SWIRLING COMPLEXITY INTO CULTURE
UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND UNIVERSITY COLLEGE ARTS PROGRAM
SWIRLING COMPLEXITY INTO CULTURE
ÂŠ 2017 University of Maryland University College. All rights reserved. Copyright credits and attribution for certain illustrations are cited internally proximate to the illustrations. ISBN: 13:978-0-9842265-0-4 ISBN: 10:0-98442265-0-8
PRESIDENT’S STATEMENT Katherine Lambert
We are pleased and proud to present our latest exhibition—James Phillips: Swirling Complexity Into Culture— showcasing work that is bright, vibrant, and at times larger than life, spanning five decades of this remarkable Maryland artist’s career.
Javier Miyares President University of Maryland University College
James Phillips is a master artist whose work appears in numerous collections, including those of the Smithsonian Institution and a number of universities, UMUC among them. His vibrant colors and complex patterns depict the richness of his experience as an African American and an artist. We are truly fortunate to host his work, and—in keeping with our mission of expanding education opportunities in Maryland and beyond—we are proud to introduce his work to more diverse audiences and encourage them to recognize themselves in his work. For more than 30 years, the Arts Program at University of Maryland University College (UMUC) has hosted worldclass exhibitions that present challenging works of art and explore the complexity of the human condition. The program also continues to collect and present works that represent high artistic skill, diverse perspectives, and inspiration. It is my sincere hope that you will be inspired by this exhibition and moved by the stories behind each of these magnificent works. I know I speak for everyone at UMUC when I say how deeply grateful we are for your continued support of and interest in the arts, our Arts Program, and our university. We encourage you to visit and enjoy this and our other exhibitions, galleries, and collections.
Eric Key Director, Arts Program University of Maryland University College
James Phillips is a Baltimore-based artist who creates magnificent, colorful works that are reflective of his life’s experience and African American culture. His love for jazz music, especially the improvisation used in early jazz, led Phillips to incorporate improvisation in his visual arts. Phillips’s experiences in the African American community; the Virginia countryside; and the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.—as well as with the civil rights movement and the Black Arts Movement—contributed to his emergence as an artist. As Phillips developed his improvisational style, he began to adopt a great deal of movement and depth in his works. His incorporation of his life’s experiences has propelled his development as an artist with a unique and distinctive approach. Early in his artistic career, Phillips aligned himself with the positive message of the Black Power movement, which encouraged African American artists to create works that reflected pride in their history and culture. Phillips was always developing his artistic talents by experimenting with color, researching themes, and looking to the African diaspora for inspiration. The result is a painting style that is colorful and Afrocentric. Even though his zigzag paintings are American in nature, they are tightly woven, like a piece of African tapestry, and very similar to the house paintings of the Ndebele people of South Africa and Zimbabwe, who are also known for their colorful beadwork. The Arts Program at UMUC has for many years watched Phillips’s progression as a visual artist and has called on him to showcase his art in various group exhibitions and to participate on panel discussions. A professor of art at Howard University, Phillips has a vast knowledge of art in general and specific aspirations as to what he wants his art to do—communicate a visceral as well as a visual message to the viewer. The Arts Program is proud to assemble this body of works that reflects the artist’s standing in art and art history. On behalf of the Art Advisory Board and the faculty, staff, and students of UMUC, I extend my profound gratitude to Melanee Harvey and Michael Harris, PhD, for producing well-documented essays that trace Phillips’s evolution in the arts and place his art in historical context and Eva J. Allen, PhD, and Nicholas H. Allen, DPA, for their financial contribution to this project. These essays can help our community more fully understand the man behind the art. 3
JAMES PHILLIPS: INCANTATIONS AND THE TRANSMUTATION OF MUSIC INTO COLOR AND LIGHT By Michael D. Harris, PhD
“SOUND IS SOUND. I WORK WITH THE VISUAL MANIFESTATIONS OF SOUND. THE VISUAL COMPONENT TO THAT WOULD BE LIGHT.”
DECIPHERING JAMES PHILLIPS’S WORK to find the elements that fill it reveals layers of significance and virtuosity. Always there is music transformed or transfigured into color and light. Composer and musician T. J. Anderson says, “All black music is based upon black speech. That’s why the preacher is so important. All of it comes from the church and the bars and all of that, so it is environmental. This is an extension of who we are as a people.”1 The voicing and tonalities of music—black music especially—are linked to speech, just as the multiple tonalities of the West African Yoruba language translate subtly into the phrasings of the talking drum.
There are also consistent symbolic references to African cultural expressions or ideas in Phillips’s work. Phillips was an early innovator in the use of African iconography in painting. Many African American artists, perhaps inspired by Alain Locke’s 1925 challenge for artists to look to their ancestral heritage,2 had reinterpreted mask-like images, not going much beyond the stylistic reconfigurations of the early European modernists such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, or Henry Moore. Phillips says, “The African references are in my work because that is the direct source, that’s the foundation where all of my images come from.”3 Phillips’s quiet demeanor hides an incessant curiosity. He is familiar with Ethiopian jazz horn player Gétatchèw Mèkurya as well as with obscure recordings of Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane playing with Thelonious Monk, the free jazz of Don Cherry and Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis playing in Sweden, and many others. Additionally, Phillips studies Egyptian symbols and iconography and African symbols and masks from many diverse cultures, and he employs them with full awareness of their original meanings, which he translates into his own creative statements. Phillips doesn’t paint the cliché of highly colored horn players in some version of impassioned performance. Such imagery actually is less about music than the emotions of spectators at musical events. It interprets the emotional memory of the experience as a spectator or as an appreciation of a particular musician but never captures the complex artistry inside the players—their codes, creative conversations, and improvisations—and the intricacies of the formal innovations of what we call jazz. Phillips transforms the aural into the visual to layer a symbiotic possibility.
Water Spirits II, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 31 x 24 inches On loan from Adger Cowans
Color is one of the elements of his alchemy. He explains: It’s not so much the color. It’s the value of the color. Sixty-four colors, possibilities. But then when you start breaking them down into various values, you can expand on that. It’s the same thing with the eight-note [or] twelve-note scale system. It’s just a matter of tripling, quadrupling. I guess the most primary element to all of that would be African drummers. ’Cause they always come back to that one beat. I don’t care how far they expand the rhythm . . . still they come back on that same beat. And that’s the glue that holds the composition together. In this explanation, Phillips begins to give us a decoder for reading his work. Since his early work in the Weusi Artist Collective in New York during the late 1960s through his entry into AfriCOBRA in the mid-1970s, Phillips has animated his work with color and rhythm. The figure, when present, has been abstract and symbolic, often derived and interpreted from graphic traditions of Egypt, West Africa, and Haiti. Vivid colors in combinations and relationships intimating complex jazz chords organized in rhythmic asymmetry have dominated his compositions for the past 50 years. When AfriCOBRA formed in Chicago in 1968, the group developed an aesthetic that implied a devotion to the figure with the concept of “awesome imagery.” Phillips contributed significantly to the growth of a more abstract AfriCOBRA imagery in
the 1970s. Wadsworth Jarrell, a cofounder of AfriCOBRA, credits Phillips with the “biggest shift” in the group aesthetic.4 With his Nummo series, Phillips tapped into the creation mythology of the Dogon people of Mali, using imagery bursting with energy and suggestions of primordial, spiritual beings. The Nummo were primordial twin figures who were a part of the seeding of the physical, earthly world at creation. These beings are represented symbolically at the top of the kanaga mask so strongly associated with Dogon masquerade rituals. The eight-foot paintings Phillips completed in the 1970s were filled with anthropomorphic shapes filled with zigzag patterns and bright colors. If one steps back from the paintings, it is possible to see large, unearthly figures exuding rhythmic energy as if their presence was an explosion of electricity and primordial fire. The geometric face with red triangular eyes near the top of Nummo #6 is more energy bursts than recognizable human figure. It seems to have a crown of lightning. Phillips has diverged from earlier Egyptian conventions of depicting deities and has used imagery to convey the concept of the figure. He seemingly has reinterpreted John Coltrane’s use of multiple saxophones and drums and layers of sound in his late recordings in an effort to suggest an energetic spiritual being or process. The Dogon people see material reality as aduno so, the “word of the world” (or the world as Word), and they have developed an elaborate systemization of their concepts regarding the process of speech and the physical world. They see the physical being or object as the final stage of speech.5 In a related sense, we have heard horn players described as using vocalizations and horn play approximated as scat singing. In Dogon mythology, the Nummo are associated with moisture, which is the life force of the earth, and the word or speech. Divine speech is dynamic and expressive of creative intent. Rituals, signs, and signifiers are used to express an underlying, cosmological discourse through expressive culture. As Geneviève Calame-Griaule writes, “Among the Dogon, symbolic thinking . . . is an integral part of culture. Individuals learn from childhood to view the world through symbolic eyes so as to decipher its message.”6
Nummo #6, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University
For the Dogon, levels of knowledge are described in terms of speech and the word. The first is giri so, or “fore-word.” This is the first layer of explanation, in which mythical personages “are often disguised, their adventures simplified or fantasized,” and it deals with visible things and deeds. The second layer is benne so, or “side-word,” which adds deeper explanation of certain rituals and representations. Next is bolo so, or “back-word,” which completes the preceding knowledge and “furnishes syntheses applicable to greater parts of the whole on the other hand.” The last stage is the so dayi, or “clear-word,” which presents the very secret parts of the knowledge in its “ordered complexity.”7
CD cover for Ethiopiques 14 featuring Gétatchèw Mèkurya Courtesy of Buda Musique
Dogon culture accepts that appreciation of the complex, days-long masquerade known as the dama is gradually gained by those moving through the initiation process and acquiring knowledge. It is performed for all and, like Phillips’s work, there are colors at the outer word (giri so) level of entertainment. But the abstract structures of the performance emerge with significance through each stage of understanding. Phillips’s 1977 version of the Nummo series is lighter in value but filled with sharper shapes. The darker, heavier colors of earlier works have given way to lighter blues and reds and more complex layering and organized forms. The Nummo figure seems to be behind an explosive electrical storm. Phillips’s aesthetic was moving toward the grid organization of the rectangular frame but also showing foundations for his early 1980s works based on circular, mandala forms.
