Art beats in the rhythm of life

September 24, 1996|By Diane Scharper | Diane Scharper,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The seven artists in the exhibit "Afri-Cobra and Friends" at Galerie Francoise do not paint from life. They paint life from within.

The 29 paintings in this show, co-curated by Montanette T. Jones and Sam Christian Holmes, seem to come alive. Colors vibrate in the brilliant blues, reds, yellows, greens and oranges of these acrylic and mixed media works. Leaf prints float stencil-like; lines zigzag. Waves of brown and gold undulate as if responding to music, as if they were music.

"Ascending Spirit Series III," "Empress," "Shoop Shoop Song" or "Sunny 'B' Blues Man" make you feel like dancing. Unbridled purples and pinks pulsate off the cream-colored walls. This is how music becomes paint.

The Afri-Cobra movement is about rhythm and the spirit. As Napoleon Jones-Henderson has said in his artist's statement:

"My work is spiritual, meaning full. I do not make art, rather I am participating in ritual as important to the Afrikan man as it was to his Creator. We must be about the business of expressing what is beautiful in ourselves."

The Afri-Cobra movement began in 1968, when a group of African-American artists established an "African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists." The collective worked toward an Afrocentric aesthetic based on rhythm, repetition, syncopation and improvisational use of vibrant colors and geometric symbols.

The three paintings of Wadsworth Jarrell, one of the co-founders of the movement, capture the musical tradition of Afri-Cobra. "Nina" is especially strong. Its subject is a woman playing the piano; her large eyes look up; her face shimmers in gold. Her hands dancing on the ivory keys create patterns that seem to flow across the painting out into the room.

The art of Michael Harris, professor at the University of North Carolina, is quieter and more reflective. Colors are darker; figures are suggestive of primitive paintings. "Love Shrine" and "Face of the Gods" contain photographs, buttons and pieces of black net to suggest the organized grid of African-American quilts, making the paintings seem like scrapbooks and photograph albums.

Ulysses Marshall was also influenced by quilt making. His grandmother, a patchwork-quilt artisan and storyteller, encouraged him to see the patterns and colors of life. Her stories, gave Marshall a sense of narrative and drama.

A graduate of the Maryland Institute, College of Art, Marshall is inspired by Picasso, Matisse and Romare Bearden. Bright blues, reds and deep browns suffuse Marshall's paintings, to which he has added numbers, graffiti-type markings and letters.

Marshall's subjects have large brown faces often containing a single eye (a symbol for Marshall of Africans having been forced to view the new world "through someone else's perspective"). Their small red lips curve down; the understatement says volumes about love and despair.

Nigerian-born artist Tunde Afolayan Famous Jr.'s work also has a narrative quality. He paints from his African upbringing but in Western styles. The irony makes an art akin to lyric poetry.

In "Reunion," Famous creates what he calls a dynamic spiritual experience in the form of a painting. The impressionistic strokes show a family picnic. Some figures eat; others stand beside a tree; still others walk among the hills.

What stands out is the white-shirted back of a man. He speaks to the group, perhaps leading a prayer. His shoulders seem bent under the world's weight of love. This love is merely a slant of line and light. But the art makes it seem like more.

Galerie Francois

When: Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; through Oct. 1

Call: (410) 337-2787

Admission: Free

Pub Date: 9/24/96

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