By Alec Clayton
A little more than two years ago, South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) hosted a show called Futures Rising. Featured were works by Sandra Bocas, Cholee Gladney, Aisha Harrison, Travis Johnson, Rene Westbrook and others. Now those five artists have been asked to mentor younger artists and exhibit their own work alongside works by the artists they’ve mentored. The resulting exhibition, Black Love, is currently on display at SPSCC’s Leonor R. Fuller Gallery.
Mentors and mentees were given options to collaborate on a single project or work with a theme explored individually or collaboratively. Some of the resulting works are exhibited side-by-side, others in proximity, depending on the nature of the work and gallery space.
Bocas, who recently had an exciting exhibition in the State Theater lobby, said, “Ruya Lamonte’s energy field collided with mine about three years ago, where I was invited to hang a couple of paintings in one of the common rooms at Evergreen. She too had been asked. I was so impressed with her confidence and playful nature wrapped up in her 13 years! I noted then that this person could contribute and offer much to the art world. When the opportunity arose to mentor someone, Ruya instantly popped into my mind. With her mother’s support, Ruya jumped at the opportunity, and we have since created a group of paintings coalesced around a theme. The mentoring process was a delicate balance for me of guiding a young mind while encouraging Ruya to equally express her feelings and ideas as another woman of color. The collaboration has been especially rich given the difference in our generations. As an older Black woman, I am grateful for the opportunity to assist another female, Black artist to get more exposure in the art world. It feels deeply nurturing to focus on someone other than myself and to help build a multi-generational community.”
Johnson chose to mentor Cebron Kyle Bradford. “The mentoring has been a healing act of reclamation for my ancestral bloodline,” said Johnson of the process. “I have enjoyed this process of seeing creativity activated in another artist while being able to create myself.”
Other mentors and mentees are Kari “Najja” Davis, mentored by Rene Westbrook; Deja Marshal, mentored by Cholee Gladney; and Thresea “Momma Tee” Yost, mentored by Aisha Harrison.
Hung side-by-side, the eight paintings, four by Boca and four by Lamont, are all portrait heads or busts, painted in a manner that looks like soft-focus photography with few details and bright, edgy colors. One that stands out for its expressive line work is Lamonte’s painting “The Spirit of Water,” a line drawing in black acrylic of a Black woman dressed as a mermaid on a blue background — the watery background peeking through the figure. It is a hypnotic image.
Bradford is represented by two simple, yet strong abstract paintings of hot red-orange and black paint laid on with palette knife or trowel.
Johnson, well known for fiercely cartoonish figures depicted in an expressionistic fashion, breaks from his norm in this show with a group of Duchampian “ready-mades” created from boxing gloves attached to pieces of tree limbs. At least one, “Golden Gloves,” is a visual pun.
A standout painting is “Najja” Davis’s “Mu Beings,” a large, expressionistic head possibly inspired by paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat. Yost has three paintings in the show that can almost be seen as wall sculpture. On three black panels, each of identical size and shape, she piled multicolored blobs of heavy paint in the shapes of, respectively, a heart, a circle and the Pan-African flag — the paint piled so heavily that it appears to be some kind of shimmering, organic creature stuck to the wall.
Harrison is well known for figurative sculptures that combine stark realism with symbolic, surrealistic surprises. Here she shows a bust of an old woman emerging from a large flower, looking sharply forward and wearing a pearl necklace the same color as the flower petals.
Finally, Westbrook shows a single, large, three-panel painting that is almost overwhelming in its size and content. It’s titled “Deliverance,” and is a companion piece to her “Hieroglyphs of Hate,” commissioned by the Schnitzer Family Fund and first exhibited at Washington State University. It pictures figures in black silhouette marching along the bottom edge, with semi-transparent, blue figures rising and others either falling or rising, all representing Black men and women being delivered from the hell of racism. It brings to mind Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” on the back wall of the Sistine Chapel.
This is an exhibition that should be seen for its message and its beauty.
Black Love: Community Building Through Mentorship
Noon to 6 p.m., Mondays – Fridays through March 18;
opening reception 6-8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 18
The Leonor R. Fuller Gallery,
South Puget Sound Community College,
2011 Mottman Rd. SW, Olympia