Tag Archives: contemporary art

VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER featured in East City Art

5 Oct

MORTON FINE ART PRESENTS VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER KRAZY TIMES

By Editorial Team on October 4, 2021

Vonn Cummings Sumner, Krazy Times, 2021, 24″x24″, oil paint on panel.
On View: October 9 – November 3

Vonn Cummings Sumner’s contemporary depictions of Krazy Kat’s titular character build upon the comic strip’s longstanding influence on the art world at large.

Available Artwork by VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER

About Krazy Times
Morton Fine Art is pleased to present Krazy Times, a solo exhibition of new paintings and watercolors by artist Vonn Cummings Sumner, on view from October 9–November 3, 2021. Reflecting the artist’s longstanding interest in the career of famed American cartoonist George Herriman, Sumner’s recent works render the eponymous protagonist of Herriman’s Krazy Kat comic strip in settings and circumstances evocative of contemporary life.

Sumner was first introduced to Krazy Kat while under the tutelage of painter Wayne Thiebaud, whose love of Krazy Kat was shared by peers such as Philip Guston and Willem de Kooning. Appearing in newsprint from 1913 to 1944, Krazy Kat remains a keystone in the history of American cartooning, memorialized in part by the works of those it influenced. In the present decade, Krazy Kat has long since ceased publication; yet, the reinvigoration of its visual vocabulary by Sumner highlights its utility as a vehicle for investigating 21st-century themes.

Drawing from the original comic strip’s mediations on humanity—previously executed through tragic humor in a series of panels—Sumner depicts the titular character of Krazy Kat being followed by ghosts, peering at balloons floating just out of reach, and gazing at his reflection in a cerulean blue oasis, among other narratives collapsed into a singular image. Rendered in oil on panel as well as ink, gouache and pencil on paper, Sumner removes Krazy Kat from the landscapes of the comic strip, instead presenting such encounters in fields of seemingly endless white. In this sort of alternative dreamscape devoid of horizons, Sumner enables Krazy Kat to act as a projection of the artist or the viewer, embodying allegorical scenarios akin to lived experiences.

Partly created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sumner describes Krazy Kat as an “empathetic effigy” for processing a moment of great global change and loss. Sumner asks, “What do you paint when reality seems to be an absurd satire of itself?” Naturally, the answer is Krazy Kat, upon whom Sumner bestows new life. Bringing forth Krazy Kat’s curiosity and innocence, Sumner intertwines existential feelings with an earnest playfulness, producing accessible avenues into thoughtful contemplation. While the contemporary moment warrants heaviness, Sumner’s Krazy Kat paintings offer welcome reminders of optimism, inspiring joy in the face of Herculean challenges.

About VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER
Vonn Cummings Sumner grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and attended the University of California, Davis, where he studied closely with the celebrated painter and teacher, Wayne Thiebaud, among others. Vonn has exhibited nationally and internationally since 1998, and his work has been featured or reviewed in many publications, including: New American Paintings, Elle Décor, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, L.A. Weekly, Art Ltd., Riviera magazine, Hi Fructose, Juxtapoz, Cartwheel Art, The Painter’s Table, Boom magazine, and Quick Fiction. Vonn’s work has been the subject of two solo museum shows: The Other Side of Here, at the Riverside Art Museum in 2008, and Stages, in 2011 at the Phillips Museum of Art in Pennsylvania. In 2021, his work was featured in the first museum survey tracing the influence of Wayne Thiebaud on contemporary art at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis.

Vonn currently lives and works in Santa Ana, CA, and is a Professor of Painting at Fullerton College.

He has been represented by Morton Fine Art since 2010.

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 is located at 52 O St. NW #302.

Available Artwork by VONN CUMMINGS SUMNER

KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN’s solo exhibition “Water Ribbon” reviewed in The Washington Post

2 Oct

Museums Review

In the galleries: Probing our relationships with living systems

By Mark Jenkins October 1, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

“Water Ribbon” by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann is a vertical composition that’s 7½ feet high. (Morton Fine Art)
“Arch 3″ by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann has a strong central focus that departs from the artist’s usual style. (Morton Fine Art)

…Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann is the most conventional of the five participants, at least in her choice of media. The Washington artist paints, usually on paper and often on a mammoth scale, with acrylic pigment and sumi ink. The ink links Mann’s style to historical Chinese painting, as does her nature imagery. Yet the crowded, layered pictures are mostly abstract. Mann begins by pouring pigment to make random patterns, which are then amended and extrapolated, partly by collage.