“IN TERMS OF THE WAY I APPROACH IT, JUST LIKE A MUSICIAN RUNS SCALES, I’M RUNNING SCALES WITH COLOR. . . . EVERY TIME I MAKE A CHANGE, THERE’S A VALUE CHANGE WITH COLOR.” —James Phillips
Multiple rhythms of varying speeds fill the image space in Phillips’s work in the same manner as a West African drum orchestra fills musical space. Sharp-edged zigzags are tempered by rounder imagery, and all of the various bursts are rounded. Without the visual conventions of diagonal lines or triangular compositions (a Western art technique developed in the Renaissance) leading the viewer’s eye through a planned tour of the painting, the painting leads us into collisions with different colored and shaped areas and energies. Everything is right in the viewer’s face without simple and familiar codes or imagery. The experience is like a first encounter with bebop and the racing alto sax of Charlie Parker after the comfort of swing bands. Deciphering Phillips’s work as coded, musical expressive speech reflective of Africa and African diasporic practices might be useful. The more a viewer is steeped in cultural and musical knowledge, the more that is revealed.
When asked how he puts his rhythmic beat in the work, Phillips said: Well, I generally like to approach yellow and violet as colors that can be warm and cool. I work cool colors against warm colors or vice versa. . . . So it gives me a lot of flexibility, and, believe it or not, I stick very closely to the color wheel. You’ve got your primary colors, and everything else is supposed to evolve from that. That’s the key. I always go back to that. The viewer may not see it that way, but that’s the mechanism that I developed. The shapes in the work create rhythm. Phillips says, “They carry a rhythm, because, again, whether it’s on the grid or whether it’s a zigzag line, I’m resolving it down to its smallest component, and I use that to build up the tension in the work.” He doesn’t want it to look too uniform, so he says he will “alternate and reconstruct the system.” He tries to make sure a line that might run through the work doesn’t always “end up on the same beat or the same color, the same note, or the same size.” Figures become points of departure in the work, perhaps acting as doorways for viewers to enter the complex compositions. However, Phillips says he is trying to get away from even that recognizable element. “I’m trying to go with a straight motif,” and not incorporate figures. Asked about how viewers might find ways to understand what he is doing in the work without figures and symbols, he says: I find it very hard to believe that someone can’t see the musical references in the work if they are familiar with music. I don’t care what kind of music it is. You can see the rhythm structure in the work. It’s the same kind of notations, only it’s presented depending upon the discipline. The terminology is different, but the same references are there.
Far left: African Impressions, 1978 acrylic on canvas, 95 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University Left: James Phillips in his studio in Brooklyn, New York, 1973
He also contends that the separation into sacred and secular music is an artificial and misguided endeavor. Jazz and blues, though called the devil’s music, are “just as important as the gospel music, the church music. It’s the same thing.” That separation is something, Phillips argues, that we did to ourselves. The rupture that Phillips finds so superficial may have been rooted in the New Negro or Harlem Renaissance period idea of using cultural achievement and virtuosity as a palliative to ease acceptance for blacks into middle-class American life. While conjure and folk religious practices have long been tropes and signs for those black cultural forms rooted in African antecedents, they have also been linked to slavery in the minds of aspirational blacks and observational whites. Yvonne Chireau writes that despite efforts to eradicate such slave traditions, “when African Americans moved out of slavery and into the social order that freedom offered, they carried their spiritual traditions with them.” These spiritual traditions “were ultimately present in almost every geographical location in which African Americans settled.”9
Wadsworth Jarrell, Juju Man From the Delta, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 68 x 90 inches. Image courtesy of the artist
IN TODAY’S WESTERN SOCIETIES, art becomes a two-part psychological materialization for our contemplation. It is autobiographical evidence of the artist’s virtuosity, history, sensibilities, tendencies, and sense of color—in short, his or her creative voice refined and mastered. The art reveals the artist, in the same way that you can hear Sonny Stitt and know from the way he formulates his sound, regardless of the song, that it is not Coleman Hawkins or Ben Webster or John Coltrane with the reed in his mouth. Miles Davis is never confused with Freddie Hubbard. John Biggers, even in his early work, cannot be confused with Charles White.
On the other hand, in visual media the artwork confronts the audience as a virtual Rorschach inkblot test, evoking individual interpretations based on personal perceptions. Artists often benefit from viewer reactions to their work, which expand on their intentions in creating the object. This transaction and active interaction reflects the call-and-response dynamic of African cultures like the Yoruba. The
Yoruba concept of ìlutí, “good hearing,” applies to both sides.8 The viewer hears what the artist is saying most often when the artist has heard how the viewer feels or lives in the world. Perhaps that is why Phillips says that what people feel from the work is more important to him than what they know technically. Phillips believes that music is an essential aspect of African diasporic culture: Music made us survive. Through all the horrors of the Middle Passage, through all the horrors of slavery. Through all the different things we had to go through in the ’60s in the civil rights movement, up to the present, and we’re still going through it. I don’t care whether it’s blues, whether it’s called field calls, whether it’s swing music, or whether it’s bebop, hip hop—that beat is still with us. And that beat is still probably the strongest energy in us. And that’s what keeps us connected to Africa.
The Willie Dixon song “Hoochie Coochie Man,” introduced by Muddy Waters in 1954, clearly refers to the world of conjure and hoo doo, both extraChristian practices associated with African precedents. The lyrics specifically contain familiar references to the system of conjuring and blues lore: “I got a black cat bone / I got a mojo too / I got the Johnny Concheroo.”10 If one looks more closely, one can find aspects of that African spirituality in both the blues and jazz that so inspire Phillips and other artists, despite their designation as secular forms. Former AfriCOBRA member and co-founder Wadsworth Jarrell says that a blues singer is “one who understands that the blues is derived from living; if you haven’t lived it, you cannot sing or play it. The blues is a demon, a spiritual epiphany that not only represents sadness but also represents happiness.”11 In 1985, Jarrell painted Juju Man From the Delta as a tribute to Muddy Waters. He used that title because he felt Waters “represents a conjure man who can conjure up magic with his music and extend it to other areas, like casting spells by working roots. . . . He is capable of creating magic singing and playing on his guitar.”12
Blues singers and blues itself, frequently motifs in and subjects of Phillips’s work, often became associated with Eshu, the Yoruba trickster deity linked to the crossroads. Yoruba scholar Rowland Abiodun writes that Eshu represents “the force that can belong in two different places without showing any signs of discomfort,” and he “looks in two opposite directions, embodies two bodies, and inhabits two spaces at the same time.”13 Early country blues musicians, as itinerant figures constantly on the road, elusive, and sources of emotional and social transformation through performance, have similar qualities. Phillips has carefully thought through his aesthetic as it evolved over the years, and it reflects the kind of esoteric understanding that master artists or master jazz musicians take for granted. Throughout Phillips’s career, he has had a deep emotional relationship with black music that has affected most of his aesthetic decisions and subject matter. Phillips says, “To Euro sensitivities, [free jazz] didn’t have structure. They were playing notes like Jackson Pollock slinging paint.” He adds that Jackson Pollock’s work often was linked to bebop expression, but that “Jackson Pollock didn’t live to hear Ornette [Coleman]. The best he could do was Bessie Smith.”14 Speaking of his own work, Phillips says: In terms of the way I approach it, just like a musician runs scales, I’m running scales with color. . . . Every time I make a change, there’s a value change with color. So it’s not repetition. It’s repetition but it’s not repetition, because it’s rotation and reflection. . . . It’s asymmetrical, but I try to make it look symmetrical.15
expression. At times he sought a feeling or sense of the music of Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, McCoy Tyner, and the like, as well as subtle reiterations of the kinds of geometry used to organize Egyptian painting and relief sculpture into registers. Phillips’s work Juju for Michael, which I own, appears in the book produced for the 1989 Black Art, Ancestral Legacy exhibition. However, when I loaned the piece to Phillips for the exhibition, he felt that it needed more work, and he added layers of details to further articulate and complicate the piece. A quick look at how it was represented in the book and at this final version will illustrate the changes. Like a musician, Phillips plays the same compositions a little differently each time. Clearly the composition uses a grid with squares combined to create larger strips. In some ways, this grid plays like narrow strips of Ashanti cloth joined
to form large pieces of kente cloth. The work has three vertical columns that are broken up into smaller square segments, which are divided by zigzag lines. Three large square areas populate the middle column and are filled with symbols and stylized images. Phillips says, “I like working mainly in threes, and triples; double it up. They kind of dissolve from threes into sixes, nines, and twelves, like that. You’ve got at least sixty-four options. And if you throw tone and shade in there, you triple it.”16 Phillips uses the illusion of transparencies throughout the work. One example is the Ghanaian circular symbol called gye nyame (fear none but God) at the top of the painting. It can be seen through the colors and patterns around it in the top square, but it is not itself an object. The gye nyame symbol and the two Egyptian bennu birds surrounding it were painted into the work because it was designed specifically for me, and they show the level of intentionality Phillips uses to organize his imagery. He does not haphazardly derive color relationships and themes, and memorial works for departed artists like Jeff Donaldson, Skunder Boghossian, and John Biggers are constructed with very specific imagery and color. Phillips’s intentional shaping of meaning reaches new levels of complication in his later work, Prelude to a Kiss. Often in free jazz, the musical, rhythmic structures are not obvious, and that is the case with this work. The title comes from a composition by Duke Ellington and was conceived as a tribute to Phillips’s marriage to his wife Shellie in 2000.
