The story isn’t so much a fall from grace as a fall from a pedestal.
It happens, especially to those who have celebrity status. And as Herman Russell sees it, this is the inevitable fate of black male celebrities. That’s why he titled the acrylic portrait of a black man wearing a crown and a noose around his neck, “The Inevitable Fate of the Black King.”
The painting is one of several Russell is showing in the exhibit, “Cultural Collisions,” which runs through Oct. 3, in the Southern University Visual Arts Gallery.
“I was inspired by the artist Basquiat when I painted ‘The Inevitable Fate of the Black King,’” Russell explains. “It seems that black celebrities always fall apart after they reach their heights.”
Basquiat stood at the top of the New York art world before dying from a drug overdose.
Russell’s work is joined by Christopher Turner and Demond Matsuo. These artists have completely different styles, yet their work forms a complementary world.
Viewers’ journey through this world will include jazz, African goddesses and a roadside stop in Russell’s life. Life events, big and small, are the true story behind Russell’s paintings. Take, for instance, “An Even Number of Rose Petals,” a portrait of a young woman whose hair is turning into rose petals. The petals drift away as did any romantic relationship Russell hoped to have with her.
“I met her, but it wasn’t going to happen,” he says. “I counted the rose petals and they came up even — she loves me not.”
Matsuo stands on the opposite side of the gallery, listening to Southern students’ comments on his work. He produced three mixed media pieces for this show, each dealing with African mythology.
Matsuo is known by only his first name in Baton Rouge art circles. The symbolism in his work becomes more clear at each glance. These works represent women, goddesses. Their bodies are intertwined with musical instruments.
He points to Picasso as an inspiration.
“But I think my women are more beautiful,” he says. “They’re softer.”
Interspersed throughout the gallery are Turner’s jazz musicians. This is a different turn for Turner, who is known for his live paintings and abstracts. He’s also director of the Kress Gallery.
“I started painting these with posters in mind,” Turner says. “It surprised Randell Henry, because he didn’t know I made these kinds of paintings.”
Henry is an art professor at Souhern, and curator of this show.
“So, he asked if he could put the jazz musicians in the show,” Turner says.
Now here they are, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and Louis Armstrong among them.
All in a world of different styles that combine to tell the story of “Cultural Connections.”