That synthesis — of flowing and improvisational with hard-edged and precise — yields tableaux that are dynamic and distinctive. The two Mann panoramas in “Empirical Evidence” — the larger almost 12 feet wide — are among the show’s highlights.

Anyone smitten with these sweeping pictures can easily find more, if not quite so expansive, examples at Morton Fine Art. The biggest offering is the title piece, “Water Ribbon,” a rare vertical composition that’s 7½ feet high. Many of the other pictures are, unusually for Mann, square or nearly so. Although they still suggest landscapes, such pictures as “Arch 3” have a stronger central focus than is typical of the artist’s style. Rather than meander every which way, Mann’s latest water ribbons coalesce into dazzling wholes.

Empirical Evidence Through Nov. 13 at Hamiltonian Artists, 1353 U St. NW.

Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann: Water Ribbon Through Oct. 6 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302.

Available Artwork by KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN

Partnership between global digital platform for art from Africa and the African Diaspora | Pavillon 54 | and Morton Fine Art

19 Jul

ENGAGING THE STORY OF ART FOR A SUSTAINABLE AFRICAN ART MARKET: THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN PAVILLON54 AND MORTON FINE ART

ENGAGING THE STORY OF ART FOR A SUSTAINABLE AFRICAN ART MARKET: THE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN PAVILLON54 AND MORTON FINE ART

JULY 16, 2021

Amy Morton at Morton Fine Art gallery

As the one-stop global digital platform and community for art from Africa and the Diaspora, Pavillon54 always seeks to enter fruitful partnerships with artists, curators, collectors, and galleries. It became only natural, then, that for the next step of our development, we partnered with some of the most exciting international galleries that specialise in contemporary African art and share our vision for the African art market.

A couple of months ago, Pavillon54 entered a partnership with Morton Fine Art, a Washington DC gallery and curatorial group, headed by Amy Morton, that provides museum-quality art with a focus on the African Diaspora. We were instantly drawn to Morton Fine Art due to their impressive roster of artists and the diversity of their offering, whether geographically, in style, in medium, or in the range of artists themselves. What was most captivating, however, was our shared vision to go beyond the commercialisation of African art and to tell the underlying stories—an essential element to foster a sustainable development of the market.

With Pavillon54’s expertise in the African art market and digital strategy, combined with Morton Fine Art’s incredible roster of artists, finding contemporary African art that is not only aesthetically exceptional, but also enriched in narrative, becomes easier for the African art collector. Together, Pavillon54 and Morton Fine Art are making high-calibre contemporary African art more accessible, more transparent, and more meaningful.

We sat down with founder and curator Amy Morton, to learn more about how Morton Fine Art was founded, and what makes it an extraordinary destination for African art.

Artwork of Victor Ekpuk, Kesha Bruce and GA Gardner

Gallery View at Morton Fine Art, Artworks by Victor Ekpuk, Kesha Bruce and GA Gardner

P54: How did Morton Fine Art come to be? What was the driving force or need to be filled that resulted in the creation of the gallery?

AM: I founded Morton Fine Art in 2010. My first exhibition was launched early that year under Morton Fine Art’s trademark mobile gallery, a pop-up project in Washington, DC in the Penn Quarter neighborhood. It was in a former gallery space which I had leased short term, for a three-month period. I was interested in curating an exhibition that I felt positioned substantive art in the market and quickly realized I needed a permanent location to continue in that vein. I then leased a space in Adams Morgan, a quirky district in DC known for independent businesses. Morton Fine Art was in that location for 9 years before moving to a flourishing creative community in Truxton Circle at 52 O St NW, where it has been for nearly 3 years. 

From its inception, the inclusion of diverse voices, nurturing a safe space and working with an educational stance has been at the forefront of the gallery’s mission. I am firmly committed to a comfortable and intimate gallery space intended for exploration and journeying through visual art.  

P54: Why the focus on the African Diaspora?

