The exhibition of the work of African-American artists that opened last week at the Montgomery Center for the Arts in Rocky Hill speaks in many voices. “African-American Focus,” on view through Saturday, October 20, is one of a series of exhibitions being mounted at Montgomery to reflect the population diversity in this part of the world. To date the center has organized displays of art by Indian, Japanese, Chinese, and Pakinstani artists. Next year’s “Pura Vida” will showcase the work of members of the Latino community.
In this series the center states that its goal is to highlight the artistic diversity within each group. The current collection of paintings, prints, sculpture, and assembled images by seven East Coast artists, most of whom live and work in New Jersey, is no exception. There is a generous sampling of traditional subject matter — landscape, still life, and nature studies.
Much of the art addresses life in the African-American community. We are introduced to religious events, the world of music and musicians, family life, style, and private moments in an artist’s life. Featured media include silk screen, oil, and acrylic painting; charcoal and pencil; drawing; assemblage; and digital photography as well as mixed-media and more formal sculpture. To enrich the mix, we are also treated to work by an artist who uses needle and thread to build her imagery.
Curated by Ruth Reese, who is also one of the exhibiting artists, the diverse collection includes the work of Tinnetta Bell, Karen Buster, Ben Colbert, Kaaren Patterson, Sherry Shine, and Reggie Stroud. In addition, books by Faith Ringgold, a noted New Jersey artist who is known for her painted story quilts, are on sale.
Reese works in a variety of materials. Modestly scaled assemblages incorporate altered pages from magazines, corrugated board, and metal and wood strips. In her more formal sculpture she uses the pomegranate as an artistic base, noting that the fruit reflects an important family memory. “The memory of a tree in my grandmother’s garden lingers...”
Most intriguing in the collection are a group of representational works by Sherry Shine, which are labeled quilts. Quilting, however, does not adequately describe these intricate images that have been developed using conventional drawing techniques in combination with the elaborate application of sewing machine stitchery. Shine begins by drawing and painting on fabric in charcoal, pencil, oil pastel, and acrylic paint. She then creates surface texture, pattern, and color fields by using sewing machine stitchery in a variety of colored thread.
A carefully balanced combination of photography, paint, and words are used by Kaaren Patterson to create imagery that leaves a good deal of room for thought. She describes it as part of an “ongoing quest for the ‘visible invisible...a fleeting sense of transcendence.” Most touching is “Mama,” a moving work that marks the death of the artist’s mother. The potent graphic mixture combines photographs her late mother’s clothing hanging in a closet, juxtaposed with words and music from a hymn, to make their statement. In another affecting work she joins word and picture to capture the flavor of a river baptism, showing a group of people gathered in the water with their minister. In her work, words carry as much weight as images — poetic excerpts that guide the viewer’s thoughts into private realms.
Combinations of hard-edge geometry and scenic detail are artfully blended with the white of the canvas in Ben Colbert’s landscapes. According to the artist, these hard-edged abstracted vistas were inspired by his travels in the real and imagined world and influenced by his Southern roots. Colbert’s rich use of color is made even more effective by his judicious use of white space.
Reggie Stroud began his life as a street graffiti artist. Since then he has traveled quite an artistic distance and today is working in a more traditional mode. Mainly figural, Stroud uses acrylic paints in studies of dancers, a seated figure, and a musican.
Karen Buster’s black and white silk screen prints are notable for their intricate detail. She uses a hard-edged silhouette, made with an X-acto knife, to create an interesting diversity of pattern and, in the process, employs combinations of pattern to create volume. The result is a complex series of carefully-balanced images in which surface contrast plays a major role. In “Horne of Plenty,” for example, a basically traditional subject becomes a study in dynamic contrast with complex broken areas of black and white that interact effectively with solid form.
Limited-edition figural prints by Tinnetta Bell began their life as large-scale drawings. In these works the artist effectively uses tone to create well-resolved anatomical form. “Gaze Innocent” and “Oops” capture the wide-eyed gaze of childhood.
“African-American Focus”, through Sunday, October 20, Montgomery Center for the Arts, 124 Montgomery Road, Skillman. The exhibit features works by Ruth Reese, Tinetta Bell, Karen Buster, Ben Colbert, Kaaren Patterson, Sherry Shine, and Reggie Stoud. Books illustrated by Faith Ringgold will be available for purchase. 609-921-3272.