By Robin Miller
October 20, 2012
The flash of silence will be an instant reflex, followed by a nod or a sigh.
Because mothers and daughters will completely understand Charlie T. Johnson’s “Ophelia and Mother.” It doesn’t matter that they don’t know Ophelia or her mom, because they are Ophelia and her mom.
And the moment will be theirs.
So guys, if you can’t break through the crowd of women crowded around Johnson’s 1981 painting at Southern University’s fourth annual Homecoming Art Exhibition, take in the other works around the Visual Arts Gallery and come back later. Because there’s plenty to see among the works by the New Orleans Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, as well as styles, media and subjects.
Emotions run the gamut here, from the uplifting spirit of Martin Luther King’s “The American Dream” to the gut-wrenching horror of Hurricane Katrina. To the simple yet powerful bond between mothers and daughters.
The show opens with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 8, as part of the university’s Homecoming week festivities. It runs through Friday, Nov. 16.
Last year, the show featured works by faculty members in the Southern University Visual Arts Department. Gallery Director Robert Cox decided to look to New Orleans for this year’s show.
“I’ve worked with this group before,” he said. “The National Conference of Artists was formed by Margaret Burroughs in 1959, and the New Orleans chapter was founded in 1991. They celebrated their 20th anniversary last year, but we were doing the faculty show. So, we’re bringing them in on their 21st anniversary.”
Burroughs brought the National Conference of Artists, Inc. together at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta. The group was organized, according to its mission, “to preserve, promote and develop African-American culture and the creative forces of artists that emanate from the African World experience.”
The National Conference of Artists is now the oldest African-American visual arts advocacy organization in the United States, and it has international affiliations in Africa, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.
Among its founding members was New Orleans artist Eddie “Jack” Jordan Sr., founder of Southern University at New Orleans’ Art Department. Jordan also was a member of the New Orleans chapter, and though he is now deceased, his daughter is loaning two of his works to be shown in Southern’s homecoming exhibit.
Two pieces by the National Conference’s founder Burroughs also are being shown, as well as two pieces by each chapter member. Among them is Johnson’s “Ophelia and Mother.”
Johnson is president of the New Orleans chapter. He created this oil painting in 1981 after attending a friend’s family gathering. He was thumbing through a family photo album when he happened upon a photograph of his friend and her mom. His friend’s name, of course, is Ophelia. The camera caught their profiles as they stood next to each other, neither looking at anything in particular, both in a state of reflection.
Their thoughts at that moment clearly were one and the same.
“I knew I had to paint them,” Johnson said. “I asked Ophelia if I could borrow the picture, then I sketched it and gave it back. Then I made it into my own painting. It always gets the most reaction when I show it.”
As it will, no doubt, in Southern’s Visual Arts Gallery. But that’s not saying the other works in the room are less powerful. Each has its own story, its own message. And each will appeal to viewers in different ways.
This is the very nature of art. It’s human and personal. The viewer might see something completely different from the artist.
For instance, a television program inspired Cecelia “Cely” Tapplette-Pedescleau’s 2001 contemporary quilt, “Cosmos.”
“For ‘Cosmos,’ I was inspired by a TV program on the universe, and the creation of the planets, and stars,” she wrote in her artist’s statement. “The production was very colorful. The program included the creation of the earth with volcanoes spewing molten lava and minerals from the core of the earth. The inspiration hit me, ‘I have to make my own universe.’ I started sewing scraps on a piece of cotton until it was totally covered. Now I had my very own material universe — thus ‘Cosmos’ was created.”
Pieces of metallic material shimmer within the piece, and colors mix in a cosmos. But some viewers may see something completely different within the piece, something that reflects their own experiences.
Then there’s Sheila Phipps’ set of portraits. Or what appears simply to be a group of portraits of young black men.
But it’s more.
Phipps calls this the “Injustice Series.”
“The Injustice Series is a series of six portrait paintings of wrongly convicted inmates serving time at various correctional facilities throughout the United States,” the gallery label stated.
“The artist, Sheila Phipps, was inspired to document these individuals because of her own son’s wrongful conviction and the journey she is going through to prove his innocence. Her paintings give her the hope and energy to persevere ... Her goal is to build relationships with others in the art world, judicial system, and grassroots to establish awareness and inspiration.”
Finally, there is the beauty found in Louise Mouton-Johnson’s linocuts. Many people don’t understand the work that goes into printmaking, how intricate details are carved into a surface to create a print.
“I learned how to do printmaking in school, but I don’t have the patience for it,” Cox said. “So, I’m amazed when I look at these prints.”
Mouton-Johnson’s prints are multi-media pieces. One is a self portrait, the other simply is titled “Comb,” featuring an African comb in the center. Both images are detailed and colorful.
Mouton-Johnson is married to Charlie Johnson.
Other artists in the show are Henry A. Jones, Joseph A. Person, Adéwálé Adénlé, Ed Brown, Elise Ballerd-Russell, Sheleen Jones-Adénlé, Alma Bryan Powell, L’Tanya Clark, Charles Sims and Beverly Kimble Davis.
Each has his or her own interests; each sees the world through different eyes.
And it’s here where their perspectives come together.