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Monday, October 23, 2006

Mid-term REDO

Can culture be taught through art? This new exhibit, “A Look Inside: The Evolution of the African American Society,” will attempt to do just that. The six paintings, all done by African American painters, selected for this online exhibit serve as a history lesson, highlighting aspects of African American life and how it has shifted over the years.
The paintings selected for this exhibit fit into “Stories and Histories.” The artists express their visions of African American societal life, in which their images pass down community folklore through generations.
The first work, Henry O. Tanner’s “The Banjo Lesson” [1893, oil on canvas], details the passing of a skill from one generation to another. The grandfather is taking the time to show the youth how a banjo is played. This painting illustrates how cultures depend on elders to serve as teachers. The artist is telling a story, one that shows how African Americans depended on one another for so many things.
The next work, “Blues” [1929, oil on canvas] by Archibald J. Motley, Jr., is in direct contrast to Tanner’s painting. “Blues” is a smoothly textured painting in which it appears that the subjects are somehow fused. “Blues” shows how people of color partied in the early 20th century. The artist takes a snapshot of a club where most of the patrons were African American. The band is hopping, and the drinks are flowing. Each character tells a story, from the musicians to the dancers. The images form one narrative that underscores the height of society life.
Horace Pippin’s “Interior” [1944, oil on canvas] examines life for a black family in the 1940s. The painting's main focus is on how this African American family lives. It offers another perspective on life for African Americans. Pippin shows contrast through his choice of colors. Cool colors and warm colors are used to accent parts of the home, from the checkerboard tablecloth to the floor mats. Linear patterns make up the majority of the painting, even within the family’s stature.
The next painting, Robert Colescott’s “Sunset on the Bayou” [1993, acrylic on canvas], is an original piece. It displays an asymmetrical balance, with each section of the painting telling its own tale. The painting shows the varying degrees of ethnicity in Louisiana's history. Warm colors offer strong visual stimulant, pulling the eyes around the canvas. A splash of cool blue offers a counterbalance. Light shifting gives the painting a sense of motion. If you split the painting in four halves, or space cells, then you would be able to identify major portions of history, including the Louisiana Purchase and the Civil War. Each section offers a distinct narrative.
Next in the exhibit is “Southern Gentlemen on a Sunday Afternoon” [1997, acrylic on canvas] by Rick Hyman. The artist shows rhythm by lining the men up, making them similar in size and posture. The men seem to be either at church or enjoying time after Sunday service. Some would say that church plays an important part in the collective memory of the African American way of life. The painting also illustrates the attire worn for Sunday service, with the men donning hats and wearing three-piece suits.
The last painting, Jonathan Green’s “Horse Feed” [2001, oil on canvas], is a mixture of color and motion. The woman’s size is proportionately larger than the horses. This conveys the level of distance that the woman will have to cover to feed the horses. With this painting, the artist shows an African American woman on her way to feed her livestock. This is another part of African American life in rural America.
The selected paintings show the African American way of life from before the turn of the century. The artists deliver transitioning moods that mirror the society within the African American community through the course of time.


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