An Inspired Exhibit Celebrating Black History Month
February 20, 2020
On January 30th I had the great pleasure of attending the opening reception of INSPIRED: A TRIBUTE TO TRAILBLAZING AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS IN LOS ANGELES, curated by Steven Fisher, the Interim Executive Director of The Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum (MCLM) and Molly Barnes, an art dealer and radio personality who is currently an artist in residence at West Los Angeles College (WLAC). The event was hosted by MCLM and WLAC in the Fine Arts Gallery of WLAC at 9000 Overland Avenue, Culver City.
Fisher believes that the inspiration for many African American artists came from their personal experiences of being a part of a culture.
"When we think of trailblazing artists, we think of artists that have broken down barriers, artists that have exhibited courage, artists that have expressed profound truths, unapologetically," he said. "Trailblazing artists are artists that have produced art during what was at times very difficult and transformative periods of history. Some could have found motivation from the experiences of that period including slavery's legacy, or from institutional and systemic segregation, or from the ongoing impacts of racial bias and social injustice.
"For other artists, their inspiration may have come through the hope, strength and resilience that may have echoed through the words of civil rights leaders, scholars and prominent historical figures or demonstrated through the actions of movements, such as the Black Power Movement or the Black Arts Movement, or maybe simply from the words or actions of a friend, family member or a neighbor."
He was gratified that those attending the exhibit were recipients of the products of the inspiration and legacy of the artists represented, "which is not unlike the way the legacy of Dr. Mayme A. Clayton has inspired us as an organization to carry on with her mission and vision. Trailblazing artists through their work tell important stories, they encourage, and they inspire."
And inspiring it indeed was, as the works on display were striking and thought-provoking. I was delighted to have an opportunity to chat with two of the artists since I wanted to pose questions that are of personal interest to me as an artist: How do you define your role as an artist? What is it that you want to communicate through your work?
For Pamela Smith Hudson, an abstract painter, printmaker and mixed media artist whose work is based on nature and who studied at UCLA and teaches at LACMA and Otis College of Art and Design, it's "being authentic, with my work being inspired by the ancestors and artists who came before."
She led me to her painting, which was motivated by Biddy Mason's use of herbs to heal and bring comfort. Mason, a midwife and extraordinary woman, was born a slave and died a millionaire. She owned valuable property in downtown Los Angeles and was a philanthropist who founded not only an orphanage and school but also the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in 1872.
Smith Hudson incorporates earth tones, texture, and a sense of magnification and topography into all of her works. She has also brought her innovative vision to art material manufacturers across the globe in a consultant capacity.
When she is not working or teaching she draws her inspiration from her husband and two sons who make up a very musical and art-inspired family, as her husband Brian plays the guitar and bass in a band and sons Aaron and Ian play the bass and harmonica. Together they nurture each other's artistic and musical expressions.
George Evans, the second artist I had the pleasure of meeting, was kind enough to send me a photo of one of his vivid creations to illustrate this article. "I define myself as an artist who works to bring about change," he said, "to bring artists from every walk of life to whom God has given the gift of creativity. They have the right to develop their creative processes."
His father, who owned a sign shop in which Evans received his early training, would bring home calendars from Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company depicting drawings by Charles White that impressed the budding artist. White was an American artist known for his chronicling of African American related subjects in paintings, drawings, lithographs and murals. During Evans' senior year of college he taught drawing in the Tutor Arts program at Otis Art Institute and had an opportunity to meet White.
Evans received his BFA from California Institute of the Arts (Chouinard) and started his career path at Golden State, where he encountered more of White's work along with that of other African American artists, all profoundly affecting him. He is a graphic designer, photographer, educator and fine artist with an impressive track record as an award- winning graphic designer and Senior Art Director for various companies.
In 1997 Evans was invited to become a professor at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College, where he built two computer labs for the Visual Communications Department and teaches Graphic Design. He is also an arts educator for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art where he instructs teens and adults in educational art programs.
In 1992 he created The Art-Team, a program for at-risk youth that brought together young talented artists to help them achieve their dreams. After the Rodney King verdict Evans volunteered to help heal the city of Los Angeles, where he and The Art-Team worked on murals and exhibitions throughout the city.
His work has appeared in museums and galleries, and he is "fascinated by technology as a creative medium because it opens new ways of visualizing the world around us." He currently produces digital prints in which he combines photography and technology with various drawing techniques. Evans believes "the role as an artist is that of Shaman who reflects and expresses life of the village."
It certainly seemed, from the more than 100 attendees at the opening of this event, that MCLM has considerable support in the community and within the local government. Fisher was particularly grateful to Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, Assembly Member Sydney Kamlager-Dove, and WLAC President Dr. James Limbaugh for their remarks, and wanted to acknowledge the artists that shared their works, including poetry presented by Dr. Janet Hoult, Culver City's Honorary Artist Laureate for Poetry Emerita, and Love, Melanie and Oshea Luja for their spoken word presentation.
For a vibrant closing to Black History Month, mark your calendars for the free Black Talkies on Parade presentation of the acclaimed 1959 film, Black Orpheus, to be held at the same site on Saturday, February 29th, 2 p.m. - 5 p.m., hosted by WLAC and MCLM, with screening and discussion facilitated by Lloyd Clayton. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.