Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jen Graves' review

James Washington Jr.: The Saga

posted by JEN GRAVES on MON, NOV 30, 2009 at 4:06 PM

James Washington Jr. working on his bust of MLK.
  • James Washington Jr. working on his bust of MLK.
What do you say we focus on another black man in Seattle for a while?

Last week, just before Thanksgiving, I met Tim Detweiler at Woodside/Braseth Gallery to walk through The Spirit in the Stone: A Centennial Celebration & Exhibition Honoring James W. Washington, Jr.Detweiler was practically breathless. He talked for a half-hour before I got a word in, and before we even looked at the late Washington's art. The reason why: Detweiler has been buried in a mountain of fascinating stuff for the last year or so, and it's like he traveled to an undiscovered land and must. get. the. stories. out.

The exhibition does a solid job of starting things off for him, and it's a generous act by Woodside/Braseth, considering that much of the work on display is not for sale but instead either owned by the James and Janie Washington Foundation (open by appointment at 1816 26th Avenue) or owned by private collectors.

David, 1958. The mount coil could be a ground wire from a battleship; Washington worked as an electrician for ships in Bremerton for years.
  • David, 1958. The mount coil could be a ground wire from a battleship; Washington worked as an electrician for ships in Bremerton for years.
Raw paintings and collages tell the early story.Making of the United Nation Charter, from 1945, shows hands turning to bone and heads to skulls. The charter was supposed to include an expansion of freedoms for African Americans after the war. But it didn't. Four years later, another painting, with thick impasto sections and also collaged newspaper clippings, drew together Washington's brutal Mississippi past with a not-as-different-as-you'd-like Seattle present (he moved to Seattle in 1944). The painting is called Democracy Challenged, and it pictures the Statue of Liberty, her torch's flame going up into a newspaper headline: "Fiery Cross 'K.K.K.' Note Found Near -- Home" beneath "House Defeats Civil-Rights Part of Housing Bill." On the other side of the painting, balancing Lady Liberty on the scales of justice, are three lynched bodies. A headline, also from the Seattle Times, dated Thursday, September 8, 1949, reads, "Mrs. Roosevelt Says: North as Bad as South in Discrimination." In addition to the daily personal debasements Washington had to endure growing up in small-town Mississippi, his father had been "disappeared" after threats from the KKK. Washington Jr. never figured out what happened to Washington Sr., even after putting a couple of Pinkertons on the case later in his life.

Bunny rabbit, 1965
  • Bunny rabbit, 1965

What's amazing is that Washington started showing his art pretty much as soon as he got to Seattle, and never really stopped. He wasn't the established, university-based, powerhouse figure that Jacob Lawrence was, but he was a constant presence until his death in 2000. And his greatest medium was stone carving. At Woodside/Braseth are several examples of his irresistible animal carvings (they're almost entirely in the round), as well as a self-portrait bas-relief he made in 1976, the same year he made one of Mark Tobey (it was the year Tobey died). This is his only self-portrait in stone.

Detweiler is the first first full-time, permanent director of the foundation—housed at the Washington home and studio, where there are still piles of granite awaiting carving—and he and a small team of helpers have been making discoveries in the archives. They found a letter from Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros inviting him to dinner (he accepted). In the crawl space below the studio they found memos from Washington's work with the Congress of Racial Equality in Seattle in 1960 (they'd demand parity, and if bosses didn't make at least a good-faith effort, they'd picket).

In 1968, Washington was commissioned by Leon Sullivan to do a series of six busts of African Americans for the rotunda of a black-owned mall in Philadelphia. (The picture above shows Washington working on the MLK bust.) The busts were vandalized by whites—actually given white-face—until they were finally removed, and then lost. Until now!

Detweiler and his team (including Susan Platt) called the mall to try to find the busts, and nobody knew where they were, so they started looking. It turns out they'd been hiding for 15 years under a stairwell, some of the white paint still on them. Thanks to Detweiler and the foundation, they've been found. They're staying in (and owned by) the mall in Philadelphia, which is being renovated.

See the show, which also includes a room of works by Washington's friends and contemporaries, before it closes December 12. More images...