AM: I have always been interested in and open to artwork and original voices from all over the world. Interconnectedness between people and exploring the human condition fascinates me. I value our collective overlaps and progressions toward deeper shared understandings and relationships. In the 90’s I attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, where my studies in art were informed by a strong commitment to equity and diversity. I think the combination of these personal priorities resulted in a natural inclusion of artists from the African diaspora, as well as from many other places and orientations, whose practice foregrounds pertinent, globally relevant, philosophical questions. With these values at the center of my work, Morton Fine Art’s curatorial vision has bloomed and been enriched organically.  

My vision for the gallery, as well as for my life, is to create a safe space for dialogue and the sharing of ideas. In that way, the evolution of the gallery has been very process-oriented, and not something that was artificially orchestrated or even conscious much of the time. It continues to be a growth-oriented work in progress. I studied fine art and art history and appreciate that visual art is a potent tool for highlighting issues which may otherwise be difficult for people to address. I am attracted to the intersection of art and activism, and how artwork can be an effective tool for personal introspection, interaction, dialogue and ultimately, I hope, change and growth. 

Osi Audu, Self Portrait, after Head of a Shango Staff, 2017 | Pavillon 54  Limited

 Osi Audu ‘Self Portrait, after Head of a Shango Staff’ (2017)

P54: What qualities do you see in an artist when you sign them on and how do these connect with the mission of Morton Fine Art?

AM: I usually know we are well matched right away. My artist partners are incredible at what they do! First and foremost, their creative vision and visual language inspire me on such a deep level. Examples include Osi Audu‘s philosophical exploration of “The Tangible and Intangible Self “; Victor Ekpuk‘s mining of historical narratives, the vocabulary of the contemporary African diaspora, and humanity’s connection to the sacred;  Rosemary Feit Covey‘s attention and sensitivity to the delicacy of earth and the natural world; Maliza Kiasuwa and Meron Engida‘s themes of reconciliation; and Lizette Chirrime’s interconnectivity between art practice, spirituality and healing.

Rosemary Feit Covey, Amethyst Deceivers II, 2019 | Pavillon 54 Limited

Rosemary Feit Covey ‘Amethyst Deceivers II’ (2019)

Their deep and meaningful engagement with these themes is what powers my belief in them and commitment to uplifting their voices. The artwork shown here is purely the artists’ visions, created without gallery interference. I look for long-term partnerships, so synergy is also important. The relationship needs to be trust-based and natural as we often spend years working together. These strong personal connections are important for understanding the creations themselves, allowing me to do my job better.

Victor Ekpuk - Works | Pavillon 54 Limited

 Victor Ekpuk ‘Mask Series 2’ (2018)

P54: What excites you most about the African art market, and working in this field?

AM: Learning, evolving, exploring questions and shared histories, and meeting artists with lasting substance and incredible talent—there is an abundance of all of that in the African art market. It is endless. With art, I can never be bored—either when exploring an individual piece I connect with or with creations at large. Art is a mirror, and it fascinates me to see what is revealed in a moment and how more reveals itself with time. Contemporary artists remind us of where we are, including our shortcomings and our most sacred parts. They invite us to do better.

Maliza Kiasuwa, Brown Skin 1, 2021 | Pavillon 54 Limited

Maliza Kiasuwa ‘Brown Skin 1’ (2021)

P54: What are some of Morton Fine Art’s greatest moments or achievements?

AM: First and foremost, I am proud to have such outstanding artist partners who center substantive concepts and demonstrate a mastery of medium. The artists I work with are thoughtful, tremendous and have so much to say and share! The backbone of the gallery is our partnership, as is our shared trust in each other. It is fascinating to see organic shifts and developments in their artwork and art practice, knowing their growth informs new iterations of brilliance. It is also very rewarding to witness their points of public-facing recognition, including in national and international museums and publications. 

Meron Engida - Works | Pavillon 54 Limited

Meron Engida ‘Solidarity 9’ (2020)

AM: I am personally proud of the warm vibe of the space and the maturity of conversations and experiences shared here through art. This is a gallery for everyone to explore, regardless of experience or exposure to art.  Authenticity is valued as are questions and feelings, even when layered.  In many ways it has the intimacy and hominess of a salon, and that facilitates connection with artists, collectors and enthusiasts alike.

