The Journey of the African-American Artist
Please join us for the Opening Reception for Expanding Tradition: The Journey of the African-American Artist on Saturday February 4th, from 5:30 - 7pm at the Grenning Gallery, 17 Washington Street, Sag Harbor. The exhibition hangs until March 5th. The Grenning Gallery will be donating 10% of profits from all opening-day sales to the Eastville Community Historical Society, in support of their 6-week summer art camp for school-age children.
To celebrate Black History Month, we will be showcasing the works of remarkable Black artists, who have mastered the classical techniques that Grenning Gallery has consistently championed for over the past 20 years. Institutional recognition of the African-American artist has lagged behind their actual contribution, across the board, and we seek to offset that in our classical eddy of the art world. Few African-American artists have been given major solo museum shows, and works by 19th and 20th century African-American artists are generally undervalued by the art market relative to those by white artists of equal standing. Only a handful of Black artists - Mark Bradford, Glenn Ligon, and Julie Mehretu to name a few, have made it into the upper reaches of the market with works that fetch millions of dollars at auction. While museums slowly work towards the advancement of racial diversity in the art world, certain private galleries like Jack Shainman Gallery and Papillion Art are beacons of support that serve this under represented group. And this month, in our small way the Grenning Gallery is bringing increasing visibility to emerging and mid-career African-American Artists.
This show was inspired by and curated with Andreé MiChelle who is a local African-American writer launching her latest book “Escape Under Cover: The Ola Mae Story” this month. In this young person’s novel, MiChelle writes about how the underground railroad used specific quilts hanging in front of their homes to signal to those travelling up North towards freedom. “Escape Under Cover” is MiChelle’s third novel. Jackson, a native of Riverhead, New York was the Grenning Gallery’s first Gallery Manager in the very early days almost 20 years ago and she has remained a dear friend of our artists and our mission ever since. The Gallery will host her book signing on February 18th.
Featured artists will include:
Mario Robinson (b. 1970) who has shown with the Grenning Gallery is back with amazingly elegant and personal water colors. He is an avid student of realism, has studied the work of the Old Masters, along with 19th and 20th century American artists, at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.
Mario’s paintings tell a story; and his narrative is about life’s simplicity. Having grown up in Oklahoma, Robinson is familiar with the slow-paced ritualistic lifestyles of the South; looking forward to the Friday night football-game at the local school, or habitually attending Sunday mass. He claims that in the South, they do a lot of “just sitting, and observing.” His subjects are often contemplative; some are painted with their eyes closed. This is the mood of the church, solemn and peaceful. “If people are going to live with my art, I’d like to give them a little bit of that peace.”
George Morton (b. 1983) has overcome many hurdles, a ray of light to those who know him, and his story is an inspirational one that needs to be told. We first found out about him when his story was mentioned at the Florence Academy Board meeting, as the top teachers in New York were asking for donations to help underwrite his tuition so he could continue studying. We supported him and continue to encourage others to support him, based just on his journey so far. However, we are deeply gratified to see that his work is extraordinary, evidenced by the fact that we have put his drawing on the cover of our invitation. Although just starting out his career, Morton has also shown with Arcadia Gallery in California.
Morton was raised in a poverty stricken and drug-infested household, in Kansas City, Missouri. He did the best he could, but his best landed him in prison at the age of 19 with an 11-year prison sentence for a first-time drug offense. As Morton explains “It was in prison that I discovered my artistic purpose in life, and it was then and there I started working hard to develop it. Once released, Morton created “The George Morton Project”; a Kickstarter account that raised over $14,000 to help fund his enrollment at the Florence Academy of Art branch in New York. His goal is not only to be the best fine artist he can be, but to launch an apprenticeship program to youths who grew up in disadvantaged communities like his. Per Morton, “It is my belief that we all have limitless potential. No one told me this when I was growing up!”
Philip Smallwood (b. 1957) is known for his signature watercolor painting, which he calls ‘Lifescapes’ - a powerful form of portraiture and visual narrative. Smallwood portrays the subject within his or her natural environment, carefully manipulated to evoke an emotional connection with the viewer. His subjects are people most viewers would ignore or overlook as unimportant. Smallwood takes these subjects and puts them center stage. In 212 F, as examined by Megan Toy, sales associate at Grenning Gallery, “Smallwood presents to us a man, “posted-up” against a graffiti embellished wall. This subject is very familiar to us, an urban gargoyle one would simply pass by, with conscious rejection. The sidewalk is no longer a runway for one to strut towards a destination, but a designated hang-out for our inert subject. We are forced to not only acknowledge him, but accept him, as he stands a stance which asserts supremacy in the realm that is his.” Smallwood's watercolor paintings have been sought out for solo and group exhibitions from prestigious galleries and museums including The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and The Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta.
Jas Knight (b. 1977) is returning to Grenning Gallery for his third show; a Brooklyn resident but a Bloomfield, Connecticut native. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the University of the Fine Arts where he received his BFA. He has shown his work in Philadelphia at Seraphin Gallery and Sande Webster Gallery, and in 2015 he debuted his first solo exhibition at Bill Hodges Gallery in New York City. Knight beautifully combines traditional 16th and 17th century realist painting techniques with contemporary black subjects.
Roger Beckles (b. 1958) is a Barbados native and realist painter whose experiences in his homeland as well as in the U.S. contributed to his active pursuits in the arts. After receiving a formal education at the School of Visual Arts, Beckles entrenched himself in a love affair with oil painting which has continued throughout his career. Beckles has been exhibited in New York at institutions including The Cultural Museum of African Art, Clover’s Fine Art Gallery and Stricoff Fine Art.
James Hoston (b. 1963) a native of Freeport, Long Island, is a well-versed painter of classicism, having studied at SUNY Farmingdale, Pratt Institute, and the New York Academy of Art. Hoston has been a celebrated painter since his diploma painting “Universal Injustice,” which was received with rave reviews, and swayed a feature in American Artists magazine as an emerging artist. Looking over Hoston’s resume leaves one impressed; illustrating for Marvel Comics, Scholastic, McElderry books, McGraw Hill Publishing, and even assisting the world-renowned artist Jeff Koons on his “Celebration” series of paintings. Hoston has shown in Fine Art Galleries including: Hirschl & Adler Modern, the Society of Illustrators, and the Atlantic City Museum Gallery.
Irvin Rodriguez (b. 1988) is a native of Bronx, New York. While working towards his BFA in illustration from FIT, Rodriguez studied simultaneously at the Grand Central Academy of Art, where he concentrated on classical painting techniques. His practice is centered on painting, primarily figurative work that is grounded in reality. Painterly brushwork and moments of abstraction are utilized to explore these narratives and ideas. The work serves as a vehicle to investigate the figure, art history, race and identity.
Grenning Gallery is collaborating with the Eastville Community Historical Society (ECHS) in efforts to promote black culture on the East End. The ECHS, founded in 1981, has worked to preserve historical sites in Sag Harbor, and tell the story of their abolitionist ancestors. The society formed out of concern for the St. David AME Zion Church. Widely believed to be a stop along the Underground Railroad, the church was built in its original location in 1839 by African-Americans and Native Americans on Eastville Avenue. The ECHS’ most recent project was installing a fence around the church’s cemetery. With support from the Sag Harbor Partnership along with private donations, they reached their $24,000 goal, and installed a steel fence to secure sanctity and repel vandals in December 2016. If you would like to make a donation directly please go to their website or call the Executive Director, Georgette Grier-Key, at 631-735-4711. The Eastville Community Historical Society headquarters is located at Heritage House: 139 Hampton Street, Sag Harbor, NY, 11963.