Bridgeport Art Center Gallery presents: Inspired by Social Issues: Male Artists of Color Reflect on Today’s Urban Experience

Dates:  November 18 (2016) – January 6 (2017)
Opening Reception, November 18, 7-10PM

Given the realities of urban life today, including the issue of American race relations brought to the attention of the entire world by the 2016 presidential election and by the apparent worsening of relations between police and the public, the reactions of male artists of color to such issues can be a subject of great interest to everyone. Male artists of color may, of course, have a variety of artistic goals and may not necessarily wish to be labeled solely as makers of art that addresses social issues.  While Theaster Gates has been a powerful voice for bringing art to underprivileged neighborhoods as well as making art from objects and materials found in such neighborhoods, world-renowned Chicago sculptor Richard Hunt has created a powerful body of work that is largely abstract.  Artists are many-faceted and constantly evolving, and may work in a variety of styles at different times and in response to circumstances.  Inspired by Social Issues is not meant as a comprehensive artistic exploration of contemporary social issues, but presents work by several artists that comments on subjects such as gun violence, youth incarceration, homelessness, unemployment and racial injustice:

Floyd Atkins’ paintings are gentle in feeling and style but emotionally powerful as well.  His large painting of a Black mother and her son, titled “Conversation Before the Pieta”, refers to the constant worry of mothers that their sons will become victims of urban violence.  “Requiem for the Outdoors” shows a child holding a wilted flower, symbolizing her lack of freedom to play outside for fear of being shot.

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“The Bang Bang Project” – Cesar Conde

Cesar Conde who emigrated from the Philippines, finds that art can be a tool to fight injustices and inequality.  He described his work as homage to the oppressed, and states that his paintings are dedicated to “people of color who to this day suffer brutality in the hands of the law and most inequity in our world.”  Included in this show are two of his paintings of African American professionals wearing hoodies (inspired by the killing of Trayvon Martin), in addition to other portraits.

Jesse Howard’s drawing/collages are powerful and disturbing images of people who have been described as “prisoners of their time” – the homeless of our cities.  There is nothing sentimental about this work. Howard uses painting and charcoal drawing combined with collage to create fractured and provocative images of people marginalized by society. The work reflects Howard’s ongoing attempt to show the hypocrisy of our society, racial stereotypes and the interaction of the general public with the disenfranchised.

A focal point of the exhibit is Garland Martin Taylor’s 400-pound stainless-steel sculpture of a revolver shooting “bullets” into the gallery.  Last summer, the artist drove across the country with this work in the back of his pickup truck. The piece is titled Conversation Piece and Taylor calls it a “war memorial”.  Stamped on the barrel, grip, and cylinder of the revolver are the names of people age 20 and younger who’ve been killed by gun violence in the artist’s neighborhood.  Taylor also contributes several mixed-media sculptures to the show.

Julian Williams’ beautifully rendered portraits of incarcerated young men (Englewood Boys, 2014), coupled with an installation of their shoes, calls attention to the special plight of Black youth who cannot find a job and an alarmingly large number of whom end up in prison.  The shoes were included to give some indicator to the depicted inmate’s journey in life. Julian’s artistic output is diverse. He is an exceptionally talented portraitist who also paints large-scale imaginary landscapes and even designs for ceramic tiles.

The only non-Chicagoan in the show is David Buttram of Cleveland, who contributes lyrical urban scenes showing ordinary people. It is our job as artists, says Buttram, to record what we see in the area we live in, and “to capture the certain light, shadow and mood of the inner-city”. His oil paintings depict views of Cleveland, but, he says, they could just as well be scenes of Chicago, which is very similar.  Buttram captures the unique beauty of snow-covered neighborhoods, a man boarding a bus, men talking in front of stores, playing pool, attending a church service, etc.  There is a serenity in these paintings that provides some respite from the angrier and more painful depictions of the other artists in the show.

– Lelde Kalmite, curator