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Morton Fine Art | 52 O St Studios in Washingtonian Magazine

26 Feb

HOME & STYLE 

Inside Five DC-Area Working Art Studios

Great spots to connect with the local scene and find one-of-a-kind pieces.

WRITTEN BY MARISA M. KASHINO 

  | PUBLISHED ON FEBRUARY 23, 2022

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52 O Street Studios. Photograph by Jarrett Hendrix.

Though it’s not always obvious where to find them, Washington is full of working art studios. Here are a few spots where many artists create under one roof. Some have public hours; others are by appointment only. All are excellent places to support the local scene and procure one-of-a-kind pieces.

1. 52 O Street Studios

52 O St., NW

This enclave of artists in Truxton Circle has been around since the 1970s. The brick-faced former factory houses about 50 creatives, including painters, photographers, and fashion designers. The best way to get a sense of the work being made there is on Instagram—follow @52ostreetstudios. Pre-pandemic, the studios would occasionally open up for events. These days, you can make an appointment with individual artists. The building is also home to two galleries: Homme, which features local work by independent and emerging artists, including from the studios upstairs, and Morton Fine Art, a gallery that shows pieces by 25 artists around the world, including contemporary art from Africa and the African diaspora.

Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. Photograph by Stereo Vision Photography.

2. Pyramid Atlantic Art Center

4318 Gallatin St., Hyattsville

A huge concentration of artists can be found along the Route 1 corridor stretching from Mount Rainier to Hyattsville. While there are hundreds of studios and artist collectives in the aptly named Gateway Arts District, few are as publicly accessible as Pyramid Atlantic, which is open five days a week and specializes in printmaking and papermaking. Among its offerings: 17 private art studios, a gallery (where most of the art is under $1,000), community studios that can be rented by the hour, and a shop selling work by the resident artists (visits to their studios are by appointment). More info here.

Torpedo Factory. Photograph by Ja’Mon Jackson/City of Alexandria.

3. Torpedo Factory Art Center

105 N. Union St., Alexandria

The nation’s largest community of open artist studios under one roof isn’t in Brooklyn or Oakland. It’s in Old Town. More than 165 artists work in the former munitions factory on the waterfront. Before Covid, their spaces were accessible to the public much of the week. While the building is still open five days, the hours of individual artists are now understandably spottier. So if there’s particular work you want to see, best to schedule in advance. Profiles of the artists—who run the gamut of styles and mediums—are on their website.

Stable Arts. Photograph courtesy of Stable Arts.

4. Stable

336 Randolph Pl., NE

In 2019, right before the pandemic, 25 working studios plus a gallery opened in this repurposed horse stable in Eckington. Though the unfortunate timing means Stable has flown mostly under the radar, a peek inside would reveal dozens of resident artists producing collage, paintings, sculpture, and photography. The studios are closed to the public right now, but executive director Maleke Glee is planning programming in the spring and summer. He says there will be art and crafts for kids so parents can peruse artwork and chat with the artists. Join Stable’s mailing list and learn about its residents here.

5. Arlington Arts Center 

3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

In addition to a wide selection of classes for kids and adults, the nonprofit hosts a dozen resident artists, who work in onsite studios. The current cohort includes painters, photographers, sculptors, and mixed-media artists. You can learn about them and find their contact information on their website. They show work publicly in the facility’s Wyatt Residence Artist Gallery and, a few times a year (Covid permitting), during exhibition events. Appointments are required to visit individual studios. The center is also home to eight other galleries that show work from all over.

This article appears in the February 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

OSI AUDU’s solo exhibition “A Sense of Self” reviewed in The Washington Post

11 Jan
Osi Audu’s “Self-Portrait with a Yoruba Hairstyle” in the exhibit “A Sense of Self.” (Osi Audu/Morton Fine Art)

Osi Audu

By Mark Jenkins

January 7, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EST

Especially when rendered with gleaming graphite, Osi Audu’s hard-edge geometric abstractions evoke high-tech machines. But “A Sense of Self,” the title of the Nigeria-born New Yorker’s show at Morton Fine Art, suggests he has something else in mind. Nearly all the pictures are designated as self-portraits, and often streamline the shapes of West African masks. Audu’s inspiration is the Yoruba idea of “outer and inner head,” according to the gallery’s statement.

The show is divided primarily between monochromatic drawings, executed in gray graphite and black pastel, and brightly colorful paintings, mostly in two contrasting acrylic pigments. Audu distills the forms of masks, headdresses and hairstyles to planes, angles and curves, and positions them on white backdrops that emphasize the images’ seeming three-dimensionality. It would make sense for the artist to translate such pictures into sculpture, and in fact this show is set to include two painted-steel pieces that seem to be closely related to the paintings. (The sculptures didn’t arrive in time to be seen for this review.)

The colors and shapes are usually presented as stark dualities, but not always. “Self-Portrait After Dogon Bird Mask” features four hues rather than two, and the graphite areas in the black-and-gray drawings are made of free, densely overlapping strokes. While inner and outer are elsewhere tidily juxtaposed, the graphite’s intricate textures are intriguingly in-between.

Osi Audu: A Sense of Self Through Jan. 15 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. Open by appointment.

Available artwork by OSI AUDU

MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER | Art in Embassies | 3 Questions Video

10 Jan

For over five decades, Art in Embassies (AIE) has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy through a focused mission of vital cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and dynamic artist exchange. The Museum of Modern Art first envisioned this global visual arts program in 1953, and President John F. Kennedy formalized it at the U.S. Department of State in 1963. Today, Art in Embassies is an official visual arts office within the U.S. Department of State, engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. It encompasses over 200 venues in 189 countries. Professional curators and registrars create and ship about 60 exhibitions per year, and since 2000, over 70 permanent collections have been installed in the Department’s diplomatic facilities throughout the world.