In 1980, Phillips received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to study in Japan, and he explored mandala imagery for a time after that 17-month sojourn. By the late 1980s, however, when his work was featured in the exhibition Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in AfricanAmerican Art at the Dallas Museum of Art, he used a grid format as a foundation for a great deal of his work, with symbolic imagery to variegate the work and imbue it with meaning. Simultaneously, Phillips used asymmetry in color, rhythmic patterns, and color relationships to explore a symbiotic relationship of imagery to creative jazz
Left: Juju for Michael, 1987–92, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 37½ inches. On loan from Michael D. Harris Above: Juju for Michael (detail)
not being idealistic or utopian in his use of African diasporic symbols and imagery. He is being consistent with the cultural histories that he has inherited. He says, “One of the reasons I jump around [to different cultures] is because we don’t know which specific culture we come from. So I represent the whole diaspora in my work.”17
James and Shellie Phillips share the same birthday (April 29) as Duke Ellington, though they were born in different years. As an obvious reference to Taurus, their astrological sun sign, bulls facing in opposite directions populate the top and bottom of the composition. Phillips says that bulls, in addition to their astrological significance, were protectors of Ra and the pharaoh in dynastic Egypt. A political dialectic is created by the roosters standing on the back of each bull. The rooster is a symbol of revolution— the fighting cock—and also the Chinese equivalent of Taurus. Therefore, the bull is a protector of the status quo while the rooster is a symbol of revolution.
Phillips artistically walks the circle of speech to music to spiritual and social practice to divine speech coming down to metaphorical expression. He is an aesthetic scientist and a mystical adept. The more viewers are informed and prepared, the deeper they can enter the creative alchemy behind his compositions. ▼
As we drill down into the work, we find hearts in the center and inside the bull at the top of the work. The triple repetition of the heart is symbolic of the Ghanaian symbol for Sankofa: the wisdom of learning from the past to build for the future. Also, it is a reference to the Haitian deity Erzulie, a spiritual angel or orisha associated with love, and the Yoruba goddess Oshun, who is linked with love, sweetness, and the river. The symbol appears in Haitian rituals as part of a veve, a ground emblazon created with cornmeal or some temporary powdered material. Surrounding the large heart in the center are two symbols from the West African graphic system called nsibidi that indicate a married couple. The symbols appear throughout the work and fill both bulls. At the top, crosses on the dark blue background are turned slightly to appear like stars. Just above the large heart are images of the Dogon Seated Couple, a well-known sculptural figure sometimes interpreted as the primordial couple—the Adam and Eve ancestors of humanity. To either side of the couple are the large sculptural faces of an African Kuba couple facing each other as if preparing to kiss. Hot and cool colors separate the profiles from the background, and different nsibidi signs for a couple reside atop the profile faces. Musically, a glance at the patterns grounding the work shows how Phillips takes structures and speeds them up or slows them down, doubling and tripling. Zigzags thin when moving from the hot Kuba figures to the cool background at the top. Then they are broken into small checkerboard elements in certain sections in the center column moving between the two bulls. Within the recognizable imagery in the center column, we find graphic
T. J. Anderson, taped interview with the author, Atlanta, GA, November 11, 2012. 2
See Alain Locke, “Legacy of the Ancestral Arts,” in The New Negro, ed. Alain Locke (1925; repr., New York: Touchstone, 1999).
James Phillips, taped interview with the author, Atlanta, GA, September 20, 2013. Unless noted, subsequent quotes are from this conversation.
Wadsworth Jarrell, telephone conversation with the author, June 7, 2013.
Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen, The Pale Fox (Chino Valley, AZ: Continuum Foundation, 1986), 98.
Geneviève Calame-Griaule, Words and the Dogon World (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1986), xvi.
Griaule and Dieterlen, The Pale Fox, p. 68. Cited from Michael D. Harris, “Visual Tropes: The Kanaga Mask of the Dogon Peoples of West Africa,” (master’s thesis, Yale University, 1989), 57–58.
Prelude to a Kiss, 2014, acrylic on bark cloth, 52 x 22 inches Collection of Dr. Alonzo and Mrs. Susan Williams, Courtesy of Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas
expressions and improvisations riding like solos atop the complex rhythmic structures. The organic shape of the bark cloth adds to the flow and improvisational musicality of the composition by eluding the rectangular structure viewers might expect. The main vertical movement of the imagery is countered by occasional horizontal pattern flows in the work. Prelude to a Kiss is a wonderful example of James Phillips’s expression of African diasporic culture and his virtuosity as a painter and composer. Phillips is
Ìlutí, according to Rowland Abiodun, “determines whether a work of art ‘is alive’ and ‘responds,’” and this model is a part of the divine call-and-response idea. There is a saying, Ẹbọra tó lutí là ń bó, “We worship and celebrate only deities who can respond when called upon.” Rowland Abiodun, Yoruba Art and Language: Seeking the African in African Art (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 62.
Yvonne Chireau, Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 123.
Lyrics by Willie Dixon, “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” 1954.
Wadsworth Jarrell, e-mail message to author, August 30, 2015.
Jarrell, e-mail message to author, August 30, 2015.
Abiodun, Yoruba Art and Language, 74.
James Phillips, taped conversation with author, Baltimore, MD, September 16, 2016.
Phillips, taped conversation, September 16, 2016.
Phillips, taped conversation, September 16, 2016.
James Phillips, telephone conversation with the author, October 17, 2016.
JAMES PHILLIPS: A RETROSPECTIVE
“BUT ONE MUST LOOK A SECOND TIME AND WHAT . . . [ONE] SEES IS THE BOLDNESS OF A MAN’S SOUL DECORATED WITH LIFE.” —David C. Driskell, foreword to Levels and Degrees: Painting and Drawings by James Phillips and Nelson Stevens
By Melanee Harvey
ALTHOUGH JAMES PHILLIPS DESCRIBES HIMSELF AS A PRODUCT OF THE BLACK ARTS MOVEMENT, he is one of the luminaries who shaped a black aesthetic for people of African descent. His extensive exhibition history documents a career dedicated to formulating a visual aesthetic of resistance and cultural empowerment. Since the 1960s, Phillips has dedicated his art production to the service of black liberation and cultural advancement. His body of art reflects the ideological and iconographic trajectory of the Black Arts Movement from Black Power to Pan-Africanism. Phillips’s signature style is characterized by a masterful approach to highly saturated colors and rhythmic patterns created by value variation and improvisational superimposition of African symbols.
Beyond these formal qualities, the content and intent behind his canvases document a longstanding commitment to combating black oppression with the visual affirmations contained in his paintings. Today, Phillips remains devoted to fighting black oppression in contemporary circumstances. Eschewing Western aesthetics and imagery, he has always practiced a notion of black empowerment rooted in a concept of a shared African diasporic identity and culture. His body of art continues to initiate epistemological interventions that celebrate the potency of African symbology and aesthetics. Through his captivating, densely designed paintings, Phillips forces viewers to engage in the political act of looking to Africa and its diaspora to cultivate critical consciousness as well as cultural continuity and regeneration.1
Childhood and Formative Years
Impressions, 1965, acrylic on board, 30 x 14½ inches
James Phillips was born on April 29, 1945, to Frank and Jettie Elizabeth (Brown) Phillips in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of three, he went to live with his maternal aunt and uncle, Della and George “Jonah” Brown, in Gretna, Virginia. At a young age, Phillips informed his family that he wanted to make and show pictures. When he was six years old, his uncle Clarence Brown presented him with the task of drawing a Hausa knot pattern. At the time, Phillips was unaware that this was an African-derived symbol, but he now acknowledges this moment as his introduction to African symbology.