Morton Fine Art

52 O St NW #302

Washington, DC 20001

(202) 628-2787

info@mortonfineart.com

http://www.mortonfineart.com

MERON ENGIDA in ZO mag’ by Roger Calme

2 Jul

https://zoes.fr/

PEINTUREPublié le 30 juin 2021Laisser un commentaire

Ethiopie / Peinture / Meron Engida  / LA MERE, L’ENFANT ET LES OISEAUX

écrit par Roger Calme

Avant de commencer une journée,  jeter un oeil sur une chose apaisante. Pourquoi ne pas fonctionner de cette façon ? Il ne s’agit pas d’un exercice thérapeutique mais d’une fenêtre ouverte qui change l’air de la pièce et dissipe les toxines. Souvent la peinture de Meron Engida agit de cette façon. On regarde, on observe ces visages aux grands yeux, ces lèvres posées sur des mots tranquilles. Parfois des femmes se retrouvent et s’assoient ensemble sur une natte. Ça s’appelle « Solidarité », et ça résume parfaitement la philosophie de l’artiste.

Leurs langues et les coutumes diffèrent mais leur entente est parfaite. 

« Les enfants et les agneaux sont le vocabulaire visuel que j’utilise pour exprimer mon innocence et mon pardon. J’ai l’intention de créer un dialogue sur la diversité et les femmes.Mon envie est d’écouter leurs expériences, de libérer des mots, qui apportent le réconfort, l’empathie, la curiosité de l’autre. »  Sa dernière série s’inscrit donc tout entière dans cet esprit. Ces femmes assises représentent toutes les tribus de l’Ethiopie. Leurs langues et les coutumes diffèrent mais leur entente est parfaite. 

Dans cette galerie paisible, la famille est une vertu inébranlable, que la peintre associe aux ocres, aux terres de sienne, dans une lumière transversale et des teintures de tissus. « C’est une célébration d’humanité », que la toile diffuse. Il est huit heures du matin. La journée vient juste de commencer. On regarde la toile, on regarde la fenêtre ouverte et les arbres remplis d’oiseaux. 

RC (ZO mag’)
Photos Morton Fine Art et M. Engida
https://www.mortonfineart.com/artists

Amber Robles-Gordon discusses her series “The Temples of My Familiars”

17 Mar

Video by Jarrett Hendrix

“The Temples of My Familiars” series is about the intersections between my identity, the diverse visual languages in my artwork and the narratives they reference. The title is most definitely borrowed from the 1989 Alice Walker novel, The Temple of My Familiar. A womanist narrative about several women of color and their evolutionary process to know self, their identity and their struggle for happiness within a patriarchal society. However, I chose the title because of the distinct visual reference my sculptural geometric-like renderings took on once I inverted them. They became temples, a place of spiritual practice and sacrifice in which I could place my familiars —my visual languages. A place where they could be re-rooted, re-formulated, and take on a new life.

Being an artist has facilitated a very specific type of data collection, visual documentation, analysis and a vast array of methods of self-expression and personal exploration regarding issues that concern me. During a recent journey through past work, contemplations, beginnings and endings; I encountered fragments of myself. These fragments vibrated silently, yet continuously, like piercing questions waiting to be answered. The various languages beckoned and bemoaned to be unified. Once combined, the equations gracefully revealed themselves in harmony. Each artwork, 24 x 18 in, mixed media collage, within the series begins with title “The Temples of My Familiars” and then has a distinct sub-title. -AMBER ROBLES-GORDON, 2019

Contact Morton Fine Art for available artwork by AMBER ROBLES-GORDON.

http://www.mortonfineart.com

AMBER ROBLES-GORDON

(Washington, DC b. Puerto Rico)

EDUCATION

2011 M.F.A., Howard University, Washington, D.C.

2005 B.S. in Business Administration, Trinity College, Washington, D.C.

SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2021 American University, Katzen Arts Center, Washington, DC

2019 Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, San Juan, Puerto Rico 2018 Washington College, Chestertown, MD