Art in Embassies fosters U.S. relations within local communities world-wide – in the last decade, more than 100 artists have traveled to countries participating in AIE’s exchange programs and collaborated with local artists to produce works now on display in embassies and consulates. Going forward, AIE will continue to engage, educate, and inspire global audiences, showing how art can transcend national borders and build connections among peoples.

Available artwork by MICHAEL ANDREW BOOKER.

WAYNE THIEBAUD x VONN SUMNER | Artist to Artist | The Last Interview | Cultbytes

29 Dec

Interviews

Wayne Thiebaud. The Last Interview

Anna Mikaela Ekstrand

December 28, 2021

Vonn Cummings Sumner, Krazy Mirror, 2021. Oil on panel. 10 x 8 inches. Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art.

The passing of celebrated California painter Wayne Thiebaud was confirmed by his gallery Aqcuavella on Sunday. “Even at 101 years old, he still spent most days in the studio, driven by, as he described with his characteristic humility, ‘this almost neurotic fixation of trying to learn to paint’,” the statement said.

Thiebaud’s now legendary practice expanded the Pop Art movement, being particularly known for his unique focus on paintings of everyday subject matter – cakes, pies, gumball machines, and highways – inflected with pastel hues and a sense of Americana. These works were staples at major auction house sales; Four Pinball Machines (1920) sold at Christie’s for a staggering $19,1 million in July 2020 and Sotheby’s holds the record for his cakes when Encased Cakes netted $8,46 million in 2019.

Though highly celebrated for his mastery over the painted medium, this last interview reveals the lesser-known influences of cartooning on both his oeuvre and that of peers such as Willem de Kooning and Philip Guston. Particularly loved by his cohort was Krazy Kat—the mid-20th century icon created by George Herriman—in 1990 Thiebaud collaborated with choreographer Brenda Way on a ballet based on the strip in San Francisco.

Krazy Kat reappeared as the titular character of Thiebaud’s former student Vonn Cummings Sumner’s solo show Krazy Times at Morton Fine Art in Washington, D.C. this past November. “I have been so incredibly fortunate to have Wayne as a kind of confidant, a co-conspirator,” says the painter, for whom studio visits with Thiebaud continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. On the occasion of Cummings exhibition, he and Thiebaud conducted an interview. Emphasizing the significance of artistic exchange across time, space, and generations and reflective of their decades-long friendship, this conversation dives deep into the trajectories of both artists’ practices, highlighting Thiebaud’s illustrious career and the influence of his mentorship on Sumner, his former student, and their shared interest in Krazy Kat.

Wayne Thiebaud
Portrait of Wayne Thiebaud in Vonn Cummings Sumner’s studio, featuring Sumner’s Krazy Kat paintings in the background. Image courtesy of Vonn Cummings Sumner.

Wayne Thiebaud: How did we get into this Krazy business in the first place?

Vonn Sumner: Well, you introduced Krazy Kat to me, when I was in your Theory & Criticism class. But, I wondered if you remember where and when you first saw Krazy Kat?

WT: When I was in the Army Air Force doing a little strip of my own, about a nondescript, dogface, Army Corporal, who was getting into all kinds of trouble a fellow by the name of Bob Crosby introduced me to the cartoonist George Herriman, the creator of the Krazy Kat strip. Bob tthought my strip was repetitive, full of cliches, and that I should shape up and become acquainted with Krazy Kat. To me it looked like a bunch of nonsense. I had just been to war and was, I guess, 20, 21 years old it was 1942 or 3.

VS: When I was a child, my introduction to any kind of pictures, really, were through children’s book illustrations and then comic books.

WT: For most American painters, that was their experience. They all talked about it, even, of course, Philip Guston. A lot of the people around the New York group were early cartoonists, and fed on American cartoonists and illustrations.

VS: Do you think it was a particularly American phenomenon to grow up looking at those things?

WT: I’ve heard that Picasso and some of the Surrealists were interested in Krazy Kat, but I have no documents to back this claim. They were certainly following Tin Tin, the Belgian cartoon. Regardless of which character we are talking about, the idea of humanity is central. How we can get them somehow to touch on that aspect? Not so much comic, and pratfalls, and actions, but just the aspect of when they are most human. For instance, I never found Nancy [a comic strip character that the artist Joe Brainard used in his artwork] very humane. But humanity runs all the way through Krazy Kat: his vulnerability and his wiseness in the face of naiveté. Such loving characteristics. So, you’ve done some, I think, quite remarkable paintings bringing him into little vignettes, and, mostly him with—and I haven’t seen all of them—but usually he’s somewhat alone, with some action, or with an elephant, or with something. I think they’re very, very well done, and very humane.

VS: When I showed you those first two little Krazy Kat paintings that I did, you spoke about the idea of “painting for the millions.” You quoted someone saying you shouldn’t pick up a pen to start writing without considering the millions, or the masses – the audience.

WT: I think that was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the German.

Vonn Cummings Sumner
Vonn Cummings Sumner, The Sky is On Fire, 2021. Oil on panel. 18 x 18 inches. Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art.

VS: Why is does Krazy Kat lend itself to such popularity?

WT: Well, because it’s hard to understand Krazy Kat. What is going on? What is his/her gender? Why is the Southwest such a powerful environment for him? The wide open spaces? The wonderful, unpredictable-ness of the landscape, in terms of particularly American history. So why is that, rather than a more ‘normal’ environment, for Krazy Kat? I think it’s because of the unending possibilities that something like that open space can achieve.

