LOUIS STERN FINE ARTS
By Greg Angaza Pitts From Artillery magazine's June/July 2012 Vol.6 issue 5 p.27 Here's a link - Artillery%20review%20of%20Samella%20Lewis%20at%20Louis%20Stern%20Ga...
Composed of two sections, “Samella Lewis and the African-American Experience”
stretched the margins of PST’s prescribed time line from 1945 – 1980 with the earliest work dated 1930 - and the most recent in 2011. The first section consisted of 26 works whose presence felt like a compromised and abbreviated retrospective. The second section consisted of 30 works from her private collection . Both sections were shuffled together into a “blended installation”, that posed an unexpected challenge for the newcomer to track her work .
Curators might have considered editing out the collection in favor of more of her own work to create a more comprehensive examination of her oeuvre. On it’s own , her work offers a visually compelling paper trail of the African-American experience . Perhaps they could have restructured the two parts into consecutive exhibitions . At the same time, one can appreciate her desire to frame her work within a broader cultural context and recognize her extensive support system for artists throughout the Diaspora.
Lewis’ has remarkably navigated through the “double whammy” of being female and Black - growing up in the Deep South (b. 1923 in New Orleans) , living through the Great Depression, earning a B.A. degree from Hampton University, and subsequently an M.A. in fine art and a Ph.D. in art history from Ohio State University. Against this backdrop of academic benchmarks , she opened Multi-Cul Gallery (later becoming Gallery Tanner), founded the Museum of African-American Art in 1976 in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza , created and published Black Art Quarterly , founded The Gallery at Scripps College where she taught from 1970-1984 wrote seven books , and produced five films on African-American art while managing the role of a working mother, and carving out time to make art .
The artist’s section included a delicately rendered colored pencil work entitled “Mother and Child” (2002). The facial treatment found on the mother and son recalls the contour and concave facial planes present in several Afrikan tribal masks (i.e. Guro and Kwele), and is a shared strategy with artist Elizabeth Catlett . A hand colored lithographic portrait titled “First Phase” (2005), showcases the artist’s mature style. The control and certainty, invested in each line resonates with the decisiveness and improvisational wisdom one encounters in Asian calligraphy . This sense of decisiveness and finality shows up in direct counterpoint to the ambiguity of form found in “Symbol” (1964). The open ended quality of this work , leaves room to insert personal meaning into this cryptic symbology , which for me reads like deconstructed fallout from an Egyptian ankh colliding with a deconstructing Dogon kanaga mask .
The linocut entitled “Field”, going back to 1968, shows a field hand gazing up, and reaching toward the sun . An energy surge of high speed expressionist lines , forms a visual equivalent to the “sound rush” of notes found in a Coltrane solo. “Field”co-signs Herman “Kofi” Bailey’s use of energetic and expressionist lines that occupy a number of his charcoal drawings . In the end , Lewis reminds us that the true purpose of art is not about anticipating, predicting, negotiating, strategizing or calculating art-smart moves on an aesthetic chess board , but to engage in the creative process for the joy of it .