginalized.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

B Sides

Just as psychedelia had its look and disco had its look, so did house party music, and through March, Aljira, A Center for Contemporary Art, is hosting a show just for that glittery, befeathered, identities-in-a-blender subculture.

Called "The B Sides," the exhibition features work by 28 artists and collectives, and it's strong on photography and video, as you might expect. But it also features a remarkable amount of painting, sculpture, and elements of installation art, since most house parties of the early '80's to mid-'90s naturally evolved into sprawling environments.

Take, for example, Weehawken artist Howie Keck's big "Disco Stars" (2005), made of Mylar on a foam core with fluorescent enamel, or Carlo Quispe's black and white painted gallery columns, decorated with black Smurfs and other floating symbols.

There appears to be a fine line between creating an artist's environment and decorating your gallery to convey a sense of what the house party scene was like -- after all, the scenery is only a small part of what you look at when you're dancing.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Masimba Musodza

Whilst the deterioration of Zimbabwean political, social and economic landscapes has seen many Zimbabweans flee home, most Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have exploited their long absence from home in advancing and sharpening their various skills.

One such is Masimba Musodza, a Zimbabwean Rastafarian and Artist. Born in 1976, Musodza’s artistic muscles stretch as far back as during his primary school days during which he made worthy contributions in the school magazine. This culminated in his written works appearing in The New Generation; a youths newspaper run by a Jamaican born Ben Hanson.
On Musodza’s education and career belts hang his degree in Media Studies in addition to other qualifications and experience in Screen Writing and Directing, Filmmaking and Research work , which he earned from reputable institutions like Edgar Langeveldt’s Nexus Talent Agency, the African Script Development Fund, the Zimbabwe International Film Festival and the Raindance Institute in the United Kingdom.

Musodza is now a reputable author and has so far given birth to a collection of short stories written between 1997-2000., a must read for all Zimbabweans. Entitled ‘The Man Who Turned Into Rastafarian’, Musodza articulately reveals the typical life of a Rastafarian in Zimbabwe. The book is available for sale online. A brief outline of the book is available on Musodza’s website;

He also has a number of upcoming novels and screenplays. To be published soon is his ChiShona language novel that explores the perceived connection between Zimbabwean mythology and that of ancient Mesopotamia while drawing attention to the rise in incidents of child sexual abuse.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bonnye Brown

When Bonnye Brown (née Chamberlain) was a young girl, her older brothers and sisters chipped in to buy their mother a house in what Brown describes as a “Beaver Cleaver” neighborhood. But as Brown grew into a young woman, the neighborhood grew into something else.

“What I thought was the best neighborhood in the world became infested with drugs and drug dealers,” Brown said. “And we were angry.”

Brown decided to put her emotions into her art and painted “4:30 Appointment With the Mayor,” which portrays 10 neighbors sitting on folding chairs, waiting to have a word with the mayor.

Closer to allegory than irony, to social idealism than realism, “Appointment” depicts the hope of community empowerment and improvement. It’s something that Brown knows about, having channeled her artistic emotion not just onto canvas but also into the community.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Ulysses Davis at the High: Atlanta

ATLANTA — One of Ulysses Davis' granddaughters has said the artist used to sit in front of the television on election night, a block of wood in hand, ready to start carving a bust of the winner once the election was called.

Until his death in 1990, Davis added each new president to the collection of 40 busts that has become his best-known work. The works are part of an exhibition called "The Treasure of Ulysses Davis" that opens Saturday at Atlanta's High Museum of Art.

Davis, a barber and self-taught woodcarver from Savannah, Ga., carved more than 300 wood figures, reliefs and pieces of furniture in his spare time between haircuts and in the evenings. Born in 1914, he started whittling as a child, and his works were nationally recognized by the late 1970s.

But most of them have seldom been seen outside his home state because Davis felt the collection, which he called his "treasure," should be seen together.

He sought to ensure this by asking that his family arrange for the King-Tisdell Cottage Foundation, an organization devoted to the preservation of African-American culture and history in Savannah, to acquire a majority of the collection after his death.