VS: I don’t know if you remember this, Wayne, but you once sent me a postcard, or a little reproduction card from a Morandi show that Paul [Thiebaud] did in San Francisco. You put a Krazy Kat cartoon folded up inside of it and then you made a little note on the envelope, you said: “Krazy Kat and Morandi, an ideal dialectic!” I thought it was exciting as an idea. What if you set up those two as a dialectic, what comes out of that space in between them?

To point it in another direction: I wonder what it is about cartoon characters that allows people to identify with them? In your teaching, you emphasize the role of empathy, in both making paintings and also in looking at them, perceiving them. How do you see the role of empathy relating specifically to Krazy Kat, or why do you think we feel so attached to that little character?

WT: Well at center, it seems to me, is vulnerability. Not ‘sob story’ vulnerability, not too obvious, because he is determined, usually, never to be vulnerable. He resists vulnerability, it seems to me, which is quite a curious characteristic. You hit him on the head with a brick—could not care less! It is as much a ‘love-tap’ as a pain in the head!

VS: Part of what has been the challenge and the goal of doing these Krazy Kat paintings, for me, is to fully leave all of those photographic reference kind of crutches behind, and just work from drawings or memory or invention.

WT: I think that is where the gold lies.

VS: Why? What does memory painting allow for?

WT: It is not fixed. If you think about what you are getting from your memory, and as you begin to use it, all kinds of other things come into it, suddenly; mistakes, aberrations; ‘Gee, I didn’t know that little bump was so effective.’ You start out with one sense, one memory, and it becomes almost a kaleidoscope. There are suddenly all these variants of that one memory. That is the way I think of memory. And, I do not think it depends on just getting something fixed, but almost the opposite. Getting something which allows you to expand, to contract, to change, to color, to enlarge, all of the possibilities of that instance.

VS: So that you can discover something that you did not set out to know, or so that you can surprise yourself?

WT: Exactly. You can know, generally, in advance; but you cannot know, or deal with the surprises, the accidents that inform the work differently than you thought. Some of that can come into Krazy Kat. I do not think he has to be grand and clear. You are doing that, I think, with some effect.

Vonn Cummings Sumner
Vonn Cummings Sumner, Ghosts, 2021. Oil on paper on panel. 12 x 12 inches. Photo credit: Robert Wedemeyer. Courtesy the artist and Morton Fine Art.

VS: I am interested in the idea of this singular character or figure that is both something that we know, something that we can agree on while being built into the world that Herriman was creating that is always changing. This process of becoming or unbecoming and unraveling lends itself well to uncertainty and open-endedness.

WT: Yes.

VS: Returning to incorporating humanity in painting. Ironically, it is through painting this strange cat that is not a cat, actually somehow you are trying to get at our own human vulnerability and hopes and dreams and whimsies and daydreams and nostalgia. All of the things that this amazing character can embody, right?

WT: It is not a simple problem; it is fascinating, challenging, and wonderful to see what happens. So, it is a treat to think of just ‘what is this painting going to look like?’ And, I am trying to make it look as interesting as possible. So that form– the formal order– is sustained, celebrated, and used ruthlessly, to make those paintings special, whatever the direction, whatever the intent. That is more likely than anything to get them into the canon, and the celebration.

Wayne Thiebaud
Wayne Thiebaud, Boston Cremes, 1962. Image courtesy of Crocker Art Museum.

VS: I have decided that I like the question that kind of lurks next to the Krazy Kat paintings– can you even paint this? Or is it really ridiculous and not even worthwhile at all!

WT: [Laughter] That is the confrontation. That is exactly the way I felt trying to paint those damn pies. I could not believe anyone would be interested, on the other hand, I was just like, wow this is fun.

ANNA MIKAELA EKSTRAND

Editor-in-Chief and Principal PR/Digital & Curatorial Services, Cultbytes Building on her experience as an art critic and digital strategist, Anna Mikaela founded Cultbytes to promote interdisciplinary and non-hierarchical cultural criticism. By attracting the leading emerging museum professionals, artists, and art-critics to cover topics close to their heart her aim is to inspire cultural consumption in the public. As the Principal of PR/Digital & Curatorial Services, Anna Mikaela leverages her knowledge, network, and team to find new ways to innovate communications and curatorial practices to benefit her clients. She has held curatorial positions at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bard Graduate Center, Solomon R. Guggenheim, and the Museum of Arts and Design. She holds dual MA degrees, in Design History, Material Culture, and Decorative Arts from Bard Graduate Center and in Art History from Stockholm University. She undertook her undergraduate studies at Stockholm University, Paris-Sorbonne IV, and London School of Economics and Political Science. 

Available Artwork by VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER

Short Video / Artist Talk by OSI AUDU on his solo exhibition “A Sense of Self” at Morton Fine Art

18 Dec

“A Sense of Self” A solo exhibition of new drawings, paintings and sculpture by OSI AUDU

December 8th, 2021 – January 15th, 2022

Contact the gallery for viewing by appointment, price list, additional information and acquisition.

Complimentary catalogs available upon request.

(202) 628-2787 (call or text)

info@mortonfineart.com

About “A Sense of Self”

Morton Fine Art is proud to present A Sense of Self, a solo exhibition of new works by Nigerian multimedia artist Osi Audu; on view from December 8, 2021 – January 15, 2022.

Working across drawing, painting and sculpture, Audu considers notions of internal and external dualities, most distinctively, the Yoruba sense of “outer and inner head.” The works–geometric abstractions made alive with vibrant shades of blue, red, green, yellow and black, reflect Audu’s celebration of color as a manifestation of interior human essence. Each of the pieces in A Sense of Self are presented as self-portraits, which Audu articulates to be “the portraits of the intangible self.”

