André Leon Gray …until victory is won Sheila Pree Bright: Young Americans

André Leon Gray: …until victory is won.

The Sumter County Gallery of Art is proud to present the mixed media assemblage and installation works of André Leon Gray. Gray is a self-taught artist from Raleigh, NC. He produces thought-provoking mixed media assemblages, sculptures, installations, tar paintings, and drawings inspired by the African-American experience. He incorporates discarded materials of civilization into a tableau of history, spirituality and politics which he calls ‘eye gumbo.’ With an interest to create a dialogue among his diverse audience, Gray has chosen venues that emphasize access and education over profit. Executive director of the Sumter county Gallery of Art, Karen Watson states, “André Leon Gray’s exhibition at the Sumter County Gallery of Art is a venue that fulfills the artist’s intention as SCGA serves an underserved community that is geographically isolated from the major art centers in the country. The opportunity to view art that presents the African American perspective and experience is especially important for all the youth in our community.” Gray has exhibited at the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro; Artspace in Raleigh; the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture at Duke University; the Waterfront City Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina; and Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky.

Gray’s witty and heartfelt commentaries on the contemporary African-American experience are rooted in a thorough knowledge of African culture as well as US political history, and one of his cleverest tricks is to transform an icon of black popular culture (such as a basketball or Nike logo) into an African religious icon. In a recent piece, Temporary Government Housing a tar painting of the White House, examines the novelty of Barack Obama’s presidency against its significance. Gray’s wry identification of the White House as temporary government housing addresses its occupation by a black family.

Gray states: “My interest as an artist born and raised in the South is one akin to an African griot or storyteller, who passes on a culture’s history, myths and legends to the next generation. Learning from the past moves us into the future. Being in North Carolina versus New York City gives me the opportunity to observe the true state of race relations in the mythological post-racial America, which supposedly began when Barack Obama was elected president.”

Gray’s Artist Statement:

“I am an advocate for social change and spiritual growth in mind, body and soul. My artwork reflects my concern for humanity’s progression by questioning and examining the impact of history and present conditions that influence current social trends, self-identity, Western standards of beauty, consumerism and race relations in America and abroad. I am interested in creating a thought-provoking experience and to encourage a dialogue among a diverse audience on the subject matter within the artwork. My process primarily involves using recycled and reclaimed items and mixed media techniques such as assemblages, drawings, installations and paintings with non-traditional materials, which I refer to as eye gumbo. Eye gumbo is a visual meal for the mind, thickened with a roux of black culture, marinated in social commentary and seasoned with consciousness.”

Sheila Pree Bright: Young Americans

The Sumter County Gallery of Art is also proud to present the work of Sheila Pree Bright. Bright is a Fine Art photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Her large-scale works combine a wide-ranging knowledge of contemporary culture, while challenging perceptions of identity. Bright received national attention after winning the Santa Fe Prize from the Santa Fe Center for photography in 2006 for a series of work entitled The Suburbia Series”. This series took aim at the American media’s projection of the “typical” African American community and depicts a more realistic depiction of African American life. The series also explores the variations and similarities of an existence that subverts lifestyle and culture, particularly as it relates to Americanism. Bright has emerged as a new voice in contemporary photography with her portrayals of urban and suburban themes, as well as her provocative commentary about American beauty standards.  Bright has called herself a cultural anthropologist. Bright’s inventiveness coupled with the sitter’s creativity allows her to create portraits that show both the universality and the distinctiveness of the human subject.

The Young Americans series of portraits, the body of work Sumter County Gallery of Art is presenting, uses 18 – 25-year-olds, and the American flag, to answer the question “What does it mean to be an American in the 21st century?” The themes of individualism and diversity sets Young Americans apart from other projects that have attempted to capture the spirit of America. Bright is aware of the distorted messages circulating about Generation Y and she sees Young Americans as a way to give this generation a voice.

Bright’s Artist Statement:

“Whether born in America or migrating from other countries, this ethnically diverse, politically engaged group of young people express a great sense of pride about their country. I’m giving them a platform and they are so excited to talk about America. Many told me that no one has ever asked them about this before. Bright sees this series as a key to understanding not only our present moment but also the future of America.”

The Young Americans project was underwritten by a grant from the Aetna Foundation and premiered as a solo exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta in May 2008.

Watson states: “the two solo exhibitions, André Leon Gray: …until victory is won. and Sheila Pree Bright: Young Americans at the Sumter County Gallery of Art is a rare opportunity to bring the work of nationally recognized artists to Sumter. This is so important especially to the youth in our community, many of whom will never travel to the High museum in Atlanta or New York or Chicago to see a visual arts show of this caliber. We are also excited that André Leon Gray will attend the opening reception and give a gallery talk about his work.”

RELATED PROGRAMS AND EVENTS

Opening Reception, Thursday, September 1st, 5:30 – 7:30 pm

André Leon Gray Artist Talk – September 1st, 6:30 pm