February is Black History Month and the Gallery at Tacoma Community College is hosting its second annual Black Artists’ Exhibition with a lavish display of painting, drawing, photography, glass and digital art. The month-long run of the show will be punctuated by a variety of events such as gallery talks by many of the artists, a community reception on February 9, a Family Day (with hands-on art activities for the kids) on February 10 and a panel discussion on February 21.
Work for the show was submitted by local artists and selected by a panel of community jurors. More than 20 South Sound artists are represented. There are more than 40 pieces of art illuminating the gallery space.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the show is the diversity of style, media, theme and individual vision reflected amongst this multifaceted array of local artists who share the bond of African ancestry.
One of the first paintings to meet the eye of the gallery visitor is Lorra Jackson’s “Untitled 5,” an oil painting of the artist’s young daughter on the couch, caught in her own moment of creativity. The scene is a tour de force of Jackson’s classical training as a painter. She earned her Master’s degree from New York Academy of Art and has work in collections in New York and China. Every shadow, wrinkle of fabric and the intricate textile patterns are rendered with photographic precision. The reclining figure hearkens back to classical and baroque themes and is thus reminiscent of some of the work of Kehinde Wiley.
Like honey in terms of their sweetness, Valencia Carroll’s paintings of dolls, with their warm, brown cherubic faces are a charming draw into the center of the gallery. Carroll’s doll paintings are part of a series representing the letters of the alphabet. They read almost as old timey folk paintings of children. Against a background of thin washes of paint, the dolls are shown with fruit or flowers lending a still life element to the paintings.
Semenia Black’s mighty jaguar pulls the viewer into the deep recesses of the venue. Bold yellows, greens and reds set off the black, iridescent jaguar which is charged with feminine energy and symbolism. The acrylic painting is called “VM3-Sister of the Yam.”
French born Kent resident Edimbo Lekea’s paintings picture Africa as a fantastic, magical realm populated by powerful practitioners of ancient knowledge. While “Mastermind” is somewhat cosmic and psychedelic, his acrylic painting “Dogon” depicts a group of star readers from Mali in their conical hats — like a quartet of wizards or magi. The fantastic painting “Hyena Tamer,” meanwhile, features a big, toothy yellow hyena, who occupies the lower right third of the real estate of the canvas. The titular hyena tamer is holding his powerful spirit animal by a chain.
These paintings offer a glimpse of the rich tapestry of people, cultural traditions, knowledge and historic depth existent within the vastness of Africa from time immemorial.
Tacoma artist Kaela Harmon’s acrylic painting “Waiting by a Tree,” (a product of the Covid-induced lockdown) borders on abstract expressionism. A brooding surface of greens, browns and blacks is divided with a slash of purple, orange and white that bursts through the center, forming the tree of the title. A figure in bright orange stands in front of the tree. Tree and figure are rendered by a series of quick, gestural strokes.
Jonarra Swanson’s “LOVE ME pt 1 and 2” is a pair of bust portraits on paper. The blue-black heads are topped with stylized floral displays that are reminiscent of folksy toll painting. The open mouths are filled with broken glass. The backgrounds are done in metallic oil paint, which gives them the quality of sacred icon paintings.
JW Harrington, another Tacoma painter, offers a pair of portraits that verge on surrealism. “Going Home” shows a friend of the artist opening a door to a blue void that might be everywhere and anywhere. The effect is comparable to moments in the work of Rene Magritte.
The theme of hair features in the beauty shop photos of Cennady Coleman and glass artist Emily Martin. The latter is a glass artist born and raised in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. Her glass hair knockers are delightful evocations of what she calls “big hair energy,” which is wielded by young black girls.
Artists like Evan Gregory and Michael Travis are both deft practitioners of a more cartoonish or caricature style. Gregory’s “Home Sweet Home,” featuring a noodle-limbed, cigarette-smoking, pink-haired figure in a house with a cross burning outside, exhibits grim humor.
Elsewhere the Black Artists Exhibition ranges widely from Kristen “Kcie” Monk’s fantasy illustrations to TyResha Jones-Smith’s lyrical and stylized silhouettes of long-necked ladies carrying jugs atop their heads. A visitor to the gallery can travel from Sandra Boca’s organic Caribbean figures — in the big painting “Memories of Wishes” — to Jasmine Iona Brown’s travel photos from a trip to South Africa.
Sabreehna Essien’s textured paintings project themselves out of the canvas, while Shirley Ann Simmons conjures gauzy impressionism in her watercolor and pastel portraits. Dre Pierre — a biologist and scientific illustrator — presents a digital image of her own hands drawing images of whales. The left hand is shown encrusted with barnacles while the right has scars. The artist explores the way grey whales feed on the ocean floor in a way that causes them to scrape and scar on one side and allow barnacles to collect on the other.
Marquis Johnson’s large digital photograph “Beginning and End” is like a vision through a glass darkly. The double portrait is like a slice of surreal cinematography.
There is not a lot of overtly political work in the show but works such as Charles Conner’s “Devil You Know” do include messages of resistance as well as self-affirmation. The big portrait in acrylic is surrounded by these messages in graffiti. Likewise Carlos Khali’s digital images, “SRBC (Stop Raping Black Culture)” and “Supremacy” have a political message. The latter is a striking white and red cutaway of a slave ship with titular word underneath. Khali also demonstrates his expert handling of paint media with a posthumous portrait of the rap artist Nipsey Hussle.
Lourdes Jackson’s big acrylic paintings play dark tones against muted, almost pastel colors in his two large canvases. “Cranes” is a portrait of a regal woman wrapped in furs. His “3 Kings” dramatically stages three figures whose dark faces and arms contrast with their almost dainty, pale peachy pink attire. The image is based on a photo taken in Maasai Mara, and occasions Jackson to ask, “From how far back must we stand to differentiate between a group of suspects or just three black men outside in their community?”
All photos courtesy TCC Gallery
2nd Annual Black Artists Exhibition
through Feb. 29
Community Reception, 4-6 p.m. Feb. 9: Engage with the art and meet the artists.
Family Day, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Feb. 10: Bring the family for kid-friendly art activities.
Panel Discussion,5:30 – 7 p.m. Feb. 21: Listen to local artists discuss the Exhibition and its themes.
The Gallery at Tacoma Community College
Bldg. 4, near the corner of 12th and Mildred
Tacoma TCC Campus: 6501 South 19th Street; Tacoma, Washington 98466