In conversation with classical African aesthetics, Audu’s works examine the human head as an axis of material and subliminal consciousness. In this sense, the artist captures what exists prior to and beyond embodiment, the self outside of matter. Though many of his pieces are rich in color, at their core, each one is a rumination on blackness—that which is imperceivable by the human eye. In works reminiscent of scientific illustrations, Audu gives image to internal expressions of the self, investigating the mechanisms and shapes of the human spirit.

As studies of visceral perception, Audu’s portraits ask questions such as, what might the intangible self look like after donning a Dogon bird mask; or after wearing an Efik headdress? His answer to the former is: four sharp rectangular shapes, with a free-form waved appendage; to the latter: a gently coiled form, with two flat surfaces. To Audu, these questions are neither anomalous nor incidental. Instead, they are essential vehicles for investigating what is nestled between the layers of the mind, body and personal identity that we each understand ourselves to have. A Sense of Self provides a deeply personal visual language for examining the complex structures of being. At once dynamic and uncomplicated, these works leave the audience with questions about themselves.

OSI AUDU received a B.A. in Fine Art with First Class Honors from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and an M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA. He has been exhibited at, and collected by, public Institutions including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., The Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, USA, The British Museum and the Horniman Museum, both in London, and the Wellcome Trust Gallery in London. Audu’s work has also been exhibited at the Tobu Museum and Setagaya Museum, both in Japan, the Liverpool Museum in England, the Science Museum in London; and acquired for corporate collections including Microsoft Art Collection, Sony Classical New York and the Schmidt Bank in Germany. Audu has been represented by Morton Fine Art in Washington, D.C. since 2012.

Available artwork by OSI AUDU

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON’s solo “Successions” reviewed in artblog

17 Dec

Amber Robles-Gordon’s anti-colonial quilts and personal histories at American University Museum at the Katzen Center

By Andrea Kirsh

December 17, 2021

An artist’s visit to her mother’s birth place in Puerto Rico awakens her to the complexities of immigration and family – and to the dubious socio-political actions and inactions, by the U.S. government in its far-flung territories. Our reviewer Andrea Kirsh is moved by the powerful collage works and double-sided quilts of Amber Robles-Gordon. The show closed Dec. 12.


Collage landscape with lush green foliage and trees, people with brown skin singing and dancing, and a tall Puetro Rican flag flying high into the star-filled sky.
“y mi bandera vuela mas alto que la tuya,” 2020. Mixed media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Amber Robles-Gordon‘s first grade classmates in Arlington, VA bullied her for speaking Spanish, so she learned to speak to her mother in English. It wouldn’t be until middle age that the artist finally visited her mother’s birthplace in Puerto Rico. Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism, her solo exhibition at the the American University Museum at the Katzen Center (August 28 – Dec. 12, 2021) in Washington, D.C. was the product of that initial trip and a her return for a six-week residence on the island in 2020.

The exhibition presented two bodies of work. The first, “Place of Breath and Birth” is a series of ten vibrant collages on canvas, all 18 x 24 inches; two, represented by full-scale pigment prints. The collages are constructed from masses of tiny images cut from paper; even the bands of color that form their backgrounds are assembled from minute, colored fragments. And there is a very personal rhythm – like distinctive brushwork – in the way Robles-Gordon arranges the fragments.

Another personal language of Robles-Gordon’s appearing in the fragments is inspired by multiple, non-Western cultural traditions and imagery taken from magazines and photographs. These fragments are used as structuring and framing elements, incorporating the artist’s drawings of detailed and decorative, spiky, geometric patterns. An occasional small trinket or charm adds surface texture, as does the profusion of tiny, sparkly beads which outline the central, circular forms on each collage. The beads and high-keyed colors capture the intense sunlight of the Caribbean and lend a festival-like quality to the series.

Robles-Gordon culls her imagery from photographs she took in Puerto Rico or found elsewhere that evoke its lush, intensely-polychromed environment – both natural and human. While on the island, she was fascinated by the rubber trees and palms, the coconuts and mangos, street murals and public art. The titles of individual collages suggest the range of topics that were prompted by her visits: “Observation of Influencers: Taino culture and heritage, the climate and machismo,” “For bioluminescent bays and turtles.”

Her long-time interest in spirituality and syncretic, New World religious practices inspire aspects of the collages’ format, which the artist likens to personal altars. The imagery of fruit and floral offerings, flickering candles and the crystalline forms of her drawing run throughout the series and reinforce their spiritual associations. She includes photos of herself – both earlier and contemporary images – in several collages, and there is no question that the series itself is a diary of self-discovery.

Abstract collage artwork with a Venn Diagram in the center, which contains a woman with brown skin and black curly hair posing in front of a painting of Jesus Christ in one circle, and the same portrait of Jesus Christ in the other, but in this version, Jesus's face is covered by a star; surrounding the Venn Diagram are strips of color with religious imagery in them.
“Reflexiones sobre el yo, la virgen maría y el colonialismo,” 2020. Mixed media, collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Quilts of pointed anti-colonial critique

If the collages capture Robles-Gordon’s connection to her ancestral culture in the form of personal, spiritual reflection, the second part of the exhibition responded to her developing political understanding of Puerto Rico’s position as a U.S. Territory. The works are a public forum in which to teach, to encourage discussion, to heal, and to begin building a congregation of territorial residents. Six, large, double sided, appliqued quilts hung throughout the high-ceilinged gallery. The installation, which gave its name to the exhibition, was titled “Successions; Traversing U.S. Colonialism.” The quilts include dense references to histories that have yet to be acknowledged and the dark underside of U.S. power. Their format entangles the conventionalized emblems of history and patriotism with the domestic craft of quilting, the masculine pursuit of territory and power with a feminine tradition of healing.

