Jay Milder: Unblotting the Rainbow is a thematic exhibition that focuses on Jay Milder’s
(b.1934) combination of Expressionist painting and mystical symbolism across six decades. The work in the show depicts Milder’s synthesis of religion, philosophy and global perspectives in order to present vibrant narratives that express a plurality of consciousness and spirituality.
Milder is well travelled and well versed in esoteric and familiar concepts. He filters his
knowledge and experiences into his unique form of art that reflects the interconnection between the mind and body and the material and ethereal.
It should be widely known across the art world that Benny Andrews is the ‘Mix-Master.’ Throughout his illustrious career in the visual arts, Andrews has contributed his visionary output to a wide variety of projects and causes. One of these projects was illustrating children’s books.
Andrews’ career as an illustrator is the subject of the current exhibition Benny Andrews, Illustrator, on view at the Morgan County African American Museum in Madison, Georgia.
The “Mix Master” himself. Self Portrait, 1962, Ink on paper, 18 x 26 in.
Benny Andrews’ prowess as a master of materials and social and emotional narratives is on display in a current solo exhibition titled Mix Master at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, Florida. The exhibition was realized through the collection of works owned by Edward J. Littlejohn, a renowned expert of African-American legal history.
It is fitting that an outstanding scholar of social justice law would collect works of art by an artist who was steadfastly committed to equality and equity. Benny Andrews represented and re-presented the African-American narrative, most notably through his signature mixed-media collages depicting domestic, economic, political, and social themes. Outside of the studio, Andrews fought on the frontline for the equal representation of black artists in the cultural scene. He co-founded the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition (BECC), which protested the disproportionate portrayals of black artists by cultural institutions, and created art education programs for marginalized urban youth and for individuals in juvenile detention centers. His work in prisons inspired a national model for youth art programs behind bars. In 1969, Andrews and six other artistic colleagues (Ken Bowman, Peter Dean, Michael Fauebach, Jay Milder, Peter Passuntino, and Nicholas Sperakis) formed Rhino Horn, an art collective that maintained figurative and politically themed art when abstraction and minimalism were trending in in galleries and museums. All of his activist and artistic accomplishments aptly led to his appointment as the Director of the National Endowment for The Arts (1982-84), where he oversaw a powerful platform that advocated for African-American artists who had been largely overlooked by mainstream art circles.
In Mix Master, we are presented with a diverse view of Andrews’ socio-cultural narratives and personal themes from his life as a modern artist. In addition to his expressionistic mixed media works –a combination of paint and found materials such as fabric and burlap– the exhibition features Andrews’ unique contour line drawings, which he created using pen and ink, and some color etchings that demonstrate his skills as an illustrator.
While not a consistent member, Joseph Kurhajec was affiliated with the Rhino Horn group on more than one occasion, and displayed his work in some of their exhibitions. He was a longtime friend of the founding members, especially Peter Dean, with whom he co-founded the short-lived “Torque” group, which also included painters Peter Saul and Leon Golub.
Kurhajec, like many of the artists of his generation, was trained in University art programs, and travelled internationally to study the traditional modes of art making. However, Kurhajec’s career trajectory has been anything but traditional. When he first emerged as an artist, whose medium was primarily sculpture, he eschewed the trend of minimalism that had largely prevailed throughout the contemporary art scene of the 1960s. Instead, Kurhajec looked outside of the modern and contemporary art canon and found inspiration and a spiritual connection with the work of African art. He was particularly interested in the symbolism of power within Nkishi figures, and began to wrap his own works in fabric and fur, or attach objects like nails, metal spikes, and animal horns, in order to express social and emotional connections to the natural and spiritual world. Some of his figures combine human and animal imagery and blur the lines between benevolence and malevolence.
Sometimes the success and recognition of an artist isn’t truly revealed until they’ve passed on from this world. Perhaps, Peter Dean, who died in 1993, was ahead of his time during his prolific career. His most iconic imagery expressed burlesque and grotesque expressions of the social and political turmoil, starting with strong reactions to the Vietnam War and continuing with commentary on social and political themes throughout the following decades. His talent was recognized by the influential Marcia Tucker, who exhibited his work at the 41st Venice Biennale in 1984. However, Dean’s potent use of the figure and his commitment to painterly expressionism, while that type of painting was being eschewed, kept him mainly at odds with the concurrent trends in art during his career. Dean’s subject matter was tough at times, but through careful examination, he was creating poignant narratives that sought to question and scrutinize contemporary life. Upon re-visiting his work today, a viewer might realize that Dean’s response to his era was synonymous, or similarly connected to what is currently happening around us.
Dean painted vibrant scenes from American History, which he interpreted using his fantastical imagination. Through combining history and fantasy, Dean created mythological narratives that invite us to see historical events through new perspectives. For example, one of his most famous works Dallas Chaos (parts I and II), presents several overlapping and conflicting narratives for the assassination of JFK and questions what we think we know as fact and reality, which is all the more relevant in the current era of “Fake News.” Dean was weary about the blind acceptance of things as facts. He understood that events are interpreted and reinterpreted through several lenses, depending on who’s recounting the story and what their motives are. These paintings implore us to question the nature of things more carefully and become more informed about what is going on all around us.
