BY BRETT FRIEDENSOHN
The County College of Morris’ art gallery in the Learning Resource Center opened a display called “Black Art Matters” Monday, Feb. 6 to highlight the work of local black artists in honor of Black History Month.
To accomplish this, the gallery’s director Todd Doney asked Jersey City painter Alvin Pettit to curate the display. Doney and Pettit met each other teaching art at the Kubert School in Dover, and while Pettit left the school in 2010, they still consider each other personal friends.
Doney said that he wanted to expose bring black art to an area with a low African-American population in order to diversify cultural exposure. 3.7 percent of Morris County residents identify as “Black or African American alone” while 83.8 percent of Morris County residents identify as “White alone” as of July 2015, according to the U.S. Census.
“It’s not necessarily the history but that there are great artists that happen to be African-American, and we want to recognize that,” Doney said. “I think our students need to see some other cultures besides what we have here … I’d like to introduce them and say, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of talented African-American artists.’”
Pettit said that he wanted to give the artists a free range, not holding them to any specific theme.
“I just wanted to collect ideas from various African-American artists without holding them to any theme,” Pettit said. “As far as the different styles that are represented in the gallery, I let everyone come in with their own style, the still lives, the abstract, just to show the diversity within African-American art.”
Pettit, who has paintings featured in the display, said that he likes to add messages to his art.
“Mine is usually figurative work, but I usually try to throw in some kind of concept rather than just being a model, a figurative model,” Pettit said. “For instance, one I have in there, ‘Southern Quilt,’ it actually talks about, the model’s holding a quilt, but it goes into the history of how closely they were made, if you go back into the South.”
Doney said that he enjoyed Pettit’s style of artwork.
“He’s a very traditional painter,” Doney said. “Very representational, but he has a little bit of a flair and a little bit of stylized some of his color usage, and to me, it hits a chord … Everybody’s different, but I happen to like what he’s doing.”
Eric Andrews, another Jersey City artist, made an homage to hip hop with a collection of fast-form acrylic caricatures of rappers. Andrews grew up in Detroit and began attending Parsons School of Design in Manhattan in the early 1980s during hip hop’s infancy, and he said that hip-hop has inspired his artwork since he began listening to underground records in the late 1970s. However, he said that when rap goes mainstream, it usually loses artistic value in order to make a profit. In his image making, he said that he tries to keep love for art like underground rappers.
“I thought it was more appropriate to do it in a more rough manner than to try to some oil paintings of hip hop artists,” Andrews said. “This is somewhat sticking true to the nature of hip hop because it’s meaty; it’s graphic; it’s quick.”
Andrews said that he also enjoys making political artwork. In the Black Art Matters exhibit, Andrews has featured portrait oil paint portraits of black political figures including Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., both of whom he compared to rappers.
“If [Douglass] had been born in the 70s, he would have been a fan of hip hop,” Andrews said. “He was very progressive, questioning the mainstream … And talk about Martin Luther King, that guy’s cadence.”
Fernando Cunha, a liberal arts major at CCM, said that Yvonne Bandy’s acrylic painting “ERASEISM: A Matter of the Heart,” which shows stick figure imagery depicting the United States slave trade hidden in the background of the painting, said that the painting gave a clear message about the United States’ treatment of African-Americans.
“I see black people being hung, black people being jailed, fists full of money, and it really doesn’t leave much to the imagination,” Cunha said. “I think that whoever painted this put the cross in red on top to show the hypocrisy, and also because America’s such a Christian nation, but at the same time, it’s unbelievably hypocritical.”
Richard Pairazaman, a music recording major at CCM, said that he took an interest in “Little Bird” by Cory Ford.
“Mostly, I love a lot of the art that has a lot of vibrant color,” Pairazaman said. “Color very much catches my eye, and I love the way that the gold compliments with the different shades of black and white and purple, and then the bird really just stands out … There are colors in the bird that there are no where else present in the piece.”
Pat Moran, a graphic design major at CCM, said that he noticed a parallel between “Ecce Homo” and “Road to Calvary,” both acrylic paintings by Tyler Ballon.
“Seeing this gentleman in the bandana, he’s handcuffed, but his stature is very, almost, it’s almost like Jesus-like on a crucifix, so there’s kind of interesting things going on there, but seeing these scenarios painted on this scale I think is powerful on its own,” Moran said. “I think it’s very interesting how these gentlemen are on the sidewalk, on the street, and they’re carrying this cross, and they’re both looking up into the sky, so both of these pieces I think point towards faith and looking forward towards something or having some sort of progression going on.”
Moran said that as the painting depicting people scale makes an impression.
“Whenever you see a big piece of art, it’s always more powerful, especially when it’s a human figure just because they’re here with us,” Moran said. “Seeing these scenarios painted on this scale I think is powerful on its own; it speaks on its own.”
Stephaun Johnson, a business administration major at CCM, said that he enjoyed “Lucifer,” an abstract oil painting by Clifton Walston, because it perplexed him.
“I really don’t understand it, but I kind of see the depictions of faces and stuff,” Johnson said. “But that’s what grabs me, that the message is somewhere hidden in here, but I have to decipher it.”
The Black Art Matters exhibit opens at noon every weekday in the CCM art gallery until Friday, March 31.