CD cover for Coleman Hawkins’s Picasso. Courtesy of SAAR Edizioni Musicali
By 1957, Phillips had developed a rapport with his first art mentor, A. B. Spellman Sr. Phillips refined and cultivated his art skills in formal art instruction and in-home lessons before moving to Pennsylvania with his mother in 1959. As he matriculated through junior and senior high school, he also attended classes at the Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia2 and gained a strong interest in the rapidly evolving jazz scene. He credits his high school friend and jazz musician Alfred “Alfie” Pollitt with introducing him to the jazz recordings of musicians such as Miles Davis.3 Phillips immediately explored jazz content in his art, completing an abstract portrait of Davis. Phillips was also keenly aware of the art and design of jazz album covers, which often featured the art of popular abstract expressionists. The album cover of Coleman Hawkins’s 1948 recording Picasso, which featured a reproduction of a Picasso composition, prompted Phillips to explore cubist aesthetics. The artist also named We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite (1960), Charles Mingus’s The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1963), and John Coltrane’s Coltrane Live at Birdland (1964) as influencing his stylistic development.4
The 1960s: Philadelphia to New York City The mid-1960s proved to be a pivotal period in Phillips’s aesthetic development. He was enrolled for one semester of night school at the Philadelphia
College of Art during the fall of 1964 and completed courses on design, drawing, and commercial art. He also submerged himself in free jazz as an expressive form after witnessing John Coltrane perform in a Philadelphia club. He recalls: One night I happened to be in downtown Philadelphia [when Coltrane] was playing, and I didn’t have the resources to get into the club. So I stood outside of the club and watched him play from the window. And I could hear what he was playing, but it was the intensity that I saw in his face in terms of his concentration to play the music he was playing . . . [artist pause] I’ve never been the same since.5 The visual and visceral aspects of Coltrane’s legendary performance deeply impacted Phillips’s philosophical and stylistic sensibilities. He began exploring Coltrane as a painting subject in his mid1960s composition Impressions. Representing the artist’s early explorations of cubist aesthetics, this work renders the saxophonist, with eyes closed, blowing into his instrument. Coltrane’s face is composed of angular rectangular planes that convey volume and space. Even in this developmental stage, Phillips demonstrates an interest in the ability of chromatic value to convey emphasis. The shadow areas call attention to the sites of concentration in Coltrane’s mouth and closed eyes. This composition also indicates how Phillips strived for balance in terms of color through his use of warm and cool tones. Phillips also executed a figurative portrait of Coltrane titled A Love Supreme (c. 1964–65) that demonstrates the artist’s refinement of modeling the form with light and shadow. This painting was based on the album cover of the recording of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Phillip’s Coltrane-themed artwork reinforces his role alongside poets and other artists in promoting a Black Art aesthetic that celebrated Coltrane and Malcolm X as pioneers who established the philosophical tenets of the Black Arts Movement. In 1965, Phillips moved to New York City, where he set out to pursue a career in painting full-time. He shared a residence with jazz musician and composer Norman Connors that quickly became a space where African American artists and musicians from Philadelphia could find temporary shelter. As a result, Phillips socialized with and learned from jazz musicians firsthand. He was profoundly influenced by pianist Cecil Taylor’s affirmation that
ancestors of the African diaspora speak to contemporary generations through music. Phillips came to use the symbols and cultural referents from across the African diaspora as a means to represent ancestral legacy and cultural continuity. In 1968, Phillips attended the Printing Trade School and had his first solo exhibition, at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. He also became a fixture in the Weusi Artist Collective and their exhibitions, although he did not officially obtain full membership until 1970. Phillips credits this collective with helping him refine his trajectory as an artist.
The 1970s: Defining and Developing Phillips refined his signature approach to color, value, and space in the art he painted throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since this period, Phillips has consistently anchored his compositions with tints and saturated colors as a means of distorting three-dimensional qualities. His symbolic use of color becomes more regular. Phillips constructs a color theory in which purple and yellow act as neutral colors with the ability to act as warm or cool hues. Blue and red replace black in his color
The Weusi Artist Collective, or Weusi Nyumba Ya Sanaa, offered a rich synergy in the diverse expression from the African diaspora. Phillips recalled that this organization made a deep impression because it allowed him to see both variety and continuity in the art of black activists, Muslims, and those initiated into African-derived religious communities such as Yoruba. Phillips gravitated toward the art practice and content of Weusi member Ademola Olugebefola. He was inspired by Olugebefola’s dedication to Yoruba and African diasporic philosophies. Moreover, Olugebefola’s interest in abstraction reinforced Phillips’s emerging style, characterized by the freedom of jazz, abstraction, and non-Western cultural aesthetics. Olugebefola also introduced Phillips to artist-activist Benny Andrews, who would become a mentor. During this period, Phillips applied his evolving aesthetic to issues of drug abuse in The Dealer and other paintings in The Junkie in the Twilight Zone series,6 which reveal his transition away from the figurative. Like a jazz musician, Phillips employs strategies of superimposition to convey tension and resolution in the cultural idioms in his paintings. Phillips actively sought out and researched both traditional and contemporary African art during the late 1960s. He followed the journal African Arts from its inaugural issue in the autumn of 1967, which featured a 14-page portfolio of drawings and paintings by Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi alongside an article on Nigerian Ife art. Color reproductions of works by Nigerian artist Prince Twins Seven-Seven and Ethiopian artist Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian were also included. These three African artists were an important point of reference for Phillips as he developed his approach to abstraction.
James Phillips in his Washington, D.C., studio with his artwork Nummo Pieces, 1975
scheme. Phillips uses blue to represent water and womanhood. In contrast, red symbolizes earth and male energy. These colors are often employed to establish compositional and conceptual balance. Phillips also began to think about color relationships in terms of the numerical possibilities across tints and shades. He uses these chromatic possibilities to create rhythm in the placement of warm colors against cool hues.
sculpture and design prowess, he would often seek her critical feedback on his paintings in progress. During his residency, Phillips completed a self-portrait entitled Self-Awareness (1970–71), as well as large-scale compositions such as Mystical Unity (1972), which measures approximately eight by twelve feet.
Self Awareness, 1970–71, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
During the late 1960s, Phillips also began painting on the ground. Considering the scale of his early canvases, this was more practical as it gave him easier access to all quadrants of the pictorial space.7 By 1970, Phillips completely abandoned figuration as a dominant element in his practice. Spirit Rejoicing (1970) and Mystic (c. 1970) feature his signature all-over-pattern style that transforms every inch of the painted surface into a point of visual interest. In Mystic, Phillips allows the abstract contour lines depicting a saxophonist to become almost obscured by his triangular zigzag units. From 1971 to 1972, Phillips was an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Under the directorship of Edward Spriggs, the Studio Museum in Harlem advanced the aesthetics of the Black Arts Movement by nurturing black artists and working in the local community.8 Valerie Maynard was an artist on staff in the prints department during Phillips’s residency. Because he was so impressed with her 12
Self-Awareness is a visual manifesto, announcing Phillips’s arrival as an abstract artist. Phillips represents himself in profile, gazing outward toward the right side of the compositional space. He constructed the figure using zigzag-filled bands. The rounded edges of his Afro are articulated with curved registers. These contrast with the sharp diagonal lines that form his neck in the lower right quadrant of the canvas. The zigzag, which Phillips knew is a Yoruba symbol for the descent of ashè, or “the power to make things happen,” is one of the earliest African symbols he incorporated in his paintings.9 Self-Awareness documents Phillips as engaged and in harmony with his environment through pattern. Even in this early phase, he used the potency of patterns, informed by African motifs, as a means of expressing cultural vibrancy and continuity. Phillips took advantage of expansive studio space at the Studio Museum in Harlem to paint large-scale polyptychs. In 1971, he completed one of his largest visual tributes to John Coltrane in Cosmic Connection, which is executed across five canvas panels and measures eight feet tall by twenty feet wide. The painting captures the energetic sound of a Coltrane performance by abstractly rendering Coltrane and additional band members playing instruments alongside
two dancers. Emphasizing the instruments as transformative conduits, Phillips extended the implied line of the instruments across the composition, as evident in the horns in the foreground and doublebass scrolls in the background. Cosmic Connection served as a backdrop for the 1971 John Coltrane Memorial Concert at Town Hall in New York City, affirming Phillips’s commitment to public art. It also established the rhythm for the cultural work and interventions that he aims to provoke with his art. Phillips continued to explore formal and thematic aspects of Cosmic Connection in his subsequent composition Pharaoh’s Journey (1972). After his residency at Studio Museum in Harlem ended, Phillips moved into a three-story structure in Brooklyn with fellow artist Valerie Maynard and photographer Danny Dawson. Phillips recalled the space as raw, without conventional amenities like heat, but it offered liberal studio space. In 1971, Phillips was awarded a Creative Artists Public Service Award, which resulted in one of his earliest mural projects at Harlem’s Countee Cullen Library and his first encounter with Aaron Douglas’s mural The Negro in an African Setting from his 1934 mural cycle Aspects of Negro Life. Phillips recalled being deeply affected by the work: on each visit to the site, he would return to the mural and study Douglas’s approach to color, value, and flattening of space. He was particularly interested in Douglas’s composite treatment of the human form, which referenced an Egyptian visual practice. This composite dancer would become a visual motif in Phillips’s oeuvre, and his mural commission propelled him to
Left to right: James Phillips, Frank Smith, and Jeff Donaldson, 1974
Above left: Cosmic Connection (pentaptych), 1971, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 212 inches; Above right: Promotional brochure for Phillips’s 1972 solo exhibition at Howard University
become part of the legacy of African American painters at this historic site, thus advancing his development as a muralist and public artist. On October 27, 1972, the members of Howard University’s art community, led by Jeff Donaldson, celebrated the opening of a one-man show of Phillips’s recent art. One exceptional inclusion in this solo show was Prince of Peace (1968), an acrylic painting on a record album cover. This art object illustrates how Phillips experimented with a range of nontraditional painting supports and demonstrates his interest in fusing Black Arts aesthetics with contemporary aspects of popular culture. The gallery distributed a brochure for the exhibition that featured a photograph of the artist embellished with illustrations. The cover design is attributed to Jeff and Arnicia Donaldson.