On one side of each quilt Robles-Gordon addresses political history, with references to each of the U.S. Territory’s flag or seal, as well as to the exploitation of its indigenous people for medical experimentation, military support and economic interests; on the other side she constructs an altar dedicated to healing the damage of historical exploitation and the racism which underpins it. Both sides bear central medallions; they are greatly enlarged versions of the circles in the collages, and make references to the circle as a foundational religious image and form of celebration – to healing circles and ceremonial dancing. The healing altars are constructed with the same spiky, geometric patterning that Robles-Gordon used in the collages, and all have hieratic, symmetrical designs. Here they suggest abstracted figures of deities, and their patterning makes reference to a variety of Afro-diasporic and non-Western decorative histories seen in painting, textiles and ceramics. Although painted, they appear to be drawings in chalk on black backgrounds, which suggests religious images in various cultures which are intended to be temporary.

The timing of Robles-Gordon’s residency in Puerto Rico reinforced her understanding of the disparity between U.S. government support to the island after the overwhelming damage from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, and the level of disaster relief Americans have come to expect on the mainland. This understanding, in turn, led to her interest in the U.S. Territories as a group; areas under United States dominion with the highest percentage of poverty, where the government has exploited resources and sited strategic military bases, with little concern for the inhabitants – all people of color, who are largely, only nominally U.S. Citizens. The territories function, rather, as U.S. colonies.

Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands are unfamiliar to many on the mainland United States. Few Americans know that their residents are U.S. Citizens with the right to vote – although they lack full representation in Congress. Robles-Gordon included Washington, D.C., her current home, among the territories because it’s residents, too, fall under U.S. jurisdiction but have no fully-empowered Congressional representative.

Robles-Gordon used her childhood bullying as a spur to understanding her own cultural traditions, and it is characteristic of her long-developed career of teaching and producing art that she didn’t respond to the history of territorial exploitation with rage, but with honesty, offering understanding, teaching and healing as a foundation on which to advocate for social justice in the outlying regions of the United States and in powerless communities internationally. The sense of spirituality and turning towards a better future pervades her work as much as her personally-developed language of forms and patterns, use of repurposed materials, passionate polychrome, and fusion of visual traditions.

Amber Robles-Gordon, “Successions: Traversing U.S. Colonialism” is now closed. It was on view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Center in Washington, D.C., August 28–December 12, 2021.

Collage abstract artwork that uses symmetry and intricate linework, giving the feel of a blueprint, but one that is energetic and full of life and plant imagery.
“The eternal altar for the women forsaken and souls relinquished. Yet the choice must always remain hers/ El altar eterno de las mujeres abandonadas y las almas renunciadas. Sin embargo, la elección siempre debe ser de ella.,” 2020. Mixed media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.

TAGS

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON, AMERICAN SAMOA, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY MUSEUM, ARLINGTON, COLLAGE, GUAM, HURRICANE IRMA, HURRICANE MARIA, KATZEN CENTER, MIXED-MEDIA, NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS, PUERTO RICO, SUCCESSIONS, TRAVERSING U.S. COLONIALISM, VIRGIN ISLANDS, VIRGINIA, WASHINGTON D.C.

REVIEWSARTISTSMUSEUMS

Available artwork by AMBER ROBLES-GORDON

OSI AUDU’s solo exhibition “A Sense of Self”

13 Dec
Osi Audu’s latest exhibition investigates notions of the self beyond  the materiality that defines our existence
Visit our Website
Self Portrait after Dogon Bird Mask, 2017-2021, 54″x72″, pastel and graphite on paper mounted on canvas

A Sense of Self
A solo exhibition of new drawings, paintings and sculpture by OSI AUDU
December 8th, 2021 – January 5th, 2022


Contact the gallery for viewing by appointment, price list, additional information and acquisition. Complimentary catalogs available upon request.

