A complement of black artists make and exhibit whole.
By Emily J Weitz
On the East End, black history is as complex a topic as it is anywhere. That’s why, as the Southampton Cultural Center prepares its third annual art exhibition honoring Black History Month, Curator Arlene Bujese chose to select four African-American artists who express their art in markedly different ways. Works will range drastically in medium, style, and scope. They were selected “because they work well in concert with each other and they represent the artists or topic,” says Bujese. “It all combines to create a marvelous variety of points of view.”
The show is comprised of 40 wall works and several sculptures that Bujese thought would highlight the artists’ work. “I insist on my curatorial rights to choose the works,” she explains, “because I can visualize the exhibition in its totality to be sure it all works together.”
This is particularly true when you’re working with four artists whose styles are so different, and still pay homage to the idea of a cultural legacy.
Sheila Batiste, a Sag Harbor resident and the only artist who was shown in last year’s exhibition as well, is a minimalist. Last year, she displayed abstract drawings inspired by her own experience as a young woman growing up in the South in the early 60s.
“My work is autobiographical,” says Batiste. “The main concept was related to growing up in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. That’s present in all my work since the late 90s, when I started looking at my experience and the way it affected me.”
While she draws a connection between the inspiration of her work and this show’s tribute to Black History Month, Batiste also emphasizes that “Black History Month is something I think of as 12 months out of the year, and if it takes one month to highlight the achievements and contributions of black Americans in this country, then that’s okay; but I really believe it should be all year long.”
This year, Batiste will be showing sculpture, which she refers to as “Three dimensional wire drawings. The reason,” she says, “is the original concept behind them was that once they were made, the light would be projected on them to create shadows on the wall, and they become drawings. I actually draw directly on the wall to create the shadow.”
In this way, Batiste takes her two dimensional drawings into three dimensions.
One of the works on display, which Batiste created when she was artist-In-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, is called “What’s Gold About the Gold in Goldsboro?”
“The piece is a large book with 38 pages of drawings and writings on acetate,” says Batiste. “It’s about listening to what my mother was saying, about remembering what I remember and injecting things that maybe weren’t there but I thought were there. A lot is fact and a lot is fiction. But the book is this clear acetate with all these layers, and again, part of life is about layers. It was a labor of love.”
Other artists whose work will be showcased in the exhibition include Nanette Carter, Danny Simmons, and Frank Wimberley. Carter’s series is called “Loving Bouquet”, and “It’s a dedication to her dear friend Al Loving, who died years ago,” says Bujese.
“She uses his name to honor him and to express the need for less conflict and more love.”
Danny Simmons, who Bujese met when he was doing a poetry reading about being a young black man in America, shares both his poetry and his vibrant artwork.
“There’s a lot of influence from the Surrealists in his work,” Bujese says, “like Dali and Miro. But he also does bark paintings, influenced by the bark paintings of the pygmy people in the Congo.”
Frank Wimberley, who has had a house in Sag Harbor for over 34 years, is what Bujese calls “All American Abstract Expressionism. He had a major show at the Spanierman Gallery in New York last month, and now he’ll be showing his Homage to James Baldwin. One is a print and the other a sculpture, so you can see the homage in both two and three dimensions. He’s abstract, but there’s always something that informs his work, and then he takes off.”
For his part, Wimberley agrees that his work is entirely abstract. He’s worked in many media, and will be showing examples of his assemblages as well as prints in the show.
“A lot of this work comes from a time when I was doing pottery, putting pieces together,” he says. “Taking pieces of clay and massing them together, that’s how I used to do collage. When you do collage, you’re selecting various pieces and putting them together and layering them.”
The prints, executed by Wimberley’s printmaker Warren Padula, are done on archival paper using archival ink. “He makes a series of them, and I put collage on top of the image,” says Wimberley. “The photos [Padula] does are so good you can see the texture of the paper. The surfaces are transferred to the prints and I am quite pleased with them.”
The textures and surfaces are integral to Wimberley’s work, even now that he’s working more on paintings on canvas.
“I like texture in my work,” he said. “When I do paintings, I increase the thickness to give them interest.”
Of his tribute to James Baldwin, Wimberley says, “I wanted to do a tribute to my father, but the piece had a roughness about it that didn’t lend itself to my father’s character. I had been reading Baldwin at the time, about his rough, cold life, and there was a darkness about it and that was the quality that I got into this piece of assemblage.”
For a long time, Wimberley resisted participating in shows that were executed specifically for Black History Month.
“I would rather show year round,” he says. “I don’t think any of the work that I do necessarily indicates that I am African American. You should just have the freedom to produce work that indicates your own particular personality, and that’s what I like about abstract painting. Each artist has his own way of expressing himself. We each have our own thumbprint that indicates our differences, and long live the differences.”