Lifestyles, history in 'Southern Journeys'

The Appleton's latest exhibit presents three generations of African-American art in Ocala


This piece entitled "Doll," by artist Nina Bauxembaum, left, leans against the wall as the registrar with the Appleton Museum, David Reutter, stacks other artwork while unpacking for the "Southern Journeys: African-American Artists of the South" exhibit. This is the first stop of the exhibit and will feature 59 pieces of art from paintings, sculptures, textile and more. It opens to the public on Saturday and runs through May 23.

Doug Engle/ Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 12:12 p.m.

Chances are, the first thing you'll notice about the Appleton Museum's latest exhibit is the color. Lots of color, from bold oils to gentle pastels to the remarkable charcoal cradling a man in overalls.

Facts

'Southern Journeys: African-American Artists of the South'

WHEN: Saturday through May 23

WHERE: Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E. Sliver Springs Blvd., Ocala

COST: $3-$6

INFO: 291-4455

From there, the national touring exhibit "Southern Journeys: African-American Artists of the South" can seep into museum-dwelling craniums in several ways. Beyond the vivid colors, the 55 paintings and sculptures are simply strong works of fine art, noted Ruth Grim, the Appleton's curator of exhibitions.

"These are three generations of some of the best African-American art from the 20th century to the present," Grim said. "They really tell stories."

Organized by the Stella Jones Gallery in New Orleans, "Southern Journeys" opens Saturday and showcases the work of black artists from many backgrounds. It includes works by 50-plus Southern artists, including notables Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett and Hughie Lee-Smith.

As viewers sink deeper into the exhibit, they will discover and connect. "Southern Journeys" is as much about lifestyles as it is about history.

With art from 1941 to 2009, the exhibit weaves through many facets of life in the South for African-Americans - cultural, political, religious and personal.

Good times and oppression. Peace and revolution. Unflinching faith and unimaginable brutality.

In many cases, the older works look ahead to a brighter future, and the newer works depict a grim past.

"Southern Journeys" is divided into three thematic categories: Leaving Home is a nod to works about black Southerners who migrated north to bigger cities in '20s and '30s; The Return chronicles a return to the South to back the Civil Rights movement; and Broadening the View is a wide brush stroke that embraces culture and lifestyles from the late 20th century and beyond.

Many of the works are direct - portraits, busts, homestead landscapes, working conditions, families at play.

The colorful, carved-and-painted-wood 2004 work "The Jazz Funeral" depicts the tradition and pageantry of a New Orleans' funeral procession.

Leroy Allen's large 1999 charcoal work "Papa Jim" - one of the exhibit's signature images - is a subtle celebration of simplicity, personality and texture.

"It just says so much with so little," Grim said this week, as the Appleton staff uncrated and hung the art.

Others works are much more abstract. Swirling colors blend into strong words that, upon closer examination, form a revolutionary in the painting called, appropriately, "Revolutionary." There are colorful curiosities in several mediums that invite more time to explore.

"There is a wide diversity of material and styles," said David Reutter, the museum's registrar.

"African American artists have long pondered their connection with the South. They may have encountered the South as a literal space below the Mason-Dixon line or a place of dreams, memories, spirit, history or culture," noted an exhibit guide from the Stella Jones Gallery.

Yet, Grim said, while "Southern Journeys" is collection from many fine artists from the South, one state is under-represented: Florida.

Thus, museum officials and state art contacts culled together a concurrent exhibit showcasing African-American artists from Florida. "Florida Journeys: African-American Artists From The Sunshine State" runs April 17 to May 30 in the Balcony Gallery just above the space hosting "Southern Journeys."

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