Massacre-Boston-El Salvador, 1983, oil on canvas, 84 x 64 inches
Peter Dean, Second Kiss, Courtesy of CCMOA
There’s a lot to catch up on in the world of Rhino Horn. Lot’s of current events and recent exhibitions to report on! Full reviews will follow, but for now, here’s a short list:
- Peter Dean: Visions and Fantasies was recently on view at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. The exhibition featured a selection of both real and imagined landscapes as well as the vivid mythical narratives that Dean is most known for painting.
- Works by Benny Andrews were featured in Michael Rosenfeld Gallery’s recent exhibition titled Figuratively Speaking. The exhibition examined works by a diverse group of figurative painters throughout the early and mid-20th century.
- Andrews is also featured in a current exhibition at the Ulrich Museum of Art (at Wichita State University) titled “WE THE PEOPLE: American Art of Social Concern”. The exhibition is on view through March 25th, 2018.
- Joseph Kurhajec was featured at the Outsider Art Fair in New York. He presented a combination of historical works and his most recent works, a series of totemic masks made from palm fronds.
- Jay Milder and Peter Passuntino were part of the seminal group show Inventing Downtown, which debuted last year at NYU’s Grey Gallery in Greenwich Village. The exhibition’s theme explored the plethora of artist run galleries, which fostered an inspirational and experiential environment for many avant-garde artists during the 1950s and 60s. The exhibition travelled to NYU’s campus in Abu Dhabi, where it recently closed. A review was written in Harper’s Bazaar Arabia.
Peter Passuntino, Mother of War, 1969, Oil on canvas, 69/5 x 61/5 in.
During the 1960s the poignant images and narrative of the Vietnam War had far reaching effects on generations of American and Vietnamese citizens. In America, the civilian resistance to this war was wider spread than any previous historical conflict and it gave rise to new forms of progressive grassroots movements that were active in multiple facets of American life. The Anti-War movement was also emotionally supported through the vibrant music and fine arts scene. For example, the cost of the war in terms of physical and psychological devastation was the inspiration for Peter Passuntino’s yearlong series of works that expressed his anxiety and disgust with the Vietnam War.
Passuntino was working as an artist in New York, while the war in Vietnam was happening. At that period, coffins carrying the bodies of young men were arriving in droves, and due to the mandatory draft, friends and loved ones were separated from each other with uncertainty as to whether they’d ever be reunited. The visions and first hand accounts of the trauma surrounding the Vietnam War compelled the artist to create a grotesque vessel, using paint, pastel, and ink, that would express the horrific nature of war and the turbulent issues like social justice that we’re still dissecting and grappling with today. He aptly titled the resulting works “Mother of War.”
Benny Andrews, Circle, 1973, oil on twelve linen canvases with painted fabric and mixed media collage, 120 x 288 inches. Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
The Michael Rosenfeld Gallery currently presents a seminal series of collages, drawings, and paintings, from Benny Andrews’ Bicentennial Series (1970-1976). The series’ six thematic groups that are the basis for this exhibition include the Symbol Series, Trash Series, Circle Series, Sexism Series, and Utopia Series. Within these themes, Andrews reflected on his experience as an African American in the post-civil rights era, and gave his assessment on the two hundred year anniversary of the United States of America. At the time series was conceived, it was evident that while African Americans had made numerous significant cultural contributions both locally and nationally, their role in shaping American history had been vaguely reported and celebrated. Additionally, the national dialogue surrounding the celebratory attitude of the bicentennial seemed naive and dishonest in light of the social, political, and economic conditions across the country.
Many words can be written about the work of American artist June Leaf. She has maintained a visionary style since emerging as a seminal contingent of post-WWII American artists committed to representational imagery through uniquely expressive means. It’s due time that she’s getting recognition on a grand scale with a major exhibition at The Whitney and a career survey at the Edward Thorp Gallery, where she is represented. Below is a visual essay of the current June Leaf exhibition at Edward Thorp Gallery. The show is on view through June 4, 2016.
There’s quite a lot of exciting news involving past-Rhino Horn artists. Co-Founder Benny Andrews currently has work in a group show titled Here, at the Arts and Sciences Center for Southeast Arkansas. The show, which runs through October 15, 2016, presents a selection of art by African-American artists from the museum’s permanent collection.
June Leaf, Twin Volcanoes, 1951, Ink on paper, 8.5″ x 9″ Courtesy of Ed Thorp Gallery, New York.
June Leaf has two important upcoming retrospectives in New York City. The first is Leaf’s major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which opens tomorrow, April 27th. The exhibition will focus mainly on her incredible large scale drawings. The second exhibition, organized by Edward Thorp Gallery will showcase works in a variety of mediums during her career from 1949 to most recently and will open on Thursday, April 28th. The exhibition will run concurrently with the Whitney show. June Leaf has been represented by Edward Thorp Gallery located in New York City since 1985.
Jennifer Samet recently spoke with June at her New York City studio and has published the inspiring conversation on Hyperallergic in a segment called “Beer with a Painter.”
Jay Milder, # 13, 2016, Oil Stick on Rag Paper, 20″ X 26″, Courtesy of the artist and Quogue Gallery.
Rhino Horn Co-Founder, Jay Milder’s latest work will be on view at Quogue Gallery beginning May 12 and running through June 15, 2016. The exhibition titled Noah’s Ark: Many Views focuses on Milder’s recurring Kabbalistic interpretations of the covenant between G-d and humankind, envisioned through vivid works on paper and canvas that recall spray-can graffiti and embody a brilliant spectrum.