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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Many Rivers at Saratoga Arts

Frank Wimberley - Blue Wave, 1982 acrylic on canvas 
If you don't want to miss the Saratoga Arts exhibition Many Rivers, which celebrates the 40-year history of Black Dimensions in Art, Inc., go now, because it ends on Nov. 7.

I'm glad I caught it, even if toward the last minute, because it is a rich compendium of outstanding artists in many media, and because it is a thoughtfully curated show with a compelling theme. Organized by Stephen J. Tyson and Stanwyck E. Cromwell (who also both have work in the show), Many Rivers includes more than 40 works by 21 artists from a broad geography - mostly local, but with roots from many distant lands and islands.

Daesha Devon Harris - My Soul has Grown
Deep Like the Rivers,
2012 mixed media 
The title theme was presented to each artist (or artist's estate) with a request to provide work in response to it  - so, not unexpectedly, water does predominate, However, the show is grouped into sub-themes that suggest other topics, such as abstraction, light, cultural history, storytelling, travel, and more. The purpose of the BDA is to give support to artists of the African diaspora, so one finds works here that express this reality - for example, a brightly colored, thickly painted oil by Cromwell titled Allusions of Home, which conjures up his memories and (possibly) dreams of a Guyana he hasn't seen in decades, or Robert Charles Hudson's 2015 Shoofly, a painting the colors and patterns of which evoke centuries of folk art, underscored by his incorporation of a quilted square in its center.

Hudson's combination of disparate media is right in the mainstream of this show - I was struck by the preponderance of collage elements through about half of the work, including Hollis King's wry and lovely graphic Beehive Lady, Elizabeth Zunon's charming children's book illustration I can hear that whistle blow ... and Femi Johnson's Black Betty the Mermaid, which is simultaneously seductive and threatening. Perhaps the best of these mixed-media creations is Daesha Devon Harris' trio of manipulated and embellished photographs, which are placed behind glass that's etched with compelling snippets of folk writing.

Betty Blayton - Ancestor Bearing Light, 2007
acrylic and mixed media on canvas
I was also struck by the deep streak of abstract expressionism in the show, best exemplified by three exquisite paintings from the great Frank Wimberley, but also strongly represented in works by Betty Blayton, who includes three sweet tondo paintings partially inspired by jazz, and Tyson's snappy black-white-and-red acrylic inspired by the decorated dwellings of his forebears in Burkina Faso and Ghana. Also particularly worthy of note are three paintings on paper by Herbert Gentry, who died in 2003, and had a long career in France (like many African-American jazz musicians) - one immediately picks up on the mid-century Frenchness of these remarkably fresh works.

Though the show is a retrospective of sorts, a healthy chunk of the work is dated 2015, so it lives more in the present of these artists - and the broad movement they represent - than it does in the past, which suggests a potent future for the BDA organization as it enters its fifth decade. Kudos to the organizers and to Saratoga Arts for presenting this fine collection.

Elizabeth Zunon - I can hear that whistle blow ... , 2009 oil paint and collage

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