Monday, August 30, 2010

AAA Monday's - Dr. Leo Twiggs

I'm starting something new on Monday's that from henceforth shall be called 'Triple-A Monday's'. Triple A may stand for 'African American Artist' but I will not confine myself to that narrow scope. The goal is to tell you about artists of all persuasions that I hold personally responsible for turning me into the caustic bastard I have become ;-). Many of them have not only had a tremendous impact on the look and feel of my art, but my approach to it as well. I never went to art school, instead, I've simply picked up what little I know about artists and movements in art from the occasional library book. I scrolled through until I saw something that compelled me to stop and started reading. I've charted many names over the years. Some I have explored thoroughly, others remain on my periphery so I will be educating you while I educate myself as I write about their impact on me and my experiences with them.

Many of the artists I will mention, I am blessed to know personally. Often time there is a tendency to set our gaze upon distant wonders and thus overlook the beauty which surrounds us on a daily basis. I try not to do that. Im not a star-fucker and I certainly don't need art historians and critics to tell me who the badasses are. I know them when I see them. The world is filled with garage artists who have never seen the inside of a New York art gallery or museum, but are nonetheless art studs. My lead off artist doesn't fall into the later category. He's a stud that has not only been around the block, but owns a few condo's on it....
Dr. Leo Twiggs.

Dr. Leo Twiggs

I selected Dr. Twiggs first for two reasons (forgive me, but I revere this man so much I can't bring myself to call him 'Doc' or 'Leo' even in print). 1) He has yet another exhibition opening next week at the Sumter Gallery of Art (along with Tyrone Geter), and 2) It can said that by extension, he discovered me.

Let's quickly put this man in personal perspective. He has had twice the number of one-man exhibits than I have been exhibited! I first met Dr. Twiggs in 1990. He was curating an exhibit at the Halsey Gallery on the campus of the College of Charleston titled 'Diversity and Directions. I was 1 of 5 artists selected to show my work to celebrate the opening of the
Avery Institute for African American Studies. I was so new to art that I didn't even know what an art curator was or what they did (stop laughing!).

The first director of the Avery Institute was a venerable scholar named Dr. Myrtle Glascoe. She wanted to have local representation in the exhibit since the other 4 artists were internationally recognized. She saw my work in a hastily organized show of underground artists (my very first exhibit) and called me into her office. I don't have a picture of her but we all know a Dr. Glascoe. She's the instructor/teacher/professor that wears grace like a tiara and commands so much authority and respect in one look that the most hardened of thugs straighten their backs when she enters the room. She told me that she had selected me to represent Charleston in the exhibit and the curator, some dude named Dr. Twiggs, would be visiting soon to select works to display (so that's what a curator does!).

A week later, Dr. Twiggs knocked on my door and my art life would never be the same. He pulled a chair from my dining room table, drank the only thing I had to offer (a 16oz. can of Schlitz Malt Liquor) and said, "Alright, let's see what you got." I proudly paraded out all of the work that I thought was good (I was into the decorative stuff at that time and after all, this old guy had never seen my heat!), only to be met with tired and disappointed stares. When the work ran out (quickly - I had only been painting a couple years), the only thing I had left to show was a couple pieces that I was playing around with and he immediately brightened. "Now we're talking." (Huh - this crap?) He selected two pieces for the exhibit and offered a hurtful assessment of my other efforts.

"This," he said referencing the work he had just selected, "is the direction you should head in. 
All of this other stuff you've shown me is foolishness. Hopefully, you'll soon grow out of that." And with that, he thanked me for the beer, told me where to deliver my art and left, leaving me to wonder who the hell was this man that he could call my art 'foolishness'?

The next day I delivered my art to the gallery and in one glance at the other work that was already hung, Dr. Twiggs assessment of my work was not only correct, it was prophetic. Staring back at me were monumental oils by Tarleton Blackwell, foundry cast sculptures by Winston Wingo, hand woven and dyed silks by Carol Anderson and multi-colored woodcuts by Maxwell Taylor. On that fateful afternoon the arrogance of youth left me standing at the altar without so much as a note. My work was so bad by comparison that I found a corner to stand in at the opening and remained there all night. To add insult to devastation, my name wasn't even mentioned in the art review! I was embarrassed to the point of tears. For the next week I was so depressed that I destroyed every piece of art I had and eventually quit painting for the next year until I came to grips with what had to be done if I ever wanted to be on that level. It's been an on-going journey since then, but it was Dr. Twiggs who opened the door by slamming my head against it, then pointed the way to the path that has no end.

I have come to know the man better over the years and every time I was in Orangeburg, SC, made it a point to stop by SC State University and sit with him until he retired a decade ago. I try to never miss an opportunity to hear his talks, see him or view his art (I regrettably will not be able to attend his opening in Sumter on September 2nd). Before the year is out, I will make it a point to call and see if I can spend a few hours with him in his studio where he still creates art. There are some artists that you admire and eventually grow to the point that they consider you a 'peer'. I don't care if I live to be 200 years old and have a solo exhibition at the Louvre, Dr. Twiggs will not only remain the brightest of lights on my horizon, but in my minds eyethe distance between us will never close.

A link to his website can be found by clicking on his name under his picture. I urge all to take a look at and study the work of this unique force in art.

BIO: Leo Twiggs, from Orangeburg, is widely seen as the country’s main pioneer of batik as a modern art form. He is among the most important South Carolina artists since the 1960s. His art is about subjects, topics, issues and people close to his Southern upbringing. But through familiar specifics, Twiggs addresses broader themes, including race, black culture, politics and relationships between generations. He does so through modern imagery and narrative scenes that seldom are straightforward snapshots but abstracted, symbolic tableaus dominated by shapes, lines and fields of color. By the 1970s, Twiggs’ national reputation resulted in a several solo shows in the Northeast, including at New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem. He also has been in group shows featuring the country’s most famous African-American artists, including Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. His career retrospective, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art, from 2004 to 2006 traveled to several venues, including the South Carolina State Museum. Twiggs’ work is in all prominent South Carolina museums, including the Greenville County Museum of Art. He was the first person to receive as an individual South Carolina’s highest art award, the Elizabeth O’Neil Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts. 

13 1/2"  x 10 1/2"

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Qhash! I learned a lot! Keep them coming!