2018 Third Eye Open, Morton Fine Art, Washington, D.C.

2017 At the Altar, Arts Center/Gallery Delaware State University, Dover, DE

2017 Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, Lancaster, PA

2012 Milked, Riverviews Art Space, Lynchberg, Virginia

2012 With Every Fiber of My Being, Honfleur Gallery, Washington, D.C.

2011 Milked, National League of American Penn Woman, Washington, D.C.

2011 Wired, Installation and Exhibit, Pleasant Plains Workshop, Washington, D.C.,

2010 Matrices of Transformation, Michael Platt Studio Gallery, Washington, D.C.

2007 Can You Free Me?, Ramee’ Gallery, Washington, D.C.

1997 The Artwork of A. Robles-Gordon, Dance Place Exhibition Space, Wash., D.C.

1995 The Art, The Brittany, Arlington, VA

COLLECTIONS

Judith A. Hoffberg Archive Library, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA

Masterpiece Miniature Art Exhibition, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Capital One Bank, McLean, VA

District of Columbia’s Art Bank, Washington, DC

Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY

The Gautier Family Collection, Washington, DC

Department of General Services, Washington, DC

Martha’s Table, Washington, DC

Democracy Fund, Washington, DC

Virtual exhibition and artist narration of LISA MYERS BULMASH’s solo exhibition “The Home Inside My Head” at Morton Fine Art

24 Nov

Virtual tour and artist narration of LISA MYERS BULMASH’s first east coast solo exhibition, “The Home Inside My Head” at Morton Fine Art in Washington, DC.

Video credit: Jarrett Hendrix

Contact the gallery for private viewing by appointment, price list and acquisition. (202) 628-2787 (text or call) info@mortonfineart.com http://www.mortonfineart.com

“For most of this year, we’ve had to make a home inside our heads — because a virus was blocking the way out to “normal” life. That was fine by me at first: home is my castle and retreat. But there’s no vacation from yourself, or the deepest fears for your children’s future. Even a rich interior life becomes over-stuffed with emotions, memories and uncomfortable truths. The works in “The Home Inside My Head” reflect this ambivalence. The “Bought and Paid For” series was born from the love and deep gratitude for my ancestors’ struggles to give me greater opportunities. But even during my sheltered childhood, I recognized not every house feels like home as I experienced it. Not every parent prepares their child for ugly realities like institutional racism. As a 21st century Black woman, I need to make work that explores my disillusionments as well as my hopes for America. Collages like “One Nation, Under Reconstruction” are my attempts to name these experiences as truthfully as I can. I center a Black and female viewpoint in my work, as examples of a specific story illuminating the general human condition. But there’s something else. We can’t continue to tell each other the same stories featuring the same old heroes. Those icons accomplished amazing things everywhere but at home. We need to imagine our next home before we can live in it: this is the place where we build new narratives.” – LISA MYERS BULMASH, 2020

Introducing Seattle-based abstract artist LIZ TRAN

19 Oct

Liz Tran represented by Morton Fine Art

Liz Tran

Channeling subjects such as dream imagery, imagined landscapes, geodes, outer space and The Big Bang, LIZ TRAN explores the shapes of nature, with the infusion of fantastical, pulsing synthetic hues. The psychedelic visuals are harvested from the place where inner-verse meets outer-verse, where optical misfires combine with a vacuum pull moving at the speed of light. Through painting, sculpture and installation, she creates atmospheres that aim to activate.

Public collections of Tran’s work include the City of Seattle’s Portable Works Collection, Capital One, Vulcan Inc., Baer Art Center, Camac Art Centre, The El Paso Children’s Hospital, Harborview Medical Center, The King County Public Art Collection and The Child Center. Tran has completed multiple special projects and installations, including work for VH1Save the Music Foundation, The Upstream Music Fest, The Seattle Art Museum, The Brain Project Toronto, Public Art at The Aqua Art Fair Miami and Vulcan Inc.

She has been awarded multiple fellowships and grants; including a Grant for Artist Projects (GAP) from Artist Trust, Clowes Fellowship for residency at the Vermont Studio Center, the Nellie Cornish Scholarship and residency at The Camac Art Centre in France, The Baer Art Center in Iceland, Jentel, Millay Colony for the Arts and The Center for Contemporary Printmaking. She resides in Seattle, WA. She has been represented by Morton Fine Art since 2020.

