Saturday, September 5th was Bed-Stuy’s penultimate Art Walk event for 2015. I decided to visit two galleries I missed in August, and catch their current shows before they end later this month.
The first stop along my route was Skylight Gallery at Restoration Plaza. Skylight is one of five galleries participating in the Otto Neals Retrospective this summer, and is the site dedicated to this longtime Brooklynite’s work in sculpture. The exhibit, A Fifty-Year Journey (1965-2015), was curated by art historian Dr. Myrah Brown Green, and runs through September 20th.
The arrangement of Neals’ pieces around the gallery is a testament to his prolificacy as a sculptor. Too many sculptures to position around the edges of the space, his work covers the floor from wall to wall, permitting visitors to feel like a part of the exhibit as they pick their way through the maze-like display.
Neals is largely self-taught as a sculptor and considered one of today’s living legends. His work has been exhibited at institutions, museums, and galleries across the United States and abroad, and he has been an active participant in Bed-Stuy’s Fulton Art Fair since its launch in 1958. His work is a celebration of his African ancestry: “I try to paint and sculpt African people, working always to portray those characteristics that are true of their beauty, their power, and their love.” Among these is his rendition of the oft-hailed Madonna figure, done here in in both wood (1988) and bronze (1989):
Many of Neal’s sculptures are more general figures, a tribute to his heritage. In Afro Strut (1992, bronze), the woman’s stance is grounded and proud, and the figure conveys movement and strength:
In the photo above, on the far wall, is the poem “Breaths” by Senegalese poet and storyteller Birago Diop (1906-1989). Renowned as the “African renaissance man”, Diop was a leading voice of the Négritude intellectual movement, which originated in the 1920s and encouraged a common racial identity for Black Africans worldwide. The poem “Breaths” is a lyrical incantation of African culture and values, and sets the tone for the exhibit: Listen more often to things rather than beings. / Hear the fire's voice, / Hear the voice of water. / In the wind hear the sobbing of the trees, / It is our forefathers breathing.
Neals must have done just as the poem suggests, and heard in his materials the voices of his ancestors, heeding him to bring them to life – as he did with Woman From the North (1995, limestone):
In fact, Diop’s words echo the Neals’ own artistic statement: "My talent as an artist, I believe, comes directly from my ancestors. I am merely a receiver, an instrument for receiving some of those energies that permeate our entire universe.… We are but shadows of those who have gone before us and before I enter the world of spirits, I hope by example to touch a positive nerve in our youth."
Next I stopped in at House of Art on Marcus Garvey Blvd, where the work of several NYC-based artists is on display through the end of next week.
On the back wall of the space are hung three large works in “augmented portraiture” by Charlotta Janssen. These pieces feature everyday figures bestowed a kind of “tactility” through her use of collage and retro-collage. Janssen’s work is driven by her “love [of] the human stench, with all its faults and beauty”, and her use of four core tones – black, white, teal, and rust – help suggest the element of “urban decay”.
Also on display at House of Art is the work of Frank Morrison. Originally a graffiti artist, Morrison’s visit to the Louvre Museum inspired him to return to painting after spending many years touring as a break-dancer. His work gained rapid acclaim and was shown in galleries and museums around NY, and is today included as part of various esteemed art collections. His work is grounded in spirituality and love for his family, and conveys his “innate musicality” and “natural rhythmic bent”.
The work of NYC artist Anton Pollard is also featured in the current show. Pollard’s approach to creating abstract art is an organic one; his style of art eschews formal titles, such that the viewer is free to use his/her own imagination to explore each piece without being inhibited by the limits a title might suggest. Through his work he aims to encourage independent thought: “My intentions are to provoke and jolt the viewers' thinking by challenging them visually. We are much stronger, much smarter, and more powerful than we have been led to believe."
The current show will give way to The Jam Session, a new exhibit opening Saturday, September 12th, which will feature Morrison and introduce artist Bryan Collier. The work of both of these award-winning children’s book illustrators will be on display through October 10th of this year.
Check out both Skylight and House of Art galleries this month, and look for their new exhibits during 2015’s final Bed-Stuy Art Walk on Saturday, October 3rd.