pointed shapes. As the 1975–76 academic school year commenced, students began complaining about Phillips’s mural, which had replaced a sixpanel mural by Eugene “Eda” Wade.11 A university newspaper article on the mural controversy offered this student criticism: “The new mural is not a suitable replacement for the one that projected Black
I think that what I painted reaches a wider audience. . . . It is something that someone from Cameroon, from Trinidad, from Guyana as well as from this country can relate to. They can see themselves in it, whereas all the images in the other mural, were of AfroAmericans. . . . [My mural] is black. It’s universal. It’s symbolic. In the mural I use symbols to project the future and the past. . . . The (new) mural calls for concentration. . . . People have a habit of getting offended when they approach art and don’t understand it immediately. You can’t approach it that way. You’ve got to come with an open heart.13
In the late summer of 1973, Phillips moved to Washington, D.C., to join the faculty of Howard University’s art department, which became an incubator of the Black Arts Movement. In addition to maintaining his artistic production, Phillips taught a course in social painting (a precursor to today’s public art course) and contributed to the department’s mural program.10 In the spring of 1974, he completed his 60-foot mural entitled Memoirs of the Homeland, which was affixed to Cramton Auditorium on Howard University’s campus. In the mural, a raised arm and fist holding a horizontal spear lead to an interconnected, superimposed series of abstract curvilinear bands united by geometric and biomorphic
leaders. I think the community had a respect for Howard because the mural projected what Howard is all about—producing Black leaders.”12 The mural debate was covered by both campus newspapers as well as the Washington Post. Phillips offered this response, which situates his art practice and style firmly in the Pan-Africanist expression of the Black Arts Movement:
Pharaoh’s Journey, 1972, acrylic on paper, 41 x 29 inches On loan from the William C. Robinson Family Collection
The Washington Post coverage included photographs of both Wade’s and Phillips’s murals. Alongside student responses, the newspaper recorded the tension around the appropriateness of style for effective black art. Abstraction and figurative traditions were understood to be oppositional modes of visual expression. Memoirs of the Homeland is an important site of engagement where Phillips advanced an African diasporic abstract style that reflected universality of Pan-Africanist ideologies.
In 1977, Phillips completed his Nummo series, a series of eight compositions he had begun in Brooklyn in 1973. The artist researched Dogon sculpture from Mali, such as the Seated Couple figure that represents duality and primordial creation in Dogon cosmology. These sculptural forms communicated notions of balance, the regenerative cycles of life, and symbols of unity. Across these paintings, he translates the traditional three-dimensional aesthetics from African art objects like the Seated Couple with his dynamic design, playing on the tension between two- and three-dimensionality. The Nummo series employed Phillips’s signature curvilinear zigzag registers, which create rounded movement that references the cylindrical, geometric design associated with Dogon art. Phillips aimed to render the conceptual unity of Dogon Seated Couple imagery though his intertwined and overlapped patterns and projecting forms, as seen in Nummo #6. By this period, he had focused his painting process around an almost mantra-like cycle of rotation, reflection, and repetition. As he moves around the canvas, painting in a cyclical manner at times, Phillips is concerned with breaking up white space by applying his schematic approach to color. Always listening to jazz as he works, Phillips has consistently used color, African symbology, and a pattern-all-over aesthetic to deconstruct white oppressive power structures and the modernist preference for a flat painterly space. At Howard University, Phillips established lifelong friendships with fellow painters on the faculty, including Alfred J. Smith Jr. and Skunder Boghossian. After meeting Smith in 1973, the two painters bonded over their interest in visualizing rhythm. In an effort to move beyond the strictures of Western aesthetics such as chiaroscuro and perspective systems, both Phillips and Smith explored the Kongo concept of veti dikita during the 1970s. Phillips cited Maude S. Wahlman’s definition of the term—“a talented expression of sound and vision”—affirming that “the mind plays the pattern strongly.”14 Phillips experimented with veti dikita as a means of developing his mastery of reversible figure-ground relationship, which allows the viewer to see multiple forms in a composition based on value and tonal contrast. Phillips stated, “I use reversible figure-ground relationship, which occurs when the amount of positive and negative are so intertwined that it becomes impossible to distinguish one from another—a very musical concept.”
In September and October of 1974, Phillips and Smith were among five Howard University artists included in the exhibition Directions in AfroAmerican Art, mounted at Cornell University’s Herbert F. Johnson Museum.15 That same year, Phillips officially joined the Black Arts Movement collective AfriCOBRA.
Between 1976 and 1979, Phillips completed two murals in Baltimore, Maryland: Aggression II for the Baltimore Arts Commissions and Duke Ellington Mural for Duke Ellington Primary School. With these murals, Phillips extended his sites of engagement and advanced the public art objectives of the Black Arts Movement. In addition to working with the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities and as a mural consultant at the National Museum of African Art, Phillips served as artist-in-residence at Wilson Senior High School in northwest Washington, D.C., in 1976.
The 1980s: Moving West and Looking East In the spring of 1980, Phillips received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to study with Buddhist mandala painter Josaku Maeda in Tokyo, Japan. Phillips observed Maeda’s incorporation of chromatic aspects of Tibetan Buddhist aesthetics alongside Japanese Buddhist mandala design. Maeda also encouraged Phillips to consider the similarities between Buddhist mandalas and African cosmograms. In the fall of 1983, Phillips began a two-year visiting lecturer appointment and served as artist-in-residence at University of California, Berkeley. He participated in faculty exhibitions as well as the Color Black group show mounted at Berkeley Arts Center.
Drum Thing (No Blues for Elvin), 1995, acrylic on paper, 60 x 22 inches. On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
During the second half of 1986, Phillips secured a public art commission from the California Art in Public Spaces program. He returned to the theme of John Coltrane in a Caltrain commuter rail station mural entitled Freedom “Trane.” In 1987, Phillips began working as artist-in-residence for the California criminal justice system. He spent 1987 working in San Bruno County Jail and 1988 to 1989 working in San Francisco County Jail. Phillips held classes for nonviolent offenders in a low-security environment in which they designed studies and painted murals. Although the inmates selected the imagery, Phillips advised his art students on execution and style. His brief time in this setting advanced his activism in promoting cultural consciousness across all sectors of the black community. He continued to paint images that used chromatic value to both conceal and emphasize his translation of African idioms in visual mediation, such as Stop the Violence (1987). In 1990, the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California, mounted a survey of his paintings.
The 1990s: Activating the Aesthetic Phillips continued to advance Black Arts Movement ideology in two paintings dedicated to Black Nationalist icons and institutions. He reworked a 1985 five-panel painting entitled Kawaida into his homage to Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton. Scaling the composition down to three panels, Phillips used his signature style to contemplate Newton’s legacy after his death in Positive Aspects of Huey Newton (1990–91). On the exterior panels, the painter vertically presents a series of symbols including Adinkra symbols, rifles, and a pair of Janus heads in the lower registers. Above and beneath his central cosmogram, the painter placed additional rifles and machetes as a reference to Newton’s leadership in the public demonstration of Black Panthers asserting their right to bear arms. The dominant use of red in the side panels contrasts with the Kuba pattern grid that comprises the background of the central panel. In Mojo for Uhuru (1990–91), Phillips commemorates the contributions of the Black Nationalist organization Uhuru. This painting reflects the artist’s experiments in allowing pattern to stretch the confines of the grid. Mojo for Uhuru was the cover illustration for the brochure that accompanied Phillips’s solo exhibition at Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1991. Edward Spriggs curated the show, which featured 24 paintings. In a brief essay in which Spriggs dubs Phillips “a master of the Afrocentric narrative,” the curator and executive director urges readers and viewers to excavate the symbols in Phillips’s dense compositions: Look in his work for the potent Ghanaian Adinkra symbols. They often lay subtle and cool beneath the hot breath of the Yoruba deity of thunder and lightning known as Shango. Look for the expectant embrace of the mystical snake Dambala wrapped around Egyptian hieroglyphs or tailing off into the language system from which the Haitian veve is derived. The content of his work can be read if you know the language of his cultural referents.16 During the summer of 1994, Phillips completed an 18-foot mural for the domestic terminal of the Philadelphia International Airport. Phillips assigned the title Gateways to the World to the triptych. In the exterior panels, the artist balances a saturated red
with dark blue hues. Graphic arrows, inspired by sacred Cuban script, point toward a square that contains the Kongo cosmogram associated with cyclical regeneration. Airplanes are superimposed over his signature zigzag pattern at the top of the outer panels. A flight tower is outlined in a less saturated tone of red. Below the central green and white cosmogram, a car and truck are rendered in profile. This commission stands out in his oeuvre as it represents a rare example of a work featuring sub-Saharan African symbols. The pamphlet that accompanied the public mural includes a photoAscension, 1994–95, acrylic on canvas, 67 x 74 inches graphic reproduction of the artwork and this caption: “The mural incorporates ancient and contemporary images from the Ndebele people of South Africa. “I USE REVERSIBLE FIGURE-GROUND By combining the Ndebele images with other motifs RELATIONSHIP, WHICH OCCURS WHEN from ancient cultures throughout the world . . . the THE AMOUNT OF POSITIVE AND artist hopes to communicate his own personal feeling that equality will lead to peace, progress NEGATIVE ARE SO INTERTWINED and prosperity.”17 In this case, Phillips’s art is cast as THAT IT BECOMES IMPOSSIBLE TO using African symbols to communicate the promise DISTINGUISH ONE FROM ANOTHER— of liberation and freedom. In the fall of 1994, Phillips accepted a job teaching painting in the art department of Hampton University in Virginia. During his time at Hampton, he studied the campus murals of Charles White and John Biggers. Phillips was profoundly affected by Biggers’s murals in the William R. and Norma B. Harvey Library. He views Biggers as a luminary and “safeguard” who sustained African idioms and values. Phillips would later tell art historian Tritobia Hayes Benjamin that Biggers embodied the aesthetic link between African American art and African traditions.18 Consequently, Phillips’s compositions grow more complex and intricate in design. Taking up the theme of ritual experiences and activities, his paintings Deification of Shango (1994), Drum Thing (No Blues for Elvin) (1995), and Ascension (1994–95) visualize a process affiliated with Yoruba ceremonies. Deification of Shango was later purchased by
A VERY MUSICAL CONCEPT.” —James Phillips
and exhibited in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's landmark exhibition Black New York Artists of the 20th Century: Selections from the Schomburg Center Collections. After a year at Hampton University, Phillips relocated to Baltimore, Maryland. That fall, Hampton welcomed Phillips back for a solo exhibition of his art, The Awesome Image: Old and New Visions by James Phillips, for which The Soul and Spirit of John Biggers served as the centerpiece. In 1997, Phillips’s painting Drum Thing (No Blues for Elvin) was included in the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibition Seeing Jazz: Artists and Writers on Jazz.
