Mahogany came together to form a man’s face. Well, Picasso-style.
Randell Henry hadn’t specifically planned to create such a portrait, and even now he’ll advise you to focus on it to see the face.
That is, the face of a man smoking a wooden pipe.
“When my art class came here, one of my students stopped and looked at it, and said, ‘So that’s what you needed that pipe for,'” Henry said in laughing.
Henry, a professor of art in visual arts at the University of the South, is also the curator of the faculty of visual arts exhibit, “Selections”, where his sculptural piece, “Man with Pipe” hangs.
The show runs through Friday, April 8 at the Visual Arts Gallery in Frank Hayden Hall. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Free entry.
Henry stands in the gallery waiting for a group of students from a music appreciation class to fill the gallery for a visit. Their mission will be to choose two works, one they like, one they don’t like.
From there, they will write essays comparing the pieces to the musical genres they are exploring in class. And Henry is ready to help them, first by pointing out how visual artists and composers incorporate line and color into their work.
The 2022 Faculty Exhibit of the University of the South’s Visual Arts Department, “Selections,” runs through April 8 in the College’s Visual Arts Lounge…
Take, for example, Henry’s own pieces in the exhibition. He is known for his brightly colored collages and paintings, and in this exhibition, his sculptural mahogany wall hangings.
Its many colors usually express joy and its tangled lines are reminiscent of the kind of improvisation found in jazz.
The mahogany, Henry says, was given to him by Alexandria-based artist Morris Taft Thomas. One of Thomas’s metal sculptures is in Southern’s Art Museum on campus, and its abstract style is similar to Henry’s.
Look closely and you’ll also see Picasso nuances in Henry’s wooden faces, and his “Man with a Pipe” steals the show from his other works.
Maybe it’s because the man’s personality didn’t fully emerge until Henry added the pipe.
Henry tells the music students a story about how the man seemed to be missing something. He looked like he was smoking a pipe, but not just any pipe, but something genuine.
It must have been an old-fashioned wooden pipe.
“I didn’t want one of those plastic pipes,” he said. “So I asked my students if they knew where I could buy a wooden pipe. One of them told me about a petrol station that sold them, so I went. “
There Henry found not one but many wooden pipes to choose from. But it wasn’t until his students visited the show that the pipe made sense to them.
“It’s all part of the artist’s process,” he said.
But it does not stop there. Although the other artists from the faculty of the exhibition are not in the gallery, their work speaks volumes.
Visual Arts Sector Chair John Alleyne examines the lives of young black men through a series of multimedia pieces. The work incorporates torn pieces of his serigraphs depicting monochrome portraits.
Once torn, the viewer sees fragments of their lives. Their hairstyles serve as a red thread connecting their stories.
Then there is the work of faculty member Clare Samani, which explores ideas of femininity.
“She works with soft, shiny textiles and objects,” Henry said. “And she uses those things to show how we see femininity in different ways.”
And like Alleyne’s fragments of the lives of young black men, Samani’s multimedia work examines femininity in pieces. There is a gold-covered abdomen here and a flower-covered leg there, but never a whole body.
Meanwhile, the works of Jabed Rashel shift the scene to everyday life.
His still lifes of objects on a coffee table dominate his work. He deconstructs them in the cubism genre, then reconstructs them in a realistic style.
Yet his most notable painting, “ROYBIGV BOX”, showing a closet full of clothes, makes the unnoticed perceptible through color and composition.
Finally, Samantha Combs completes the exhibition with her works made of handmade soap, hair, self-help book pages and metal.
Are his works a commentary on cleaning up your life? Or are they an exploration of how messy life can get? Does the metal in his work represent self-imposed limits?
“Artists really make you think about their work,” Henry tells students. “Everyone can get something different out of this job.”
The students take this as a cue, scattering around the gallery to form their own perspectives.
While Henry’s “Pipe Man” watches them.
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