ARTWORK

Baby Father, 2019,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,800
Cosmic Circle 4, 2020,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600
Cosmic Circle 3, 2020,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600

Cosmic Circle 2, 2020,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600
Cosmic Circle 1, 2020,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600
Pink Out, 2019,mixed media on panel,30 x 24 in,$1,800
Ornament 7, 2016,mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600
Ornament 15, 2016, mixed media on panel,24 x 24 in,$1,600

MERON ENGIDA’s solo exhibition “Solidarity” reviewed in Washington Post

17 Oct

Meron Engida

By Mark Jenkins Oct. 16, 2020 at 7:00 a.m. EDT

Color, pattern and family are what Ethiopia-bred D.C. painter Meron Engida remembers about her homeland. Or at least that’s what the neo-expressionist emphasizes in “Solidarity” at Morton Fine Art, her first U.S. solo show. Most of Engida’s canvases are crowded with women in domestic scenes, their faces rendered in simple black lines, except for the bright red oblongs that often represent lips. Children appear in many of the vignettes, and one of the few pictures that depicts just two people shows a mother and infant. It’s a self-portrait, but then that’s essentially what all these paintings are.AD

The circles, florals and zigzags that decorate their clothing also appear around and atop the figures, either painted or incised into the pigment, merging subject and embellishment. That unity suggests the influence of fabric design, as does the flatness of Engida’s style. Bright reds and blues punctuate the compositions, but the dominant tones are earthy. The tans and browns express a range of skin tones in ethnically diverse Ethiopia. In Engida’s stylized vision of that country, the landscape is primarily human.

Meron Engida: Solidarity Through Oct. 28 at Morton Fine Art, 52 O St. NW, No. 302. Open by appointment.

Available Artwork by MERON ENGIDA

KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN in “Traces” at the Kreeger Museum

14 Oct
KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN’s wall wrap installation at the Kreeger Museum



We are delighted
 to welcome visitors back into the galleries, beginning on September 23 with the opening of our special exhibition, TRACES.

A Unique Gallery Experience Spend up to 50 minutes alone in the galleries with your group. Visitors will need to obtain a free timed-entry pass to enter the Museum. Each timed-entry session is limited to a single household group or quarantine pod that will be able to enjoy the galleries with only their group during their 50-minute window. Advanced reservations are required.
TRACES features regional artists Billy Friebele, Roxana Alger Geffen, Rania Hassan, Sebastian Martorana, Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann, Antonio McAfee, Brandon Morse, and Johab Silva. Guest curated by Sarah Tanguy, the show explores how the past evokes shifting memories while suggesting new and present narratives. Rich in representation and abstraction, TRACES encompasses painting, photography, mixed media, sculpture, sound, and video, and includes several site-responsive installations. As the artists dialogue with their source materials, they mine the many meanings of “trace” as noun and verb, and engage the themes of displacement, connectivity and transformation. Variously inspired by personal and cultural history, the natural and built environments, and the human condition, they offer an impassioned take on the issues of the day and suggest possible futures to come. 

Available Artwork by KATHERINE TZU-LAN MANN.

Or contact:

Morton Fine Art, 52 O St NW #302, Washington, DC 20001

(202) 628-2787 (text or call)

mortonfineart@gmail.com

Delicate, Declarative: Artist Maya Freelon’s Ephemeral Work in Walter

6 Oct
WALTER Magazine

Delicate, Declarative: Artist Maya Freelon’s Ephemeral Work

North Carolina visual artist Maya Freelon balances strength and fragility in her massive water-stained tissue paper installations.
by Liza Roberts | photography by Chris Charles

Maya Freelon’s tissue paper sculptures are abstract, a confluence of kaleidoscopic color and organic shape. They move with a breeze, the passing of a person, the opening of a door. They make powerful, lasting statements with impermanent, inexpensive materials. Most of all, they are inquisitive. What is art? they ask. What’s it made of? Who gets to make it? Who decides? 

The work is about “challenging norms—social norms, economic norms and art norms—by turning tissue paper into a fine work of art,” says Freelon. “It’s about the fragility of life, and transformation, and the ability to see beauty in a lot of different things.” 

Often made in collaboration with groups of people, her work celebrates “the communal aspect… the ancestral heritage, the connection to quilt-making in my family and the African-American tradition of making a way out of no way.” Metaphorically and literally, Freelon’s work is a manifestation of its maker: beautiful and forthright, vulnerable but unflinching; lithe, elegant and defiantly individual.

