African influence surfaces in Jamaican folk art

March 14, 1995|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Recently back from a trip to Jamaica, Richard Edson of the Folk Art Gallery has mounted an exhibit of Jamaican artists of African descent.

The works of these artists -- painters, sculptors and one ceramist -- are interesting in their own right. But by showing them in the context of present and former African-American artists, Edson allows the viewer to discover common elements that reveal African influence on all of them.

As he points out, "Contrary to the belief that all African influence was destroyed when people were transported to the New World, a lot of it went underground."

And it's been surfacing in art produced by people of African descent ever since. For instance, Edson points out, the practice of covering surfaces with dots. Anyone who has seen the work of African-American artist Tom Miller -- now having a retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art and Maryland Art Place -- will know that dotted surfaces play a large part in his painted furniture.

At this exhibit, the dotting technique is used on a painted wooden stool by Sam McMillan of North Carolina, on several of Jamaican artist Kofi Kayiga's paintings (including "The Crown Opening" and "Astral Being"), on the traditional Jamaican pottery of Samuel Wallace, and on a Senufo cloth from West Africa.

Other elements common to African-descended works that Edson cites include the dramatic diagonals and jagged lines that can be seen here both in Kayiga's "Vision Upward" and "The Crown Opening," as well as on an anonymous African-American quilt from about the 1940s. The tactile feel of textured surfaces comes through in this quilt as well as Wallace's pottery and the quilt by contemporary African-American artist Elizabeth Scott.

The show proves interesting both for the common threads of African influence found running through the works of artists of different backgrounds and for the opportunity to see the work of 13 Jamaican folk artists.

They include the tin sculptures of Henry Simms, the alabaster sculptures of John "Doc" Williamson, wood sculptures by William "Woody" Joseph and paintings by Albert Artwell, Doloris Anglin, Sylvester Woods and Michael Parchment.

FOLK ART OF JAMAICA

Where: The Folk Art Gallery, 1500 Bolton St.

When: 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays; through May 19

Call: (410) 669-3343

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