|Richmond Art Center
Exhibit Headlines San Francisco Chronicle
February 5, 2003
Once again, the Richmond Art Center demonstrated its regional drawing power by dominating the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle February 5 "Datebook" Section. The full text of the article follows.
All are invited to attend the reception for the artists participating in "The Art Of Living Black 2003".
Date: Saturday, February 15, 3 -6pm.
Place: Richmond Art Center
2540 Barrett Avenue
Richmond, CA 94804
Tele: ( 510) 620-6772
Davis herself reeks of the blues -- in a contemplative and soothing way. It's a perspective Davis shares with 80 other artists in "The Art of Living Black" exhibition at the Richmond Art Center.
Although Davis, 29, is showing her acrylic paintings for just the second time, artists like 55-year-old Salongo Lee have exhibited several times. Lee is a provocative mixed-media artist who has also been a photographer for 40 years.
Artists Rae Louise Hayward and Jan Hart-Schuyers conceived the exhibition for the museum in 1996, and it remains the only exclusive showcase for Bay Area black artists. Its theme allows for an impressive diversity of work -- from delicate daguerreotypes to intricately designed jewelry with a touch of immaculate blue topaz.
The exhibition includes the photomontage of Keba Konte, the impressive acrylic work of Mills College Professor Ajuan Mance, and three featured artists -- Lee, Idris Hassan and Sola Williams -- who were selected at last year's show. In addition to the featured artists' work, the exhibition features one work from each of the other artists selected by the center's directors. There are also events, including studio tours, throughout the Bay Area in conjunction with the two-month exhibition. Typically, the show's artists range from "grandmothers who paint after church on Sunday," according to Nancy Mizuno-Elliott, exhibitions director, to established illustrators such as James Gayle Jr.
"The idea is to blend older artists with new ones so that seasoned artists can provide help and guidance," said Mizuno-Elliott.
Davis doesn't need much help. She's been painting since she was 7. She hails from Gainesville, Fla., a college town she compares to Berkeley. Five years ago, she moved to the Bay Area with some college buddies to pursue her art full time. She lives in San Francisco with her husband in an apartment building they also manage. Their home is tucked away in a spacious corner on the first floor, like a secret oasis.
Davis says she always dreamed of being an artist. "It's not something I chose, it was given to me," Davis said. "I see myself as a kind of African griot," or storyteller.
She tells her stories through the emotional rendering of black women -- from her own ancestors to everyday people. The power of her painting is in the eyes of her subjects, which are wide and haunting, like Davis' own, and fixated on the viewer.
"You can try to deny them -- but if you connect with a person's eyes," Davis says, "you are drawn in."
Davis also composes her works as spiritual transitional symbols, she says. Sivad, the concept of a mythical urban village that also serves as a metaphor for the human journey, began as an idea in college and blossomed into the theme for her work.
The results are colorful paintings of her subjects looking out into the future, with villages behind them, or doorways and houses.
"There is a lot of beauty in the struggle," she says of her work, which also depicts where she is in her life.
For some black people, her work is "too black" to appreciate because of the full lips and the figures she paints. That astounds Davis. Although her work is a testament to the power and radiance of blackness, it also provides a universal message of triumph over adversity. "Somewhere down the line, your ancestors have struggled," Davis says. "My work is for the people who can see that and get it."
Like Lee, who has been exhibiting for several years, Davis is determined to create a unique vision of what it means to be a black person in a new millennium. "I want people to see the humanity of African Americans," she says.
But Lee is about as different from Davis as people get.
Lee came of age at a time when it was the norm for a white man to say, "Black people don't have the aptitude to be photographers."
When Lee was an 18-year-old in the Air Force and stationed near Miami, he was told he should give up his dream of becoming an artist.
Fortunately, he didn't take that advice. A robust man with gray dreadlocks who has been everything from an obstetrician to a freelance photojournalist, Lee prides himself on calling things as he sees them -- and he's seen a lot.
He sits in his small Berkeley studio with a regality that seems to emanate from the golden Egyptian bracelet on his left arm. His work is a blend of sociopolitical commentary and quest for personal responsibility -- and he uses everything from pistols and chains to ropes and nudity to make his point.
In "Pax America," a large replica of the American flag with currency painted in red stripes and a rewrite of the first few lines of the Pledge of Allegiance carved into white wood, Lee is at his best -- stark, fearless and flagrant. His purpose, he says, is to force people to confront their ideas about race, sexuality and power.
"There's more to black art than the stereotypical work like little kids in the ghetto playing basketball," Lee says. "But black artists don't get paid unless we create images that are degrading."
Though Lee is largely self taught, he is pursuing a degree in fine art at San Francisco State University. Working with black imagery has been a struggle for him in a largely white environment, he says, because "there is a constant challenge not to lose your identity."
But he is finally coming into his own after doing Sears portraits and selling his dance photography in front of a welfare office near Venice Beach.
"It was something I had control over," Lee says of his passion for photography. "I didn't need anyone's permission and didn't need any help with it."
Lee started taking pictures as a 6-year-old in his hometown of East Orange, N.J., and has photographed everything from weddings to drive-by shootings. He opened his first studio in 1984, after photographing black actors and dancers for years.
In the early 1990s, he patrolled the streets of South Central Los Angeles with a friend in his spare time, looking for drive-by shootings and fires. The newspapers in Los Angeles paid them big money for high body counts, Lee said. After six years of chasing ambulances, he committed himself to his art, which evolved into a mixture of photography and craft.
"I'm not into pretty pictures," he says. "Images should make you think."
And his work, like that of Davis and the other artists in "The Art of Living Black" exhibition, does just that.
ART CENTER HAILED FOR FOCUS ON COMMUNITY
The Richmond Art Center was established in 1936 as a community art resource in Richmond and West Contra Costa County. The red brick, 25,000-square-foot facility houses 6,000 square feet of gallery space and hosts dozens of annual exhibitions, a community gallery in a hallway near its entrance, and several education and outreach programs.
With the only museum space for quality art exhibitions in Richmond and the only art education program for students in West Contra Costa County schools, the center's mission is to inspire the active engagement of adults and youth in the artistic process, not only through exhibitions of contemporary Bay Area artwork, but also through in-school programs, studio classes and workshops.
.5 The RAC is nationally known for its role as a "discovery gallery" -- because emerging and underrepresented artists have begun their careers there --
and also for teaching more than 1,200 students the basics of painting, ceramics, metal arts and textiles each year.
Among its standout projects, the Community Gallery offers a rare place for amateur artists from surrounding areas to showcase their work. This month, an exhibition called "In Memoriam" features poems and accompanying photographs showcasing the reflections of El Cerrito high school students on their feelings about death and remembrance. Previous exhibitions have included "Girls in the Hall," photographs and poems by teenage girls in Juvenile Hall, and one by a local group of disabled artists.
The center recently received an Exemplary Arts Education Partnerships grant from the California Arts Council for its Art Reach program, an outreach program that benefits 5,000 at-risk public schoolchildren each year.
THE ART OF LIVING BLACK 2003: Seventh Annual Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Art Tour, through March 22, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. Free. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; noon-4:30 p.m. Saturday. Satellite exhibitions will be held at CBSMarketwatch.com, the San Francisco African American Historical and Cultural Society, and the Sargent Johnson Gallery in San Francisco; and Women's Cancer Resource Center and Artship Windows Project in Oakland. Information: (510) 620-6772, www.therichmondartcenter.org <http://www.therichmondartcenter.org>.