RETURN TO THE TRIANGLE

This month, Freelon’s massive water-stained tissue paper quilts, including pieces made by as many as 100 far-flung community collaborators, will hang from the walls and ceilings of Raleigh’s Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) as part of the Durham artist’s first solo museum exhibition in North Carolina. Also on view will be her tissue ink monoprints, images of streaking color and motion that capture the dripping ink of saturated tissue paper through a process Freelon patented. Some of these include archival family photos, some are on traditional rectangular canvases, some have been crafted in asymmetric shapes and coated in a thick epoxy glaze. Even if the museum can’t open for the public to view these works in person, the show will be installed and shared virtually, says CAM director Gab Smith. 

Freelon’s fans around the country and the globe will be glad to hear it. At Miami Art Week last year, she was named one of five young artists to watch. In 2018, she installed massive, wafting tissue paper stalactites at the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building in Washington, D.C. She’s lived and worked in Madagascar, Eswatini and Italy as part of the U.S. State Department’s Art in Embassies program. She’s collaborated with Google and Cadillac, and her work is in the collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the University of Maryland and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others. 

Back here in Raleigh, locals helped Freelon use torn tissue and glue sticks to make quilts to hang from the trees outside the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) to celebrate the museum’s expanded African art gallery in September of 2017. NCMA chief curator Linda Dougherty commissioned Freelon’s “quilting bee” installation after seeing a sculpture she’d created for one of the embassies. “Maya had done this beautiful, suspended piece, and I was amazed,” Dougherty says. “I love the ephemeral nature of her materials… they’re meant to be there for the moment, intentionally. It gives her a freedom to experiment. I love that open-endedness.”

INHERITANCE

Freelon’s talent and expressive ability were apparent early on, and she comes by both naturally as the daughter of two renowned artists and the great-granddaughter of another. Her mother, the jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, is a six-time Grammy Award nominee. Her father was revered architect Phil Freelon, the architect of record of the African-American History and Culture Museum on the Mall in Washington, D.C. His own grandfather was Allan Freelon, a noted Impressionist painter whose work was celebrated during the Harlem Renaissance. Her namesake and godmother was the poet Maya Angelou (“Auntie Maya”), a close friend of “Queen Mother” Frances Pierce, Freelon’s beloved grandmother. Angelou once described Freelon’s work, which she bought for her own collection, as “visualizing the truth about the vulnerability and power of the human being.” 

Freelon was a precocious teenage talent at Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts, where she transferred to finish high school after two years at the Durham School of the Arts. There, she mostly painted portraits, but “she was always a colorist, very good with color,” says Marcia Reed, her painting instructor at the school, who says that even then, she possessed an impressive “energy and driving force.” By 2006, she was a graduate student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, living with her grandmother Pierce. 

It was there that she came upon a stack of multicolored tissue paper in the basement of the house. The paper had most likely been in the same spot for fifty years. Drips from a leaky pipe had mottled the stack over time, moving the color from piece to piece, turning the sheets into gossamer rainbows. Freelon was transfixed, and soon consumed with turning the water-stained tissue paper into art, and using water herself to mark and alter tissue paper, intent on “making something out of nothing.” That discovery, borne out of her connection to her family, became her signature medium. 

“Often, artists think they need to work with precious materials,” says Allan Edmunds, founder and director of the Brandywine Workshop and Archives in Philadelphia, where Freelon completed a residency years ago. Her use of tissue paper to make art both sets her apart and connects her to ingenious forebears, says Edmunds. “It’s in the tradition of working with what is available to you and being even more creative because you’ve created a challenge for yourself. I put her in league with El Anatsui.” Coincidentally, it is work by this Ghanaian artist—glittering, undulating woven fabric of found bottle caps—that’s a centerpiece of the NCMA’s permanent collection in the newly-renovated African art gallery that Freelon helped celebrate with her collaborative tissue quilts. 

