School 33 shows works from historically black colleges

Fine Arts

February 12, 2002|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

Despite the tendency to lump all African-American art into a tradition of protest and racial pride, black artists historically have explored a surprisingly broad range of styles, materials and methods to express their experience.

That diversity of approaches is perhaps the most striking aspect of this month's show at School 33 Art Center, A Visual Legacy: The Art of Maryland's Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The first piece you see as you enter the show is among the most impressive: Ernest Satchell's full-scale figure of an old man sitting on a bench is so lifelike that you almost have to look twice to see it's not a real person.

Curated by Linda Day Clark, an associate professor of fine arts at Coppin State University, this is a beautifully conceived show that brings together three dozen works by more than 25 African-American artists and teachers who helped shape the sensibility of several generations of Maryland students.

The work ranges in style from the documentary realism of photographers Ken Royster and Carey Beth Cryor to traditional figurative art by James E. Lewis and Jimmie Mosely, to the abstractions of E. Clark Mester Jr., James Phillips and Luke Shaw.

Yet despite their different approaches, these artists share a common concern: addressing the human condition in terms of African-American sensibilities and history. They are part of the great tradition of African-American self-representation originally begun in the 1920s by the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. I came away from the show with a renewed appreciation for the richness of that tradition and with an appreciation for the Maryland men and women, mostly unsung, who have contributed to it.

Lewis, for example, founded the art department at Morgan State University, the first such department in Maryland at a historically black institution. Best known for his sculptures in the classical-realist tradition, he is represented in the show by two portrait busts, one of his wife Jacqueline, the other of Judge William H. Hastie, the first black jurist to serve on the Maryland courts.

As head of the art department at Morgan, Lewis helped train a generation of younger artists who would become teachers at other black colleges and universities around the state. Among Lewis' students were Cryor, who for many years taught at Coppin, and who is represented in the show by a photo series depicting the birth of the her daughter, Jazmin. (Jazmin Cryor is a student of Linda Day Clark and is represented in the show by a lovely portrait reminiscent of Roy DeCarava.)

Other Lewis students included Ronald X. Roberson, who later taught at Howard Community College, Ken Royster, a professor at Morgan State and Randall J. Craig, whose resin fiberglass sculptures recall the gaunt abstractions of Alberto Giacometti.

In another line of influence, Jimmie Mosely, who is represented here by a realistic painting of soldiers during the Korean War, founded the art department at University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, where he taught for more than 24 years. Among his students was Satchell.

In some cases, lineages of influence can be traced through three or four generations. Dudley Brooks, now a photographer for The Washington Post, learned his beautiful chiaroscuro technique as a student of Morgan's Ken Royster, who in turn was a student of Lewis. Jazmin Cryor was a student of Clark, who studied with Roberson, who was a prize pupil of Lewis.

"All these works talk about the black experience as part of the human experience," says Clark, who spent three years researching the project. "But most of all, the show talks about humanity and the need to make art."

Clark's selections suggest that while there is no homogeneous style of black art, black artists can draw on a rich visual legacy that reflects the great diversity among African-Americans themselves and the various ways they have experienced and responded to their situation.

Also at School 33 this month are new works on paper by Nicole Andrews Brandes and installation art by Megan Pahmier.

The gallery is at 1427 Light St. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 410- 396-4641 or visit www.school33.org.

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