(202) 628-2787 (call or text) info@mortonfineart.com

Available Artwork by OSI AUDU
Self-Portrait after Head of Pangwe Figure, 2018, 22″x31″, acrylic on canvas
About A Sense of Self
Morton Fine Art is proud to present A Sense of Self, a solo exhibition of new works by Nigerian multimedia artist Osi Audu; on view from December 8, 2021 – January 5, 2022.
Working across drawing, painting and sculpture, Audu considers notions of internal and external dualities, most distinctively, the Yoruba sense of “outer and inner head.” The works–geometric abstractions made alive with vibrant shades of blue, red, green, yellow and black, reflect Audu’s celebration of color as a manifestation of interior human essence. Each of the pieces in A Sense of Self are presented as self-portraits, which Audu articulates to be “the portraits of the intangible self.”
Self Portrait II, 2021, 22″x31″, pastel and graphite on paper mounted on canvas
In conversation with classical African aesthetics, Audu’s works examine the human head as an axis of material and subliminal consciousness. In this sense, the artist captures what exists prior to and beyond embodiment, the self outside of matter. Though many of his pieces are rich in color, at their core, each one is a rumination on blackness—that which is imperceivable by the human eye. In works reminiscent of scientific illustrations, Audu gives image to internal expressions of the self, investigating the mechanisms and shapes of the human spirit.
Self Portrait after Head of a Benin Queen Mother, 2021, 26″x14″x10.5″, painted steel
As studies of visceral perception, Audu’s portraits ask questions such as, what might the intangible self look like after donning a Dogon bird mask; or after wearing an Efik headdress? His answer to the former is: four sharp rectangular shapes, with a free-form waved appendage; to the latter: a gently coiled form, with two flat surfaces. To Audu, these questions are neither anomalous nor incidental. Instead, they are essential vehicles for investigating what is nestled between the layers of the mind, body and personal identity that we each understand ourselves to have.  A Sense of Self provides a deeply personal visual language for examining the complex structures of being. At once dynamic and uncomplicated, these works leave the audience with questions about themselves.
Self Portrait after an Efik Headdress, 2021, 22″x31″, pastel and graphite on paper mounted on canvas
Self Portrait with Yoruba Hairstyle, 2021, 22″x31″, pastel and graphite on paper mounted on canvas
Available artwork by OSI AUDU
About OSI AUDU
OSI AUDU received a B.A. in Fine Art with First Class Honors from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, and an M.F.A. in Painting and Drawing from the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA. He has been exhibited at, and collected by, public Institutions including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., The Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey, USA, The British Museum and the Horniman Museum, both in London, and the Wellcome Trust Gallery in London. Audu’s work has also been exhibited at the Tobu Museum and Setagaya Museum, both in Japan, the Liverpool Museum in England, the Science Museum in London; and acquired for corporate collections including Microsoft Art Collection, Sony Classical New York and the Schmidt Bank in Germany.
Audu has been represented by Morton Fine Art in Washington, D.C. since 2012.
About Morton Fine Art
Founded in 2010 in Washington, DC by curator Amy Morton, Morton Fine Art (MFA) is a fine art gallery and curatorial group that collaborates with art collectors and visual artists to inspire fresh ways of acquiring contemporary art. Firmly committed to the belief that art collecting can be cultivated through an educational stance, MFA’s mission is to provide accessibility to museum-quality contemporary art through a combination of substantive exhibitions and a welcoming platform for dialogue and exchange of original voice. Morton Fine Art specializes in a stellar roster of nationally and internationally renowned artists as well as has an additional focus on artwork of the African Diaspora.
Morton Fine Art founded the trademark *a pop-up project in 2010. *a pop-up project is MFA’s mobile gallery component which hosts temporary curated exhibitions nationally.
Gallery hours: By appointment only. Mask required.

Morton Fine Art
52 O St NW #302
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 628-2787
info@mortonfineart.com
www.mortonfineart.com

Guest host, Dr. Melayne Price, chats with ‘The Dirty South’ exhibit’s curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as Houston artists Nathaniel Donnett and Mel Chin

13 Dec

NEWS

I SEE U, Episode 27: Storytelling Art of The Dirty South

Guest host, Dr. Melayne Price, chats with ‘The Dirty South’ exhibit’s curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as Houston artists Nathaniel Donnett and Mel Chin about what happens when contemporary art merges with the roots of Southern hip-hop culture.MELANYE PRICE | POSTED ONDECEMBER 9, 2021, 8:28 PM

To be black and southern is to contend with the embedded legacy of racial terror and grapple with the unique and enduring culture created in its shadow. The term “dirty south” can invoke many images connected to southern agrarian life, but hip-hop artists have transformed it into a banner of pride. Dirty South now represents a short cut for understanding the perspectives of creatives who were raised or procured their work in the South – through music, art, fashion, and other forms of cultural products that possessed a specific, Southern lens. This work has been captured in an exhibit called, “Dirty South,” currently on display at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston until February. On this episode of I SEE U, join us as guest host, Dr. Melayne Price, chats with the exhibit’s curator, Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as Houston artists Nathaniel Donnett and Mel Chin whose works are included in the show. Find out what happens when contemporary art merges with the roots of Southern hip-hop culture in The Dirty South.

Available Artwork by NATHANIEL DONNETT

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON’s “Successions : Traversing U.S. Colonialism” reviewed in Hyperallergic

11 Dec

Art Reviews

The Liminal Space of Identity for Residents of US Territories

In Amber Robles-Gordon’s artwork, the borders between states matter less than the overlapping territories of self, the never-ending negotiation of identity.

by Kriston Capps

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Washington, DC — Seven “flags” hang in Amber Robles-Gordon’s show at the American University Museum: one for each of the five unincorporated United States territories in the Caribbean, one for the District of Columbia, and one to signify the artist’s place in between those locales.

Each of these quilted, banner-like pieces has two sides: one personal, one political. This makes 14 flags — and countless subdivisions, really, considering all the fault lines and fractures that compose the quilted surfaces. They aren’t literal territorial emblems, but like the actual flags they resemble, these banners make a constitutional statement, about one person, divisible, beautifully so.

Suspended from the third-floor atrium, the seven flags are a showstopper in Successions: Traversing US Colonialism. For this show, which was curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah and also includes mixed-media collages on canvas, Robles-Gordon set out to explore her own Caribbean roots. The artist couples traditional textiles with an approach to abstraction that draws on Washington’s rich painting legacy to reflect the dynamism of the African diaspora, and where she dwells within it.

Robles-Gordon, who is Afro-Latina, spent much of the pandemic between San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was born, and the District of Columbia, where she lives and works. The ideas that culminated with this body of work are informed by research into state borders, social systems, and political hierarchies. Yet the show brims with improvisation, color, and self-discovery.

Robles-Gordon borrows from insignia of the US territories while building her own personal cosmology of symbols to assert her supra-national identity. For the front side of her Virgin Islands quilt, titled “USVI Political” (2021), she deploys the shield banner and eagle emblem of the territory’s flag. The artist juxtaposes arrows, laurels, and other figurative elements with abstract bands of color alongside collaged images of Virgin Islands license plates. A gold chain hangs over the whole thing — just a dash of Robert Rauschenberg. “USVI Spiritual, Moko Jumbie: Walk Tall and Heal Forward” (2021), the back side, is an entirely abstract pattern that references the carnival stilt-walker tradition that came to the Caribbean from West Africa. The flags for Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and D.C. are similarly structured.

