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Artillery Magazine's In Memoriam of Willie Middlebrook WILLIE ROBERT MIDDLEBROOK JR.
Born August 11, in Detroit, Middlebrook’s family relocated to Los Angeles in 1960 and on May 5 he passed on to the ancestral realm . It became clear that photography chose him as it’s designated creative agent , whose bottom line was to facilitate the expansion of the call ‘n response / communication loop between himself and his family, extended family, community, and the global culture , as a cultural construct and social network, whose community prototype is the “bush telegraph” a.k.a. “the grapevine.”
During his abbreviated ,yet illustrious career Middlebrook left a remarkable legacy of accomplishments . After receiving an A.A. degree , he participated in over 200 solo and group exhibitions, nationally, at such institutions as the Studio Museum of Harlem , Los Angeles County of Museum of Art (LACMA), Art Institute of Chicago , Watts Tower Art Center, Lindhurst Gallery at USC , Cleveland Museum of Art , University of Syracuse , Museum of African American Life & Culture and The Robert B. Menschel Photography Gallery. He was a sought after lecturer/ master teacher at the Art Center College of Design , San Francisco Art Institute, Queensboro College, Cal State Northridge and USC . Middlebrook was a recipient of two NEA grants in 1982 and 1992 and also received two major mass transit commissions : at the Avalon Green Line Station and the Crenshaw Station for the Expo Line . He’s represented in major collections including The National Museum of African-America Art at the Smithsonian , LACMA, Golden State Mutual Collection and the California African-American Museum . Middlebrook served on numerous boards and held several director‘s posts, including Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibition (LACE) , The Watts Towers Art Center and The Los Angeles Photography Center .
Middlebrook was a “ darkroom-digital alchemist”. Two series that exhibit his alchemic skill set are “Portraits Of My People” in which he “painted” with photo developer, creating oversize “photo paintings housing a series of intentional surface accidents that were as groundbreaking as Sam Gilliam’s “draped” paintings. Their deep black to sepia toned surfaces recall photographer Roy DeCarava’s rich photographic surfaces. The “Black Angels Series” are digital color photo collages , employing a D.J.’s instincts and sensibilities, transposing the mixer into the computer keyboard and the records into his images that are mixed and scratched into a visual tapestry as intricate and as audacious as your “tagged neighborhood wall” and Hank Shocklee‘s “beats” for Public Enemy! –Greg Angaza Pitts