In 1996, Phillips entered the Master of Fine Arts program at Maryland Institute College of Arts on the basis of his professional record, accomplishments, and life work experience equating to the fine art and professional development of undergraduate study. Sankofa II is one of the central masterworks from his MFA thesis exhibition. In the upper half of the composition, the artist references the Yoruba deity Shango with the double axe and central Janus head mask. A highly abstracted, stylized rooster with two heads emphasizes the concept behind Sankofa II of engaging the past to move forward in the future. Phillips explained, “I used the rooster because it was the symbol for the Haitian struggle for independence, for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association, and for independence in Zimbabwe. In Ghanaian culture, the rooster is a symbol that conveys recognition of the roots of one’s greatness.” The Haitian veve (religious symbol) for the goddess Erzulie radiates through a golden orb in the lower half of the painting. Through the process of under-painting, Phillips controlled acrylic and spray paint to create his balance of straight and curvilinear lines. In 1999, Phillips was included in the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum art exhibition Locating the Spirit: Religion and Spirituality in African American Art as well as a two-man show featuring Phillips and fellow AfriCOBRA member Wadsworth Jarrell at New York’s Rush Gallery.
21st Century: Staying Power By the early 2000s, Phillips had settled in the Baltimore–Washington, D.C., area, reconnecting with Boghossian, Smith, and the local artist community of AfriCOBRA. During this decade, Phillips worked on three series: The Jitterbug Waltz, Lights on Other Satellites, and Spear Khuckers. In his Jitterbug Waltz series, Phillips focused on a minor motif in his oeuvre, the dancing figure. Across this series, Phillips examines historic points of migration and modes of dance of the African diaspora. Middle Passage/Black Cargo (2009) contains a network of outstretched dancing bodies placed in profile. Phillips’s signature chromatic balance of warm and cool hues is established in the blue reference to the Atlantic Ocean and spiritual pathway of divine spirits with the warm orange-red tones of the dancing forms. Other paintings in this series include Moonwalkin, Conflict and Double Consciousness, and Duck Walkin Chuck. The dancing aspect of the Jitterbug Waltz series thematically situates Phillips among 16
African American artists like William H. Johnson and Roy DeCarava, who visualized dancing practices. Since the 1970s, Phillips has consistently contributed to his Water Spirits series. This collection of paintings emerged out of his exploration of Mami Wata (Mother Water) iconography and evolved into a theme that Phillips has explored throughout his career. Water Spirits I (1983) exemplifies Phillips’s initial approach to the theme. The undulating lines in the upper and lower portions of the composition represent snakes, a symbol that connects the realms of the living and the dead. The painter used tinted areas to represent the spirit world and saturated colors to reference the living. The middle of this painting is dominated by ashè zigzags to communicate the flow of life energy between these two spaces. In his early Water Spirits paintings from the 1970s, Phillips included horn-playing musician figures. Phillips’s 21st-century Water Spirits paintings were painted on a range of supports and in various dimensions. In 2006, Phillips received a commission to paint a Water Spirits compoSankofa II, 1997–98, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 60 inches. Image from the collection sition for the U.S. embassy in of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture 19 Lomé, Togo. This composition features a network of serpents and zigzags alongside his stylized representawith a saxophone and raised fist, the central figure tion of Olukun, the water deity in Benin cosmology. representing Fela Kuti is flanked by overlapping The embassy also purchased Rainbows for Charles pairs of dancers rendered in profile. The painter also (c. 2006), a posthumous tribute to Phillips’s fellow executed an artwork in honor of Nigerian drummer artist and friend Charles Searles. Babatunde Olatunji, whom Phillips regarded as a fixture in the Black Arts Movement jazz scene, as a Phillips extended his visual tributes to the cultural part of his Spear Khuckers series. In Homage to Tunji, pioneers of the African diaspora. He commemorates Phillips magnified his zigzag pattern and replaced activist musician Fela Kuti in Fela (2006). Armed the dancers in Fela with Olatunji’s famous drums.
Phillips credits these men with imparting him with the commonalities and synergy behind exchanging art forms across the African diaspora. Across his subject matter, Phillips documents a notion of African American expression that recalls the contribution of art ancestors and elders to provide inspiration, encouragement, and affirmation for contemporary and future communities of African descent. Phillips also participated in the group exhibition Artists for Obama: Restoration of America, which invited artists to create an artwork around the politics or themes of newly elected president Barack Obama. Drama for Obama (2008) presents two singing figures in profile, projecting their voices upward toward the central mask. A mask floats above a lotus flower super-
imposed by a blue-tint ankh. As this art exhibition documents, the election of Barack Obama brought about a new wave of African American iconography that contemplates new inscriptions and meanings for African diasporic identities in African American art. In 2004 and 2008, James Phillips lost two art peers and AfriCOBRA brothers with the deaths of Jeff Donaldson and Murray DePillars. Phillips painted a tribute to Donaldson entitled Flowers for Jeff that exercised his mastery of color, pattern, and nonWestern symbology. This painting was included in the 2007 art exhibition Holding Our Own: The Collectors Club of Washington, D.C. at University of Maryland University College. In a Washington Post review of the exhibition, Michael O’Sullivan referred to Flowers for Jeff as a “tour de force.”20 Phillips also
completed a commemorative composition for DePillars, Homage to Murray, as an entry in his Spear Khuckers series. In 2010, Phillips’s early painting Aggression was featured in AfriCOBRA and the Chicago Black Arts Movement, one of the definitive exhibitions on AfriCOBRA. In 2012, the exhibition Rhythm-A-Ning: James Phillips, Charles Searles and Frank Smith at the Harvey B. Gannt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, featured the art of those three AfriCOBRA members. Phillips had two solo exhibitions in 2013: Revolution/Evolution at Capitol One Headquarters in McLean, Virginia, and James Phillips: The Shape of Things to Come at New Door Creative in Baltimore, Maryland.
Above: Water Spirits I, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 28 x 24 inches. On loan from Adger Cowans Right: Flowers for Jeff (detail). (See full image on p. 56.)
By 2015, Phillips had participated in 13 faculty exhibitions at Howard University. In the 45th Annual Faculty Exhibition in honor of the inauguration of Howard University’s 17th president, Wayne A. I. Fredrick, Phillips entered Zoomorphic Cycle (2014), Before Ferguson and Beyond: “Hold Your Fire—MEN Don’t Shoot Until You See The Whites of Their Eyes” (2015), and Black-on-Black Violence: “Shotgun, Shoot Him Before He Run Now” (2009). Phillips is always attentive to submitting his brand of protest painting, which urges viewers toward reflection and radical action.
Battle Shield for Blues People (for LeRoi Jones) 2016, acrylic on paper, 46 x 39 inches
In the early weeks of April 2016, Howard University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Black Arts Movement at the 27th Annual James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art. The events included the opening of the 46th Annual Faculty Exhibition, where Phillips had four entries on view. Two of the artworks included were Battle Shield for Blues People (for LeRoi Jones) (2016) and Something About My Mother (2015). These artworks demonstrate the artist’s interest in the shape of the painting support
and its relationship to space. In September 2016, Power is Knowledge, Knowledge is Power (2012) and Contemporary Focus/Black Lives Matter (2016) were included in the exhibition It Takes a Nation, which was held at the Katzen Arts Center at American University Museum.