Making something out of nothing is part of the inspiration for the title of Freelon’s exhibit at CAM: Greater Than or Equal To. Freelon also sees the title as an inquiry: “As an artist, as a Black person, as a female, I am constantly raising this question to myself,” she says. How is value—of a person, a life, a work of art—determined, and who determines it? “If we don’t value lives, if we don’t value making this world equal, then we end up having a situation where certain people’s lives mean more than others.” Her use of the symbol ≥ “is to remind folks that it’s a constant question…an opportunity for you to be aware of your judgement and where you’re placing your value.” 

She knows where her revered grandmother Pierce would have placed that value. “I think of a quote from my grandmother, which is that we come from a family of sharecroppers who never got their fair share,” she says. Grandmother Pierce’s grandchildren and “every Black person making the world a better place” were “our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” she also said. Freelon considers: “To have survived what it took to get here, and then slavery, and then segregation and racism—we’re living within it, and we’re still existing, and now we have a chance to thrive.” 

Personally, Freelon says she’s more than thriving. “I’ve never felt prouder, or better or more grateful that I took the leap, that all of my focus goes to making art and sharing it with the world… I feel like I’m just getting started.”

USING HER VOICE

As Freelon grows in her art, she’s aware of her growing platform, as well. In a video posted on social media on Juneteenth, she says: “My artwork is about using accessible materials to challenge racist paradigms that have been set forth and perpetuated by the white art world.” The video shows her setting fire to her art; an effort to seize attention in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and to make her message heard. “It’s about creating my own currency and value, and it’s about making space for and inspiring the next generation of Black artists.” In social media and in conversation, Freelon encourages her fellow Black artists to stand up for themselves, to challenge structures that don’t work for them and to know the value of their work. 

One day in late June, the day before her birthday and not long before the first anniversary of the death of her father, Freelon is reflective. She is at Vanhook Farm in Hillsborough, a bucolic place where she and her children spend a lot of time. The farm–Black-owned, Freelon points out—has long been in the family of her partner of two years, Jess Vanhook. The location is both a solace and a symbol for Freelon. “I’ve thought about our ancestors and how for them, possessing the land means that you are taking control of your own future,” she says. “You’re asking the earth to produce something for you that has value. I realized that I was doing that as an artist, cultivating something that’s made by my own hands, determining my own value and worth.” 

Even as Freelon watches over her nine-year-old son Aion, her three-year old daughter Nova, and Vanhook’s five-year-old nephew Prince, she’s focused on her art and what’s pressing on her mind. That includes supporting and mentoring younger Black artists, telling them the things she wished she’d known earlier on, both practical and philosophical: “Make sure you have an emergency fund. Make sure you apply to at least five grants a year. Be prepared to apply for art residencies that offer free studio space. Reach out to artists you admire, look at their CVs.” In a July Instagram post, she asked followers for the names of Black women artists she can pass on to museums and curators. She wants them to believe in themselves, wants them to “know that their power is their work.” 

Freelon says she had to learn all of that “on the fly.” If somebody had told her earlier, she says, “I could have made better choices, more informed choices. We need more community and connection between artists.” 

If Freelon sounds older than her 38 years, it could be because she experienced a lot early on. She has been married and wrenchingly divorced, and experienced tragedy with the death of a newborn baby, a three-day-old son named Wonderful. She connects her work directly with that experience. “There are just so many complexities to life, the fragility of it. And back to the artwork: it’s tissue paper. If it gets wet, it will break into a million pieces, but when it is dry, it has power and strength. When you unify those elements, it becomes a force to be reckoned with.” 

Art has taught her, despite the challenges she has faced, that everything she needs is within her. “Nobody can determine your future,” she says. As a younger woman, “I think I felt like I needed my parents, or I needed my husband, or I needed things or people to help push me to where I need to be, where in actuality, when everything was stripped away from me, and it was just me left, that’s all I had. That’s when I realized the drive and the energy and the purpose that’s inside.” 

And that’s what her art brings her. In her work, Freelon says, “I find peace. I find sanity. I find my purpose. I find—in working with my hands—I find community.

“I find love.”

JOIN WALTER FOR AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE CELEBRATING DIVERSITY, COMMUNITY AND ART. NORTH CAROLINA NATIVE AND NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED ARTIST MAYA FREELON WILL DISCUSS HER NEW EXHIBIT, GREATER THAN OR EQUAL TO, AND OFFER GUESTS A LOOK INTO HER CREATIVE PROCESS. CLICK HERE TO JOIN!