"He understood that the body of work was important as a teaching tool and as an indication of what an African-American man and someone without many resources could accomplish," said Susan Mitchell Crawley, curator of folk art at the High. "It was especially important to him that children see it."

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Where are the Obamas on TV?

Long before he set out for the White House, Barack Obama sought to adjust the colors on America's TV sets. Four years ago, fresh off his star-making keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, Obama challenged the television industry to live up to its responsibility as the country's "most powerful media" and accurately reflect the nation's population.

"TV ought to reflect the reality of America's diversity and should do so with pride and dignity, not with stereotypes," he told the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. But as Obama prepares to move into the White House in January, he and his family will be hard pressed to find blacks like themselves represented on any of the major networks -- ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox.In fact, not only will they have great difficulty locating any black family in a leading role on the networks, they also will see it's nearly impossible to find a scripted comedy or drama that features a young person of color in a central role.

What do you think?

Carl Hess: Knoxville, TN

Carl Hess began painting when he was 5 years old.
But art was merely a childhood hobby until his sixth-grade teacher noticed his talent. Now the 21-year-old's artistic ability is giving him the opportunity to paint portraits of nationally recognized figures like Barack Obama.
"I've always been motivated to paint the next big person, and I feel like I've reached it," Hess said.
The University of Tennessee senior has painted two portraits of Obama and has had the opportunity to personally present both to him. Hess presented the first portrait, which depicts the president-elect against the backdrop of the American flag, to Obama at the NAACP's July convention in Cincinnati.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.

SMH: Birth of the Cool

I’m not sure if Barack Obama’s election had anything to do with it, but upon entering “Birth of the Cool,” the Studio Museum’s survey of eminent African-American painter Barkley L. Hendricks, I found myself marveling incredulously at the art world’s myopic view of its own recent history, and thinking, not for the first time, that here was a long-overdue show. It’s almost embarrassing that this survey of Hendricks’s work is the first big retrospective for a figurative painter who has clearly influenced—and who in many cases outshines—so many of his peers. Political questions aside, Hendricks needs to be recognized as a pioneer, and “Birth of the Cool” is an important initial step in that direction.
Let’s begin at the beginning, with his first self-portrait, made after a trip to Europe when he was college-age. Hendricks, who was born in 1945 and grew up in Philadelphia, had observed that the halls of the museums he’d visited were lined almost exclusively with the faces of white men (and occasionally women). He returned determined to paint a world he did not see reflected there, which is to say his own community, and to bestow on that community the same art-historical importance. In effect, he was imagining something that did not yet exist, resolving to create it from scratch—which is, after all, the impulse that underlies the making of all art. But in Hendricks’s case, the challenge must have been especially daunting, because that one thing he could not see was a part of his own self.

Forbes: Why Black Art is So Hot

Hanging in Robert Johnson's den is an oil from the 1930s by an African-American artist named Palmer Hayden. The painting depicts a black American businessman getting his shoes shined.
The subject is nattily dressed in suit and spats, a little like Johnson himself, who is sporting a crisply pressed blue shirt and a shiny yellow tie.
"That painting represents pride and dignity," says Johnson. "I identify personally with this work."
Johnson may be known for the low-budget comedy routines and booty-shaking music videos that drove the success of BET, the cable channel he founded that turned him into America's first black billionaire in 2001.
But in his private moments he is moved by art that documents the struggles and achievements of black people in America. Since the early 1980s Johnson, 62, has assembled some 250 pieces by 19th- and 20th-century African-American artists.
Though Johnson's collection is probably worth only a couple of million dollars, it includes some of the most famous names of the genre: cubist-inspired collage artist Romare Bearden (1911-­88); modernist Harlem painter Jacob Lawrence (1917­-2000); and Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859­-1937), who studied under Thomas Eakins in the 1880s and was the first black painter to gain international acclaim.

Read the Rest of the Story Here.