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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kerry James Marshall in our house !

By Terry DeBardelaben

In June of 2007 I attended an informal gathering of Black Artists of DC to meet McArthur Genius Fellow - Kerry James Marshall. Kerry was in town to attend the opening reception for the Portraiture Now: Framing Memory exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. BADC members gathered at the home of visionary and founder Aziza Hunter.

Aziza first met and collaborated with Kerry a decade ago at the Studio Museum in New York City. The opportunity to informally engage Kerry in an intimate setting that would facilitate frank and open dialogue made the group ecstatic.
Kerry’s nervously tense smile camouflaged a direct style of communication that mesmerized his audience. We sat bemused by his witty commentary leavened with wisdom. He enlightened, educated, and even admonished us as he fielded questions about his artistic journey, education, and acclaim.

Kerry James Marshall sharing his artistic history, intent and vision with members of the Black Artists of DC

His discourse began with reflections about his childhood ambition to be an artist. Kerry then articulated his concepts for his multimedia installations; he spoke passionately about realizing desires new and old, his eyes glistened as he confessed his own boy hood aspirations to be in the art books he browsed as a child. Kerry asked the group: What do you want? Have you always wanted it? And, how bad do you want it? Mr. James’ professional journey set him on a trajectory that allowed him to realize his dream. Biographical research, market place analysis, and a study of art history and trends helped Kerry find his niche. “Your use of material and treatment of the subject are critical to the establishment of your unique identity, which allows you to have an unequivocal contribution to the discourse”.

I froze at that moment and wanted to strip away my masks, - right there on the spot in an effort to discover my essence. I asked my self if what I know reflects who I am…
Kerry made it painfully clear…“art is a business not some romantic notion of artist as genius or some exceptional practice that we do not have access to. Rather, art is a consideration of useful ideas. After all, you will have diminished returns if you just make art without reinvigorating/reinventing yourself and your visual expression. Invest in the moment. Ask yourself, has all possibility for new expression been exhausted? Your language of representation must lead the viewer down a path, because art an intellectual pursuit and requires intellectual investigation.” These jewels shared by Kerry were transforming.

After the group's, three-hour interlude, every fixated eye was satisfied, and our hunger collectively fed.
Upon reflection, it was my conversations with Kerry that both grounded and prepared me for my recent trip to Ghana, West Africa. I journeyed into the unknown with mentor and friend Winnie Owens-Hart to do ceramic field research in the village of Kuli in the Upper Volta region. I reflected on Kerry’s questions that probed possibility for new expression. Witnessing traditional pottery practices that have been passed down over the centuries infuses me with a desire to explore the future applications of traditional techniques.

In Ghana I encountered a people just on the verge of becoming what they might be while they resist becoming what they once were- enslaved. (2007 brings in 50 years of Ghanaian independence from Portuguese, Dutch, and British rule.) The introduction to unfamiliar sounds, tastes, colors and smells has sparked interest in a field I’ve not considered before, ethnographic research. I am on a journey to discover new possibility for a timeless craft.

I too am on the verge of becoming.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Island Discovery

By:Adjoa Burrowes

Labor Day weekend, I traveled by car to New England, stopping in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, in Rhode Island and then onto Cape Cod, Massachusetts. My friend and I took the ferry boat one day to Martha’s Vineyard. The Atlantic Ocean was a beautiful calm blue that afternoon, dotted with an occasional sail boat or other small vessel. A warm wind brushed our faces. The weather was divine.

After debarking, we entered the small town of Vineyard Haven and stopped at the ticket depot to gather maps and other guides. To my surprise on one of the walls was a photo of the pioneer 20th century American painter, Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998). Below the photo was a two page narrative from her, describing the significance of the island to her artistic career entitled “My Career Began on This Island.”

Jones was a highly prolific and successful artist and teacher. Her art works spanned three continents- Africa, North America and Europe and much of the century. Since 1937 she had been represented in more than 70 group shows and 21 one-woman exhibits. In a 1997 Ebony magazine article she was quoted as saying “after a 75-year quest for recognition… 'At 90, I arrived.”

