Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Robert Colescott ~ A Taste of Gumbo

In 1997, Robert Colescott represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, the first American artist since Jasper Johns did so in 1986. One of the 19 acrylic paintings shown at that exhibition was A Taste of Gumbo seen above. Looking at the image the scale of the painting is clear, large as well as bold. Tackling race again, there's something in this painting to offend most people. The white woman at center has decided to partake of the food created by blacks. What's in that gumbo though includes all of the other aspects of racial stereotypes in America. Look around the painting and you'll find the signs of poverty, slavery, garbage, jazz, card playing.

The five paintings currently hanging just inside the front lobby of the Portland Art Museum will probably be going off view soon. However, for those of us who live in Portland, Robert Colescott's Knowledge of the Past is the Key to the Future: Upside-Down Jesus and the Politics of Survival hangs on the third floor of the museum's Center for Modern and Contemporary Art. Colescott is so well thought of that there's at least one piece of his work on view at most museums in the United States. Looking intently at his work can provoke much conversation and thought about art and life. Yesterday Amy mentioned that we might never know what Colescott really meant when he makes his paintings. That's true. But we'll enjoy the process of trying.

While writing this week's posts, I found this poem by Quincy Troupe. He wrote it specifically for the occasion of the Venice Biennale. Here's a link to read "One-Two Punch" it in it's entirety and see an insight into Robert Colescott and his work,

before anything else, at the first crack of day
light, prowling around your studio,
during the hush hours after midnight, in the dry air
surrounding the desert where you live, a stone's throw
outside of tucson--obelisks of cactus standing tall
guarding the entrance to your sanctuary--
the first thing you do when you approach the white canvas,
stretched four-corner-square before you on a huge white wall,
is paint the surface bright red after thinking about it for days--
painted bright red, your adrenaline flowing now, colescott,
flowing onto the surface through your refiguring brain
birthing the idea, layer after layer of colors swirling through
the snapshot you have taken inside your head of what
you are about to do here, whatever comes to you,
like improvised music, will find its way up there,
stroked as images upon your sea of red primer,
where what the viewer first see will provoke "humor,"
then "pleasure," before fast becoming a "problem"

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