An important Black History Month art exhibition is currently on view, at the Altadena Community Arts Center, bringing together six community masters: Michael Masssenburg, Cedric Adams, Ben Sakoguchi, Timothy Washington, Richard Wyatt Jr. and LaMonte Westmoreland. The exhibit also contained several examples of traditional Afrikan sculpture from the Wilton A. Jones Collection. An outstanding piece was a tall and imposing classic Baga Serpent piece from Guinea.
A natural transition point exists between the traditional Afrikan sculpture and the contemporary art with the addition of Timothy Washington’s “Spoon spirits” or “spoon people.” On labor intensive surfaces the artist converted the back of the spoons into heads and faces, while transforming the spoon handles into bodies that visually celebrate Willie Dixon’s blues classic “Spoonful.” Michael Massenburg contributed a series of small painted portraits, which included Bridge – a profile of artist John Outterbridge, caught in a deep contemplative moment and on the verge of uttering profound wisdom or making ancient-future observations.
Artist Cedric Adams is represented by 3 graphite drawings on paper, that effortlessly flow out of Charles White’s visual vocabulary, of single, heroic, emblematic images, that proudly occupy the drawing’s surface. One such drawing, is Sun Locks, which features a young Black woman, whose profile appears to rise from the bottom of the drawing to display her set of long flowing locks, on the brink of cascading out of the piece of wrapped fabric holding them together. Hauling Hay, captures the daily activities of a “BMW” (Black Man Working),carrying a bale of hay on his back. Adams explores the ability, pride and accomplishment that comes from daily “shouldering” your responsibilities.
Another artist that was indelibly influenced by Charles White was muralist Richard Wyatt Jr. represented here, with about 8 graphite and/ or charcoal drawings. One of the larger pieces Kevin The Magnificent displays a young African-American man attempting to walk barefoot on a tightrope. This forms powerful and effective metaphor of the dangers, risks and frustrations of being a young African-American male in America, attempting to reach his goal. All of his drawings maintain a photo-realist veneer, without sacrificing the artist’s touch, due to the meticulous build of marks.
Paintings from Ben Sakoguchi’s “History of Slavery Series” are spin-offs from his earlier “Crate Series” and provide a stinging indictment on slavery through use of irony, metaphor, unexpected juxtapositions, visual-text relationships and satire. Sakosaguchi’s 1619 - Birth of A Nation is as loaded as an M-16, filled with volatile images-aimed at AmeriKKKa’s hypocrisy.
A last minute decision, to include the work of LaMonte Westmoreland, came as a welcome addition (to what I refer to as his long standing “art on artists series”). His latest installment is the “African-American Women Sculptors Series.” Using collaged imagery as his medium of choice, the artist creates “studio vignettes”of the sculptors in their studios, next to their works in progress or finished masterpieces and included such sculptors as Elizabeth Catlett, Augusta Savage, Toni Scott,and Artis Lane. Like the exhibit, Westmoreland’s personal scale collages pay homage to the masterworks created by our community masters…this time his spotlight was on the African-American women sculptors!