Successions considers the feedback loops of immigration and identity. It’s a formally intersectional show, too, as Robles-Gordon draws on Afro-Caribbean traditions and iconography as well as African American art history in her approach to collage. The works of David Driskell and Alma Thomas suffuse her mark-making: “Puerto Rico Political” (2021) resembles a Puerto Rican flag superimposed over one of Thomas’s circle paintings. Robles-Gordon’s quilts point to the rich use of fabric and textile techniques by Black artists such as Rosie Lee Tompkins and Faith Ringgold and the artists of Gee’s Bend (and, more recently, Tomashi Jackson and Eric N. Mack). A wealth of dense patterning and color adorns Robles-Gordon’s works, which reward close looking.

D.C. galleries are increasingly making room for artists weighing questions of status and identity. Anil Revri’s mixed-media abstractions, also on view at the museum, take cues from sacred Hindu patterns and geometric abstract painting; across town, the Arlington Arts Center is hosting an exhibition by Pakistan-born artist Sobia Ahmad that features a haunting series of white flags, made from screen-printed woven rice bags and based on her family’s forced migration after the Partition of India and Pakistan.

The works in Successions are stamped with stars and bars and other symbols laden with the weight of ceremony and state. Yet Robles-Gordon’s collages also include references to botánicas, birth control, and bioluminescent bays, putting the personal on par with the political. In her work, the borders between states matter less than the overlapping territories of self, the never-ending negotiation of identity, shown in these works as a source of comfort and conflict alike.

Successions: Traversing US Colonialism continues at the American University Museum (4400 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington D.C.) through December 12. The exhibition was curated by Larry Ossei-Mensah.

Available Artwork by AMBER ROBLES-GORDON

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON’s “Successions : Traversing U. S. Colonialism” reviewed in Bmore Art

10 Dec

READING

Amber Robles-Gordon’s Geographies of Care

VISUAL ART

Amber Robles-Gordon’s Geographies of Care

At the Katzen Arts Center, Robles-Gordon’s exhibition conveys a first-person account of the intimacies of movement

People, food, and horticulture are among the things that move. Amber Robles-Gordon’s use of the Ficus Elastica is part of the symbology that reverberates throughout her exhibition, Successions: Traversing US Colonialism, on view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, DC, through December 12, 2021. The Ficus Elastica—colloquially known as the rubber tree—has its roots in South Asia, though it was later nativized in the West Indies through the rubber trade. Dear reader, among your houseplants you are likely to find the genus of the rubber plant.

The ficus form appears in Robles-Gordon’s collage series Place of Breath and Birth and the six quilts that comprise Successions, the second body of work and the exhibition’s namesake. “Elemental: Tierra, Aire, Agua, Fuego” (2020), a mixed-media collage from Place of Breath and Birth, uses the ficus to gesture toward culture, genealogy, and place. Here the ficus form spreads from a pregnant middle point, growing outward in four directions, above and below, left and right. Bands of yellow, light blue, teal, and iridescent black paint and paper mimic movement. Most striking is the middle space: the central band of color and ink brings to mind a sonic wave, an echo of the artist’s interest in spirit and culture, the divine feminine, and place—her place, the titular place of breath and birth within the Afro/Latinx diaspora.

Through lines that curve and increase in thickness, “Elemental” vibrates off the wall, exploding the collaged territories’ discrete demarcations through gestures of emergence and slippage. It is here that Robles-Gordon’s practice of collage and assemblage evokes Black life as it exceeds the boundaries of the nation-state and of the medium.

Robles-Gordon made Place of Breath and Birth during a self-defined art residency and while living and traveling between San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC—a period of time disrupted by Hurricane Isaias and the COVID-19 pandemic. In Successions, we encounter her motifs and movements within a broader practice. Robles-Gordon is a DC-based artist whose family lineage is in the Black diaspora with ties to Puerto Rico and the greater Caribbean. These diaspora ties are reflected in creative and cultural traditions she draws from, including the Washington Color School, Alma Thomas, the Gee’s Bend Quilters of Alabama, and botanical elements within Afro-Latinx religions.

Amber Robles-Gordon, y mi bandera vuela mas alto que la tuya, 2020, mixed-media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist
Amber Robles-Gordon, The eternal altar for the women forsaken and souls relinquished. Yet the choice must always remain hers/ El altar eterno de las mujeres abandonadas y las almas renunciadas. Sin embargo, la elección siempre debe ser de ella., 2020. mixed-media collage on canvas, 18 x 24 inches. Courtesy of the artist

While one side of the quilts represents the territories through symbols like flags, eagles, and other emblems of the state, the reverse intones a spiritual element, the cultural heart of these geopolitical spaces.

The artist’s exhibition conveys a first-person account of the intimacies of movement—and the past’s effect on the present through empire, colonialism, and transatlantic slavery, of which territory is a major mechanism. Place of Breath and Birth and Successions both invite us to think about the territory and what Caribbeanist scholar Sylvia Wynter has named “mistaking the map.” In the article “On How We Mistook the Map for the Territory,” Wynter describes the mistaken map as a series of factors of difference in academic discipline, and in social contexts, that conscribe a particular meaning of “human” to the current social order. The consequences of this mistaken map are that what it means to be “human” is conscripted through logics of belonging that reflect a worldview that excludes, proliferates violence, and is upheld by the state. In Robles-Gordon’s hands, mistaking the map means we must contend with the entanglements of colonialism and empire—and the spiritual resonance of it all—in the wake of violence. 