A Family Connection

Lois Jones’ family had a strong connection to the vineyard. She writes in her narrative, “My Mother’s mother was one of the first settlers on this Island. Her name was Phoebe Ann Ballou. She lived in Vineyard Haven, and she worked for rich people named Hatch. She was like a member of the family, and they loved her, really. I am named for one of them: Lois, Lois Hatch. She was with them for many years, and she had much foresight because she bought a lot of land here in Edgartown, and it was very unusual in those early days for a woman of color to do that.”

Painting In The Garden

Jones would return summer after summer to paint on the Vineyard. In Boston, Lois Jones’ mother was a beautician and had a beauty shop with a friend. One of her private customers, Mrs. Gibson, lived in Vineyard Haven. She wrote, “Mrs. Gibson discovered that I was talented and she said I must come and paint in her garden. She had a wonderful set of Japanese books of handpainted flowers. That is very important in my career because she said, “Let Lois come over and paint in my garden and then she can borrow these books.”

“I used those flowers for my cretonne designs and those cretonne designs were printed and sold all over the country, as far as California. It was all going back to Mrs. Gibson who lived in Vineyard Haven.” These early textile designs are a testament to Jones’ exceptional versatility as an artist. Interestingly enough it was these textile designs that eventually launched her into a fine art career.

Critical Career Connections

Lois Jones was influenced early on by outstanding artists of the day including distinguished sculptor Meta Warwick Fuller and Negro spiritual arranger, Harry T. Burleigh, who advised her to go to Europe. Jones wrote, “My career was really formed on this island when I was about 17 and advised by Harry T. Burleigh and Meta Warwick Fuller … they both said, “Lois, you know you’re not going to make it in this country. It’s true that you are very talented, but because of the situation, you’re not going to have any success with your career. You are going to have to go abroad.” Lois went to France to study in 1937 on a fellowship.

An Island Escape

Martha’s Vineyard served as a refuge for her however, even though she noted that in the early years none of the hotels would take in Black people and that you couldn’t buy land in certain places. She wrote “But I still think that Martha’s Vineyard was an escape, as far as feelings between races went, compared to some other places that you know had prejudice. Here it was more open”.

Her narrative ends with a description of the rejuvenating effect the Island had on her and her choice of medium. “I really have painted every summer here on the island and preferably in watercolor. It seems to be my pet medium here. It does something to me spiritually, emotionally, health-wise, and it really gives me a start for the winter season.” “It was always refreshing to come here.” she concludes.

It was a wonderful experience for me to set foot on the same ground where Lois Mailou Jones started her illustrious career and to see with my own eyes the Island flora, fauna and landscape that inspired her early, Postimpressionist work. I’m inspired by this determined woman, who in spite of tremendous obstacles, carved out an outstanding career as an artist and touched the lives of whole generations of students (Jones taught at Howard University from 1934 to 1977). Given her stance in American art history, a mere framed photo and two-page typed narrative on the walls of a ferry depot hardly do her justice.

Adjoa Burrowes, artist and children’s book illustrator was a student of Lois Mailou Jones at Howard University.

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Monday, September 24, 2007


Text and photographs by: Lynn Sylvester

Our chartered bus rolled out of DC toward the Big Apple with several members of the Black Artists of DC and our interpreter Yao Min (who proved to be an indispensable passenger.) Upon our arrival at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, Founder and Director Laurie Cumbo greeted us with a brief introduction to the neighborhood and MoCADA ( <> .) We were joined by artist Alexis Peskine, (Howard University and Maryland Institute College of Art) who discussed his work in the exhibition entitled "French Evolution: Race, Politics and Riots".

