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We are all cut from the roots of our family; roots that break through the earth, push deep into its muddy tissue, and grab the cool dark clay for survival. Our roots follow us and let us know where and when we have been, map for us where and when we might be going. Solomon Thurman’s roots reach out and grow from his artwork, taking hold of the viewer. Thurman’s work depends on this connection with his participants. Through this artist-viewer relationship, we become a part of his story and experience as we listen and see how his art moves recursively between music that can be found in cotton fields and water, in open landscapes, highways and dark. Born in St. Louis, Solomon Thurman is an artist, researcher, and teacher. He writes that he creates art “symbolizing my ancestral roots in the Mississippi Delta.” In his art, “music from the fields reflect family memory [and] these seeds flowered into raw emotion.” ... “I wanted to create paintings that were an up-close and personal look at angles that make you hear the subjects – a moment in time that does not show its age.” Thurman’s art works sang a deeply personal story throughout the exhibit. In Shoe Shine Parlor, Harvey E. Stoudmire, black and white checkered floor contrasts with powder blue walls and smooth pink seats and jukebox. The clean lines of the floor and furniture set the figures in the painting to motion.

The shape of the bodies, their positions and angles, bring them to life. Music from the jukebox and the muttering of conversations erupt from canvas as if real. Seven mixed media works were arranged to form a neatly fitted collection in which color, texture and shape moved together, making music. Thurman captures the creation and possibility music offers and the promise of one’s dreams even in the face of extreme conditions. Field of Dreams explores the need to fantasize and to find reprieve while working. In Bag to Basket, hard work is measured, weighed and judged. The concepts of harvesting and farming also lend to themes of community, family, and relationships. All of which are inspirations for songs, and more specifically, the rich, fat texture of the blues. In Hands in Motion, Thurman not only brings to life the heat of the cotton season but the collaboration and musicality of using one’s hands to harvest. One can see and hear the rhythm resonate from the foreground to the background. Thurman keeps us moving with the figures in his work. Not only do we witness movement in these works, but we sense renewal as well. Despite the conflicts and struggles of these figures, Thurman offers rebirth. In the Baptism Series, we are allowed to quench our thirst in what “spiritual energy” these works recreate. In contrast to the works found in his Migration Series, the colors here are more primary


and balanced. We are washed in creamy blues that are thick and swallow up the figures. Both the sky and water offer salvation. Share the Knowledge and Living the Blues depict connections among creativity, optimism, music, and intimacy. Thurman celebrates ancestors “who came through slavery and Jim Crow,” and who gathered around candlelight reading and sharing. He celebrates those who have traveled lonely roads but still find solace and salvation in music. He celebrates those who hear the music, even though the traveling bluesman and trusted dog are asleep. The music still moves above them in the trees that line the back alley: the thick layers of blue and gray whip and swirl in the branches. In Thurman’s art, I am reminded of James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues.” I particularly recall the ending of Baldwin’s short story, the moment the narrator first hears his brother, Sonny, play the blues, “I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, and what burning we have yet to make it ours […] Freedom lurked around us and I understood, at last, that he could help us be free if we would listen, that he would never be free until we did.” -Stacey Walker

Solomon Thurman, Social Hour (photo credit: Courtesy of the artist and 10th Street Gallery) 03 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM FALL 2015


All the Art, Fall 2015  

The Visual Art Quarterly of St. Louis

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