Conclusion James Phillips is a master painter who experienced a seminal moment in his career when he celebrated the premiere of his painting Sankofa II (1997–98) in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016. I accompanied him and his wife on this occasion, and the experience offers further insight into the artist. After pointing out art by Sam Gilliam and AfriCOBRA artists Adger Cowans and Nelson Stevens, Phillips anxiously approached his painting, stopping a few feet before the artwork. As he moved a few steps closer, he crossed his arms and proceeded to inspect the canvas. When I inquired what he was looking for, he responded, “I’m just making sure I got my lines right.” Even with an artwork almost 20 years old, the artist maintains an eye for precision in his design sensibility. As we walked through the gallery, there seemed to be a sense that Phillips had made a place for himself at the table of African American master artists. From their display in the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the paintings of James Phillips have been instrumental in documenting the African impulse in African American creative production. In our interviews, Phillips insisted, “There is a method to my madness!” And he is correct. His art will stand as a testament to highly structured explorations into African ancestral legacies, mediated by the improvisational expressions of jazz. Phillips continues to pursue Coltrane’s musical objective in his art: “to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe.”21 As his paintings evidence, James Phillips adapts this objective to his interests and the needs of the black community by using African-derived symbology as a means of cultural empowerment, education, and social protest. ▼
Contemporary Focus/Black Lives Matter, Adinkra Head series, 2016, acrylic on found object, 11 x 4½ x 6 inches
Acknowledgements This essay was the result of access to resources from archival collections as well as scholarly exchanges with artists and scholars of art of the African diaspora. The interest in tracing Phillips’s sources for African art during the 1960s and 1970s stems from Tobias Woffard’s 2016 Smithsonian American Art Fellows lecture entitled “Ritual and Spiritual Potency: A Turn to African Aesthetics in African American Art.” I am also grateful to Woffard for subsequent brief discussion on the subject. A special note of gratitude must be extended to the Howard University Gallery of Art staff members, including Scott Baker, for retrieving documentation of Phillips’s Howard University exhibitions. I appreciate their time and effort in assisting in the retrieval of these powerful African American art histories.
Notes 1 Initial research was conducted from a set of artist lectures delivered in undergraduate courses at Howard University in 2014 and 2015. The author conducted a series of interviews with the artist at his Baltimore, Maryland, home in July and August 2016. One final important source was a draft of Shellie G. Phillips’s graduate research completed while at Howard University. This preliminary research establishes a chronological and contextual framework for James Phillips’s practice. A copy of this document, in addition to a range of primary sources, was provided to the author by the artist. Unless otherwise cited, the information from this essay was conveyed by the artist in the four-part interview. 2
Lisa Farrington, African American Art: A Visual and Cultural History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 260. Irene N. Zieget, History of the Samuel S. Fleischer Art Memorial: The Sanctuary, The Art School: 1886–1954 (Philadelphia: The Memorial, 1954). Farrington notes that the Fleisher Art Memorial was acknowledged for offering art education to all, including socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
James Phillips was a classmate of Alfred Pollitt’s younger brother Harry. After studying in New York for a year, Harry Pollitt returned to Philadelphia, sharing with Phillips his rich experience with New York’s jazz scene. This influenced the artist’s decision to move to New York in 1965.
The artist also cited Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1961), which featured Jackson Pollock’s The White Light (1954), as an example of how popular modernist styles such as abstract expressionism were used on album covers.
James Phillips discusses a senior project mural with his students at Howard University
The artist uses a quilter’s ruler to draft his design onto the canvas. Phillips’s floor-painting approach would be confirmed during his study of Tibetan mandala painting in Japan during the early 1980s.
Susan Cahan, Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 29.
Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African and AfroAmerican Art and Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1983), 5–6.
Scott W. Baker, “From Freedmen to Fine Arts,” in A Proud Continuum: Eight Decades of Art at Howard University, ed. Carolyn E. Shuttlesworth (Howard University Gallery of Art, 2005), 13. The mural program was founded by Hughie-Lee Smith, who was at Howard University in the late 1950s as artist-in-residence.
James Phillips, interview with the author, July 28, 2016, digital recording.
Hodari Ali, “Surprise Mural Waits at Howard U.,” Washington Post, August 14, 1975, D.C., 2. Ali offered this description for Wade’s mural: “It graphically portrayed noted African American figures such as Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, ‘underground railroad’ conductor Harriet Tubman, and a symbolic black man in chains.”
Terry Gips, Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection (San Francisco: Pomegranate, 1998), 130. David Driskell would go on to purchase The Dealer for his personal collection in the early 1970s. It would also be included in the 1998 exhibition Narratives of African American Art and Identity at University of Maryland, College Park. This exhibition placed Phillips among the masters of African American art. This show travelled to Colby College Museum of Art (Waterville, Maine), the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (California), High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia) and the Newark Museum (New Jersey).
Mike Alexander, “Mural Change Meeting with Disappointment,” unidentified Howard University campus newspaper (possibly The Hilltop), c. 1973, from the collection of James H. Phillips.
Ali, “Surprise Mural Waits,” 1–2.
Maude Wahlman, Signs and Symbols: African Images in African-American Quilts (New York: Studio Books in association with Museum of American Folk Art, 1993), 36.
The Howard University faculty members included exhibition consultants Lois Mailou Jones and Jeff Donaldson as well as Smith, Phillips, and Wadsworth Jarrell. Jarrell was an assistant professor teaching photography at Howard during the early 1970s.
Edward Spriggs, “James Phillips: A Master of the Afrocentric Narrative,” in James Phillips: AfriCobra Abstractionist pamphlet, December 1991, collection of the artist.
Public Art, Philadelphia Airport Public Art Brochure, 1994, collection of the artist. 18
Tritobia Hayes Benjamin, “Old and New Visions: The Awesome Imagery of James Phillips,” in The Awesome Image: Old and New Visions by James Phillips (Hampton, VA: Hampton University Museum, 1995), 14.
“James Phillips,” U.S. Department of State Arts in Embassies, accessed September 17, 2016, http://art.state.gov/artistdetail. aspx?id=104216.
Michael O’Sullivan, “Collectors Holding Their Own—and More,” Washington Post, December 15, 2006, http://www.washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/14/AR2006121400511.html (accessed September 10, 2016).
Don DeMichael, “John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy Answer the Jazz Critics,” DownBeat, April 12, 1962, 16. Carl Woideck, ed., The John Coltrane Companion: Five Decades of Commentary (London: Prentice Hall International, 1998), 114.
Cosmic Connection (pentaptych) 1971, acrylic on canvas 96 x 212 inches
is a political and cultural
expression of the artist who created it, which is then validated by its viewers. My job as an artist is to create art that is reflective of the black aesthetics that echo black identity as articulated by Alain Locke and the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
Cosmic Connection (pentaptych) 1971, acrylic on canvas 96 x 212 inches
Homage to Murray (DePillars), 2010, acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Drum Thing (No Blues for Elvin), 1995, acrylic on paper, 60 x 22 inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
JuJu for Michael, 1987–92, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 37½ inches On loan from Michael D. Harris
Ascension, 1994â€“95, acrylic on canvas, 67 x 74 inches
Zoomorphic Cycle II, 2014 acrylic on paper, 28 x 28 inches
Blind Willie: Homage to Sonny Sharrock, 1990â€“2002, acrylic on paper, 29 x 21Â˝ inches
Self-Awareness, 1970â€“71, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
Impressions, 1965, acrylic on board, 30 x 14Â˝ inches
Sunrise, Sunset, 1999, acrylic on paper, 58 x 21Â˝ inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Celestial Couple, 2003, acrylic on paper, 30 x 20 inches
Water Spirits, 2008, acrylic on paper, 40 x 32 inches UMUC Arts Program, Maryland Artist Collection
Water Spirits Revisited, 2010, acrylic on paper, 40 x 32 inches
Water Spirits I, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 28 x 24 inches On loan from Adger Cowans
Water Spirits II, 1983, acrylic on canvas, 31 x 24 inches On loan from Adger Cowans
Water Spirit: The Study, 2006, acrylic on paper, 22 x 16 inches
Reincarnation of DC, 2005 acrylic on paper, 29 x 29 inches
Message to the Dogz, 2002, acrylic on paper, 59 x 21Â˝ inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Before Ferguson and Beyond: “Hold Your Fire—MEN—Don’t Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes” 2015, acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Pharaohâ€™s Journey, 1972, acrylic on paper, 41 x 29 inches On loan from the William C. Robinson Family Collection
Mystical Unity (triptych), 1972, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 138 inches On loan from Howard University