Bear cub with food, 1966
  • Bear cub with food, 1966

Democracy Challenged, 1949
  • Democracy Challenged, 1949

Dorset lamb reclining, 1979
  • Dorset lamb reclining, 1979

Making of the United Nation Charter, 1945
  • Making of the United Nation Charter, 1945

Self-portrait, 1976
  • Self-portrait, 1976

Market in Mexico City, block print, 1953
  • Market in Mexico City, block print, 1953

Entertainment | Review: Washington centennial show traces stages of artist's powerful voice | Seattle Times Newspaper

Entertainment | Review: Washington centennial show traces stages of artist's powerful voice | Seattle Times Newspaper

A Great Review by Susan Platt


Roger Shimomura and other shows

I miss my blog so much, I am really tired of editing my book, so here is a quick entry late on Saturday afternoon.
The Roger Shimomura show "Yellow Terror" at the Wing Luke Museum is a rare opportunity to see the artists collections of racist kitsch juxtaposed to his paintings. The kitsch collections have been given to the Wing Luke Museum, but the really urgent reason to go the show several times is to see the way he brilliantly uses these racist stereotypes in his art. He barely transforms them, except in scale. We can hardly believe how well he does it.

Yellow Terror, the title piece of the exhibition- this is a detail- is a dizzying array of World War II "Japs," crammed against each other, flying through the air, climbing on top of each other At the center is the artist himself calmly self caricaturing himself in the midst of the mass of caricatures. The caricatures sources are all on display next to the paintings, and unbelievably, we find ourselves laughing at Shimomura's humor, at the same time that we know he is deadly serious. Racist stereotyping is so awful, it is hard to believe.
As in Different Citizens, 2009, above, a self portrait next to a Japanese stereotype This is a large painting,three feet by almost four feet. There is Roger on the right, he is an understated quiet person, a distinguished professor. There is the stereotype, the big ears, slanted eyes, big mouth, buck teeth, and the officer on the left. But the point here is not old/new, The point is that the World War II stereotypes are still with us. Everyday, everywhere. That is why he has included a collection of salt and pepper shakers. Racism with your salt.
It permeates, it sits there. Even at the opening, he pointed out an account of a new racist film The Goods, Live Hard Sell Hard" which has a mob beating up a Japanese American. Nothing has really changed except the surface..

Roger's artistic facility with different vocabularies is also astonishingAs seen in the other painting here, American Portrait no 2, 2002, Shimomura can play with tradition Japanese images, straight cartoon, Walt Disney cartoon types, and all arranged in amazing compositions that are far more complex than they appear to be. This composition with its boxes within boxes and the idea of a may different types of stereotypes juxtaposed to the Kibuki actor playing a warrior from Ukiyo e prints ( is this an "authentic" stereotype?), is all by itself worth a long analysis.

I highly recommend Jen Graves article in the Stranger as a great review.

On the subject of opposing racism, a different perspective is offered by the James Washington House exhibition of artists who have had residencies there which is currently on view at the Pratt Gallery. The opening itself was a delight. Tim Detweiller has brilliantly brought together a wonderful mix of artists from different backgrounds, all of them making provocative work inspired by the studio and left -behind materials of the sculptor James Washington. In this installation shot you see Joe Max Emmenger well- known Seattle artist next to Charles Parrish work known only to some communities.This is Daniel Minter's work New Path Revealed. It is a subtle work, a broom, with beading and a silk shower cap like top that becomes a ceramic okra plant. In the background are prints of various African American figures in traditional types of work.
Then there is the wooden sculpture by Romson Bustillo called A spell to remember or forget. Bustillo is a brilliant artist and community activist. He is from Mindanao, Philippines. He draws on abstract patterns from textiles here, and other sources to create evocative pieces that contain magical energy.
Esther Ervin's Pipe Dreams is self contained, elegant, and dreamlike. Ervin is an artist with a subtle sensuality that plays out in different media. At the James Washington House she worked with the wax thread on spools from old recording devices.
Other artists in the exhibition included Marita Dingus, and Jite Agbro, but I am out of time for now.
The point is that each of these artists is approaching the inspiration of James Washington from their own perspectives and different backgrounds. And the opening was a truly mixed group of artists and audience. Bravo James Washington Foundation.

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James Washington Jr. - spiritual matter - Another Bouncing Ball

James Washington Jr. - spiritual matter - Another Bouncing Ball

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