Place of Breath and Birth bears the mark of one of the United States empire’s territories, Puerto Rico, referencing the artist’s personal relationship to its people, land, and culture. Successions take a more hemispheric approach. This series comprises double-sided quilts standing in for five territories of the U.S. empire—Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands—and the District of Columbia, a federal district. While one side of the quilts represents the territories through symbols like flags, eagles, and other emblems of the state, the reverse intones a spiritual element, the cultural heart of these geopolitical spaces. This second orientation to the quilts, which are suspended from the gallery ceiling like flags in a federal building’s rotunda, upends a logic of conquest by inviting viewers to encounter them through another path.

The sixth quilt, the first completed in the series, titled “When All is Well (Front)” stands out with its color palette of red, green, and sunburst orange against a black background. With paint and fabric stitched together, the quilt holds symbology of flora, fauna, and deconstructed text that contrasts with a pattern of white geometric lines and marks. From the quilt’s outer reaches comes a cascading element of green and brown lines and curves and triangular patchwork, and a pink-and-yellow bloom disrupts the earthen tones. A circular area with symmetrical marks, resembling eyes, is composed alongside what might be a talisman hanging in sunburst orange. “When All is Well/The Hawk (Back)” continues motifs of flora and fauna, alongside a black background where line and mark bring together symbols reflecting latent and less obvious cultural and social inflections of being. 

How necessary that the District of Columbia—the political seat of the US empire and a geopolitical place vying for its own statehood—would factor into Successions. “DC Political, Welcome to the District of Colonialism” and its reverse, “DC Spiritual, Native American,” evoke the duplicity of empire and subjugation, culture and acknowledgment.

On “DC Political,” Robles-Gordon deconstructs the seal and the flag that marks the territory, pulling at the seams of the spangled banner’s stars and stripes and the district’s spatial dimensions. An insignia where Lady Justice hangs a wreath at the George Washington monument sits off-kilter and atop a depiction of indigenous presence—in a place where the Piscataway, Pamunkey, Nentego (Nanichoke), Mattaponi, Chickahominy, Monacan, and Powhatan cultures thrived. These depictions are housed in the outlined topography of DC as a landscape. The other view, “Native American,” produces a hieroglyphic of symbol, line, and color that suggest the heart/soul of a presence that thrived, championed expansive visions of existence, and yet is constantly erased. This view acts as a portal, building a world that can be imagined outside of subjugation and conquest, one that can imagine the multivocal breadth of care as a collective practice against such dehumanization and erasure. 

DC Spiritual, Native American (Back), 2021, mixed media on quilt, 86 x 90 inches
Amber Robles-Gordon, DC Political, Welcome to the District of Colonialism (Front), 2021, mixed media on quilt, 90 x 86 inches

As a navigation of the roots and routes of Puerto Rico’s colonial past and present, the mixed-media collage invites viewers not simply to witness horror, but to build and acknowledge care as a revolutionary practice.

Empire makes inroads through racialized gender. The fact that textile art has always been gendered (due to its connotations with craft, domestic space, the labor of women, and the feminine) is well-trodden territory. National imaginaries and territory, meanwhile, are constructions of masculinist notions of conquest and control; the infantilization of the native/colonial subject often stands in as a proxy for gendered labor. Taking bits and pieces of colored fabric and material and assembling them into an amalgamated whole, Robles-Gordon’s technique harkens back to gendered labor and care. 

Take, for example, “The eternal altar for the women forsaken and souls relinquished. Yet the choice must always remain hers.” (2020), from Place of Breath and Birth. This work draws on the histories of experimental birth control trials and forced sterilization of poor Puerto Rican women between the 1930s and 1970s, and the notion of bodily autonomy alongside the process of reclamation. Forced sterilization, a dehumanizing form of state systematic violence, was exercised to curtail poverty and unemployment, and it intersects with early forms of gynecological testing on enslaved people. 

In Robles-Gordon’s collage, blood red brings into focus the embodied ways that racialized and gendered labor produce the violence of empire. We might also see connections to women and queer rebellion, in the Black Lives Matter movement, and the retooling of naming Blackness on census data in Puerto Rico through the efforts of groups such as Colectivo Ilé and Revista Étnica. As a navigation of the roots and routes of Puerto Rico’s colonial past and present, the mixed-media collage invites viewers not simply to witness horror, but to build and acknowledge care as a revolutionary practice that transforms how people interact with one another and how they interact with place.

In her book In the Wake, Christina Sharpe writes of care work as a labor in which Black diaspora people insist on life-giving practices alongside the singularity of slavery, to hold space for Black life. Care is woven through Robles-Gordon’s work: These mixed-media collages are potent worlds where touch is a critical factor in their making. The detail in which black bits and pieces give way to the constellations of color and line, fragmented yet collective, ruptures a too-easy analysis of collage as a process of making that dissects and creates categories of materials like an index. Quilts are sensory, touch-based work; they invite exploration of the haptic and of intimacies with space. 

I return to the presence of the Ficus Elastica as a symbol throughout Place of Breath and Birth and Successions. While the formal qualities of the ficus are more readily present in Place of Breath, it is a motif of importance in Robles-Gordon’s work. It becomes a way to get behind and underneath the spatial politics of the territory, and toward a politics of care, where people on the land forge their own experiences, make culture, and fortify community in spite of empire.

Amber Robles-Gordon, American Samoa Spiritual (Back), 2021, mixed media on quilt, 104 x 90 inches
Amber Robles-Gordon, American Samoa Political (Front), 2021, mixed media on quilt, 104 x 90 inches

Images courtesy of American University/Katzen Arts Center. Art images courtesy of the artist. Exhibition installation photos by Greg Staley

Available Artwork by AMBER ROBLES-GORDON