Friday, October 15, 2010

John Biggers and Winston-Salem

I spent the last couple of days in Winston-Salem, NC jurying an exhibition at the Associated Artists Gallery. I was a guest of the Executive Director, Sharon Nelson, and I must say, I had a wonderful time. I was recommended for the gig by my old friend Catherine Heitz-New whom I knew from the Waterfront Gallery here in Charleston. She now resides in W-S,NC and I miss being able to drop by the gallery and converse with her.

Disclaimer: I'm not a fan of juried exhibits. I gave up applying to them years ago and have juried three in my career. The reasoning is simple - too subjective. Juried exhibits have little to do with the art and reflect the sensibilities of the juror - way too much power for one person to hold. Panel juries are a little more democratic in my opinion. I was forwarded a CD with about 290 images and asked to reduce them to no more than 75. It took about 4 hours (I take the selection process seriously). What bothers me about the whole affair is the empathy I feel for the artists. It's been my experience that many of the artists who enter these kinds of exhibits are fairly new to the game and don't realize how subjective the selection process can be. There are so many factors that go into the decision (how the work is photographed, title, dimensions, what I had for breakfast, etc.). I'm a contemporary art man and therefore the show reflects that approach. Sorry. I had my eye on about ten pieces that I wanted to see in person and immediately dropped three from the award list upon view. I eventually settled on a mindboggling pen drawing as the winner from an asian artist living in Missouri. Congrats my friend, the piece was stunning on all levels.

I have to take the time to also give a huge shout out to Diana Greene, a local photographer who gave me a personal tour of the city (both halves) and then took me to Winston-Salem State University to see a stunning mural by John and James Biggers hanging in the O'Kelley Library:

"Ascension"                                                                       "Origins"

Both images are 15' x 30' and I hope that the student body is aware of what a treasure they have at their disposal. I could have stood there looking at them for hours. I smiled at the many references to one of my favorite Harlem Renaissance artists - Aaron Douglass. He was no doubt an inspirational force to Mr. Biggers as well. Here is the official text and history of the project.

In August 1988, Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts, Inc. visited John Biggers at his studio in Houston to select works for an upcoming exhibition. After seeing some of the murals Dr. Biggers had painted in Texas, and after learning that during his 47-year career he had not painted one in his home state of North Carolina, Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts decided to undertake a mural project for Winston-Salem.

John Biggers agreed to paint two works to be hung in the atrium of the new addition to the O’Kelly Library (then under construction). Delta Fine Arts agreed to commission the commanding paintings.  The artist presented the preliminary sketches for the murals in May 1990 and began painting in July.  Winston-Salem Delta Fine Arts presented the murals to the university on March 28, 1992.  Dr. Biggers was assisted by his nephew, James Biggers, Jr., an artist and art administrator for the Gaston County Schools.

The Biggers murals, Origins and Ascension, represent an integration of knowledge from many academic disciplines.  African mythology and folklore are fused with mathematical concepts, scientific theories, literary extracts, American historical events, sociological patterns and religious beliefs.

Click on the image to see them larger. To read about the symbolism contained within the murals, select this link: BIGGERS MURAL. I urge anyone venturing anywhere close to the campus to see this incredible paintings. Thank you Diana for dragging me over there!

1 comment:

  1. Love hearing your thoughts about the jury process.Glad you did it and made an exception for us. The large Biggers without stairs are fantastic. And, now that I've looked into Douglas, I see exactly what you're saying - that wash of color with a subtle layer of story overlapping or underlapping, if there's such a word!
    Thanks for all, and I plan to keep up with you and your writing/painting/thinking.