Symbolic Artworks Piece Together Scenes from the Underground Railroad

Artsy Editorial
Aug 1, 2014 2:12PM

New Hampshire-based artist Richard Haynes Sr. weaves together color and symbolism to develop vibrant images that delve into black history in the United States. A self-described “visual storyteller” and “cultural keeper,” Haynes imbues his works with motifs that point to historical themes and untold narratives. Featured recently at The Sol Studio in New York City, the artist makes reference to the Underground Railroad in works rendered in an oil wax-based crayon, on paper.

The ten works in Haynes’ “Underground Railroad Series” draw their compositions from unique quilt patterns that were used by migrating slaves to communicate specific messages, incite action, and aid in escape. In bright colors and exacting geometry the artist outlines the slaves’ journey and the steps taken to reach safety. In Monkey Wrench (2005),a bold purple pattern is intermingled with blue and turquoise silhouettes of male figures, moving from the center of the square outward, leaving the scene with sacks over their shoulders. This particular quilt design was used by slaves planning to flee, as a marker to signify that it was time to prepare and collect supplies. Another work, Flying Geese (2005), features a cyclical pattern of squares and triangles with the silhouette of a tree and a woman swinging from its branches. Its title refers to the practice of following geese in the spring—they were a dependable compass toward the north, frequently stopped at waterways, and were noisy enough to keep track of.

In essence, Haynes’ series provides a slice of history and an eloquent homage, narrated by carefully intertwined graphic shapes and human contours.

Haniya Rae

Explore more artists at The Sol Studio.

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