Voices of Color, a retrospective…
This retrospective focuses on a collection of works featured at Knowhere Art Gallery that were produced by five women. The use of color is pertinent to the story told by each of the artists simultaneously moving us to feel, and possibly relate to the artist as well as events of this tumultuous time.
Color is visceral. Entering our eyes, it courses through our body and we can’t help but have an immediate reaction—physical, emotional, intellectual. While the five artists in this collection are all stylistically different—ranging from abstract to super-realism—color resonates throughout their work and is integral to the impact of their imagery.
Color can provide clarity, but color can also create illusion and distort. In absorbing Wendy Weldon’s work, which is the most abstract artist of the group you see recognizable shapes in her pieces, though the overall piece is gestural in nature. As abstract as Weldon’s work is, there’s a distortion and illusion to it, but it provides some clarity as well. The color really commands attention and aligns with the imagery such as displayed in “Storm a Lucy Vincent”. Wendy’s palette is strong and powerful and yet you find yourself thinking about how you can weather the storm. Wendy’s palette has evolved a bit this year. The evolution of her palette and the colors are representative of what she was thinking and feeling during these very challenging times, particularly during the pandemic. She has shared, “These days with the pandemic touching the lives of millions throughout the world, I find fear, sadness, compassion, and distress governing my process. My paintings start with chaos. I vacillate whether I want to leave the disorder and confusion or whether I will bring in a sense of peace and quiet. My work is a way of trying to understand the world.”
When speaking with Rafaela “Ella” Santos about what she was going through while creating her pieces during the time of quarantine, her selection of color also related to how she was feeling about this moment in time. Ella’s work is self reflective, especially the piece “Living in the Gray” which focuses on her identity as a Black Puerto Rican and her struggles to find a place that allowed her to celebrate the intersection of both ethnicities. Growing up in the Bronx, NY she found it hard to be accepted in either group, but over time she just became comfortable with living in the gray. Being in the gray for Ella was actually the most colorful place. Ella found her confidence, which allowed her to get to know herself; celebrating this colorful mixer of both sides. Santos reflects, “I allow for the colors to seep into one another as they dance, twist, lean, and support each other—I create color. I scrape, lay thickly, drip, streak, and pat the paint to make those colors dance in the light. I’ve learned that there is more than just black and white. I’ve learned that I live in the “gray” and that the “gray” is full of color.”
Santos’s work such as “Holding on to One Another,” “Courage,” “A Mother’s Sorrow” or “Feeling Boxed In” reflects how deeply she has been affected by the restrictions from the virus, barring us from being social and the continuous injustices made more visible with the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. Each of these events has pushed Ella to be prolific in capturing the impact of this time, which is evident in this collection of work.
Color can also mask, is used figuratively regarding Daryl Royster Alexander. It calls attention to the way Daryl captures actual people she has encountered during her travels in the US and abroad. Daryl’s study of how people mask themselves with regards to the way they dress, how they position themselves standing, walking, and sitting covers up what might be going on within. For instance, in the oil painting “Listening Man,” you are not sure if he is really listening. Does he believe what is being said, is he absorbing or listening at all? The use of a person’s body language is one way that Daryl highlights the mask. In other ways it is more topical with the use of clothing, and accessories as displayed in “Pink” which is a portrait of a woman in a pink trench coat. The woman is just standing without expression and the paint is flat contrasting with a white background. Yet the vibrant pink trench coat draws you in wanting to know what this woman is thinking, feeling inside.
In juxtaposition to the modern day portraits Daryl also captures portraits of Mardi gras traditions where, of course, people are transformed in costume and celebration. These individuals literally wear traditional regalia that are influenced by Native American, Spanish and French cultures. The reaction to these very iconic images is due to the duality of color as in ethnicity and, color as in the way their palette impacts our vision and the way we internally experience them. They are portraits of strong, vibrant people of color who “control” through their masking the way they want to be perceived/received.
Alexander speaks of the connection between masking and color: “At times, we can protect ourselves as we project the mask. America encourages the outward glossed persona. Tall turbans, grandiose tattoos, waist-length wigs, or weaves help the cause as easily as champagne or Chanel....So, I give color to the cause.”
For Stephanie Danforth, color provides clarity. Her palette can be explosive or quiet but is always seductive. Danforth’s work is the clearest in understanding what exactly you are looking at and grow out of photographs she has taken. She provides clarity through both color and form. The work has an impact on our eyes, and we see these images in ways that allow us to relate to what was going on for her during quarantine. It might not be immediately obvious, but with “Yearning,” the nasturtiums, Danforth worked on for a month, expressed what she was internally feeling during a time of uncertainty when we were all unsure of how the virus would impact us during the summer months. The inspiration for “Yearning” expresses the need for being around people, community while frequenting quaint inviting places like the farmer’s market on a Saturday morning. Another interesting piece titled “Interplay,” which are two vibrant poppies, displays is the connection between the flowers and how they embolden each other. They are almost leaning on one another and the colors are complementary with the oranges and reds. This is similar to Santos’ piece “Holding on to One Another,” where there are a female and a male figure embrace. Danforth’s image is a still life, but the interplay and connection of these two blooms bring forth that same feeling of needing one another, supporting each other during this time.
For Rhonda Brown, color commands attention. She sculpts her faces with facets of different pigments—some realistic, others fantastic—to create bold personalities. Brown says, “Color drives everything I do—it moves and excites me. It informs the decision I make as an artist and as a woman. Color...can create or destroy a composition, evokes emotion, and shapes culture. Its impact on us and around us is enormous and perhaps underestimated.”
Brown says her work refers to the royal lineage of black women: “These paintings reflect my preoccupation with beauty, ancestry, and tradition. Where women of color were once depicted in the background, in service to and/or as slaves, these are the antithesis of that art historical narrative. These women reclaim their space as mother earth, as God, and confront the viewer while anonymous in feature are still yet familiar, regal, and strong.”
While not every artist’s work here ruminates specifically on today’s political climate, in terms of color and the tenor of the times, there is a weight that we feel of uncertainty, of sadness, of loss, of inequality—of all those things that are going on both in terms of the pandemic and socially. Remarkably though, when people have witnessed these works, they have felt uplifted sheerly by the power of these women’s color palettes and their intriguing imaginings. They feel a release because, I believe the color and imagery moves them, even if they were about a mother’s sorrow and the loss of a child or holding on to one another because this is all we have at this time. We are going through something we have never been through before globally, not just as a country. Even though the images can be heavy with their titles, especially as you relate it to what is actually happening, they leave you with hope...which has a color of its own.
Special thank you to Abby Remer, co author and Dena Porter, photographer
Go to the Artist’s pages to explore each artist’s work. Exhibit is currently hanging in the gallery and is available to see by appointment in person and virtually.
The artists highlighted in Voices of Color from left to right are; Wendy Weldon, Daryl R. Alexander, Rafaela Santos, Rhonda K. Brown, Stephanie Y. Danforth.
Dena Porter - Photographer, Courtesy of Knowhere Art Gallery