This is a provocative exhibition featuring approximately fifteen multimedia images informed and inspired by the 2005 riots that rocked Peskine's native Paris, and explores the social and political climate sustained by the uneasy truce that continues today. After a stimulating di scussion and a visit to the MoCADA gift shop, we continued on to the Brooklyn Museum of Art to view the exhibition "Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art". Before leaving Brooklyn, we joined Danny Simmons at his Corridor Gallery for an opening reception. We returned to Washington, a little weary but inspired and stimulated by a day of art.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

The Power of Imagination at Results Gallery

Wow!!! What a wonderful and colorful collection of diversity of art by the members of BADC. My idea for bring this exhibit together at Results Gallery/Gym on Capitol Hill was to introduce our experience and heritage as people of color to this population. Results Gym gets 75% of DC residents visiting this location three to four times a week. EXPOSURE!

Gary Fisher, the Art Director of Results has been exhibiting artist’s works for over five years and this was going to be his last show. Gary said, “Out of all of the shows he has organized...this exhibition was the most diverse one he has seen”. From abstracts works by Ann Marie Williams, Joseph Bertram White and Henriette Mendo, to collage expression by Amber Robles-Gordon and Amy Bryon, along with figurative works by Prudence Bonds, Cedric Baker, and soft sculpture wall hangings by Francine Haskins and Shanti David. The photography were most impressive...from Harlee Little (Master Photographer) to Terry DeBardelaben, who gives you a unique perspective through her photography and wall glass sculptures pieces. Anne Bouie”s mixed media sculptures were a hit as well, even being the center piece for the Opening Reception food area. We also had the colorful artwork of Mekbib Gebertsadik. Wow! The movement in his paintings, one could actual feel.

Someone asked me why I picked this location to have a show. I told them that it was an interested place to exhibit and knowing Gary Fisher’s reputation in the arts, I thought this would be a perfect location for one of BADC exhibits. Results Gym gets a lot of DC population (black and white families) that are members of this location. We have to be willing to be accessible to newness and changes. As a member of BADC I believe in taking average of every opportunity and expanding on our knowledge by introducing “DEEP BLACK” as a new cultural movement in the art world.

“We are a new movement of artists that is ready to express our passion for our cultural and heritage...we are ONE!” We need to stay on course and look towards the future...the time is here!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the artists that was involved and for those who came out to support our members.

Greg Scott

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DC Fine Art Exposition Aug. 10 –12 2007

DC Fine Art Exposition Aug. 10 –12 2007

The DC Fine Art Exposition was the first of more shows to come to the
greater Washington area. This is just the type of fine art exhibition that
our metropolitan area needs. You have shows like of this scale already in
Baltimore, NY, Philly and many other metropolitan areas, but it has not
happened in Washington, DC until now.

Albeit that the first show LACKED an audience that the participating artists
deserved, it certainly did not lack in great artists displaying their
art . Some artists included three if BADC folks, Michael Platt, Crystal
Pittman and Ann Williams. Ann sold a couple of originals too !!
Lisa Jones, Frank Frazier, Ted Ellis, Donna Thurgeon, Ron Witherspoon,
George Nock, Ernani Silva, Larry Poncho Brown, Zenith Jenkins, Timbutktu Art
Colony from Atlanta, artist from Chicago, Texas, Russia, Piccaso, Deborah
Shedrick, Basil Watson (Jamaican Scultpor who is off the chain), and many
others. Needless to say there was a very diverse group of artists that
exhibited, which was such a wonderful experience for all.

The lack of audience of course equaled a lack of sales for most of the
artists. However, the artists were all good sports through it all and
during the exhibit collectively came together to strategize for 2008 DC Fine
Art Exhibition to work together through the year of preparation to ensure it
is well attended and makes an indelible mark on art lovers and collectors in
the region.
Lisa Jones who was the force behind the initial show and managed to link all
the participating artists together has already reported to me that she has
secured the backing for 2008 show ! All artists interested in being
pioneers for pulling together what is going to be an eventual success story
should stay tuned for updates.

Crystal Pittman, Artist/Painter

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