Freestylin on Kongo Square (study) 2013, acrylic on paper, 32 x 32 inches
African Impressions, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 95 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University
Nummo #6, 1976, acrylic on canvas, 96 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University
Contemporary Focus/Black Lives Matter, Adinkra Head series, 2016, acrylic on found object, 11 x 4Â˝ x 6 inches
Down Beat, Jitterbug Waltz series, 2012, acrylic on paper, 31 x 22 inches
Upbeat, Jitterbug Waltz series, 2012, acrylic on paper, 30 x 20 inches
CT, Jitterbug Waltz series, 2009, acrylic on paper, 30 x 40 inches
Phoenix Rising, Jitterbug Waltz series, 2009, acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Middle Passage/Black Cargo, Jitterbug Waltz series, 2009, acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Boomerang II, 2014 acrylic on board 34 x 29 inches
Boomerang I, 2012 acrylic on board 35 x 28 inches
The Other John III, 2014, paper collage, 31 x 23 inches
Flowers for Jeff, 2005, acrylic on canvas, 77 x 49 inches
Water Bearer, 2008, acrylic on paper, 40 x 15 inches
Power is Knowledge, Knowledge is Power 2012, acrylic on paper, 31 x 31 inches
Black-on-Black Violence: “Shotgun, Shoot Him Before He Run Now” 2009, acrylic on paper, 40 x 30 inches
Something About Valerie Maynard (front), 1998, acrylic on metal, 32 x 64 x 28Â˝ inches On loan from Valerie Maynard
Something About Valerie Maynard (back)
Lights on Another Satellite Lights on Another Satellite series 2014, acrylic on paper, 34 x 34 inches
One Up, One Down for Brother Carl, 2005, acrylic on paper, 33½ x 21½ inches
Untitled, no date, acrylic on paper, 28 x 20 inches
Cutting Edge: Somali Buccaneers (diptych), 2009â€“10 acrylic on wood, 26 x 15 inches, 22 x 14 inches
Veve, 1998, mixed media on paper, 29 x 43 inches
Prelude to a Kiss, 2014, acrylic on bark cloth, 52 x 22 inches Collection of Dr. Alonzo and Mrs. Susan Williams, Courtesy of Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas
Battle Shield for Blues People (for LeRoi Jones) 2016, acrylic on paper, 46 x 39 inches
Race Card, 2016, acrylic on paper, 46 x 39 inches
EXHIBITION LIST African Impressions 1978, acrylic on canvas 95 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University Ascension 1994–95, acrylic on canvas 67 x 74 inches Battle Shield for Blues People (for LeRoi Jones) 2016, acrylic on paper 46 x 39 inches Before Ferguson and Beyond: “Hold Your Fire—MEN—Don’t Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes” 2015, acrylic on paper 40 x 30 inches Black-on-Black Violence: “Shotgun, Shoot Him Before He Run Now” 2009, acrylic on paper 40 x 30 inches Blind Willie: Homage to Sonny Sharrock 1990–2002, acrylic on paper 29 x 21½ inches
Boomerang I 2012, acrylic on board 35 x 28 inches Boomerang II 2014, acrylic on board 34 x 29 inches Celestial Couple 2003, acrylic on paper 30 x 20 inches Contemporary Focus/Black Lives Matter Adinkra Head series 2016, acrylic on found object 11 x 4½ x 6 inches Cosmic Connection (pentaptych) 1971, acrylic on canvas 96 x 212 inches CT Jitterbug Waltz series 2009, acrylic on paper 30 x 40 inches Cutting Edge: Somali Buccaneers (diptych) 2009–10, acrylic on wood 26 x 15 inches, 22 x 14 inches Down Beat Jitterbug Waltz series 2012, acrylic on paper 31 x 22 inches Drum Thing (No Blues for Elvin) 1995, acrylic on paper 60 x 22 inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Flowers for Jeff 2005, acrylic on canvas 77 x 49 inches Freestylin on Kongo Square (study) 2013, acrylic on paper 32 x 32 inches
Homage to Murray (DePillars) 2010, acrylic on paper 40 x 30 inches Impressions 1965, acrylic on board 30 x 14½ inches JuJu for Michael 1987–92, acrylic on canvas 72 x 37½ inches On loan from Michael D. Harris Lights on Another Satellite Lights on Another Satellite series 2014, acrylic on paper 34 x 34 inches Message to the Dogz 2002, acrylic on paper 59 x 21½ inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
Phoenix Rising Jitterbug Waltz series 2009, acrylic on paper 40 x 30 inches
Upbeat Jitterbug Waltz series 2012, acrylic on paper 30 x 20 inches
Power is Knowledge, Knowledge is Power 2012, acrylic on paper 31 x 31 inches
Veve 1998, mixed media on paper 29 x 43 inches
Prelude to a Kiss 2014, acrylic on bark cloth 52 x 22 inches Collection of Dr. Alonzo and Mrs. Susan Williams Courtesy of Hearne Fine Art, Little Rock, Arkansas
Water Bearer 2008, acrylic on paper 40 x 15 inches
Race Card 2016, acrylic on paper 46 x 39 inches Reincarnation of DC 2005, acrylic on paper 29 x 29 inches
Middle Passage/Black Cargo Jitterbug Waltz series 2009, acrylic on paper 40 x 30 inches
Self-Awareness 1970–71, acrylic on canvas 48 x 36 inches
Mystical Unity (triptych) 1972, acrylic on canvas 96 x 138 inches On loan from Howard University
Something About Valerie Maynard 1998, acrylic on metal 32 x 64 x 28½ inches On loan from Valerie Maynard
Nummo #6 1976, acrylic on canvas 96 x 48 inches On loan from Howard University
Sunrise, Sunset 1999, acrylic on paper 58 x 21½ inches On loan from DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities
One Up, One Down for Brother Carl 2005, acrylic on paper 33½ x 21½ inches Pharaoh’s Journey 1972, acrylic on paper 41 x 29 inches On loan from the William C. Robinson Family Collection
Water Spirits 2008, acrylic on paper 40 x 32 inches UMUC Arts Program, Maryland Artist Collection Water Spirits I 1983, acrylic on canvas 28 x 24 inches On loan from Adger Cowans Water Spirits II 1983, acrylic on canvas 31 x 24 inches On loan from Adger Cowans Water Spirits Revisited 2010, acrylic on paper 40 x 32 inches Water Spirit: The Study 2006, acrylic on paper 22 x 16 inches Zoomorphic Cycle II 2014, acrylic on paper 28 x 28 inches
The Other John III 2014, paper collage 31 x 23 inches Untitled no date, acrylic on paper 28 x 20 inches
UMUC ART ADVISORY BOARD Javier Miyares President University of Maryland University College Anne V. Maher, Esq., Chair Attorney at Law Kleinfeld, Kaplan & Becker, LLP Eva J. Allen, PhD, Honorary Member Art Historian Myrtis Bedolla, Vice Chair Owner and Founding Director Galerie Myrtis Joan Bevelaqua Artist, Art Faculty University of Maryland University College Schroeder Cherry, EdD Artist, Adjunct Professor of Museum Studies Morgan State University I-Ling Chow, Honorary Member Regional President and Managing Director, Ret. Asia Bank, N.A. Nina C. Dwyer Artist, Adjunct Professor of Art Montgomery College
Pamela G. Holt Consultant Public Affairs and Cultural Policy Administration Eric Key Director, Arts Program University of Maryland University College Thomas Li, Honorary Member Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Ret. Biotech Research Labs, Inc. David Maril, Honorary Member Journalist President, Herman Maril Foundation Terrie S. Rouse Executive Director, Georgetown Heritage, and President, Rouse Consulting Christopher Shields Director, NASDAQ.com Business Operations Barbara Stephanic, PhD, Honorary Member Professor Emerita of Art History College of Southern Maryland Dianne A. Whitfield-Locke, DDS Collector and Patron of the Arts Owner, Dianne Whitfield-Locke Dentistry
Karin Goldstein, Honorary Member Collector and Patron of the Arts
Sharon Wolpoff Artist and Owner Wolpoff Studios
Juanita Boyd Hardy, Honorary Member Executive Director CulturalDC
Elizabeth Zoltan, PhD Senior Director, School Support Connections Education
Sharon Smith Holston, Honorary Member Artistâ€™s Representative and Co-Owner Holston Originals
UMUC BOARD OF VISITORS Mark J. Gerencser, Chair Chairman of the Board CyberSpa, LLC Evelyn J. Bata, PhD Collegiate Professor University of Maryland University College Richard F. Blewitt, Member Emeritus Managing Partner, R&B Associates, and President, The Blewitt Foundation Joseph V. Bowen Jr. Senior Vice President, Operations, and Managing Principal, Ret. McKissack & McKissack David W. Bower Sr. Chief Executive Officer Data Computer Corporation of America Karl R. Gumtow Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer CyberPoint International, LLC Anne V. Maher, Esq. Attorney at Law Kleinfeld, Kaplan & Becker, LLP Lt. Gen. Emmett Paige Jr., U.S. Army, Ret. Vice President of Operations, Ret. Department of Defense/Intelligence Services Lockheed Martin Information Technology Sharon R. Pinder President and Chief Executive Officer Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council Brig. Gen. Velma L. Richardson, U.S. Army, Ret. President, VLR Consulting William T. (Bill) Wood, JD Founder Wood Law Offices, LLC Joyce M. Wright Senior Consultant Fitzgerald Consulting
ABOUT UMUC Serving Busy Professionals Worldwide
UMUC ARTS PROGRAM MISSION STATEMENT
University of Maryland University College (UMUC) specializes in high-quality academic programs that are convenient for busy professionals. Our programs are specifically tailored to fit into the demanding lives of those who wish to pursue a respected degree that can advance them personally and grow their careers. UMUC has earned a worldwide reputation for excellence as a comprehensive virtual university and, through a combination of classroom and distance-learning formats, provides educational opportunities to more than 80,000 students. The university is proud to offer a distinguished faculty of scholar-practitioners and world-class student services to educate students online, throughout Maryland, across the United States, and in 20 countries and territories around the world. UMUC serves its students through undergraduate and graduate programs and career counseling. For more information regarding UMUC and its programs, visit www.umuc.edu.
The Arts Program seeks to promote the university’s core values and to provide educational opportunities for lifelong learning. From the research and study of works of art to the teaching applications of each of our exhibitions, the Arts Program will play an increasing role in academic life at the university. With a regional and national focus, the Arts Program is dedicated to the acquisition, preservation, study, exhibition, and interpretation of works of art of the highest quality in a variety of media that represent its constituents and to continuing its historic dedication to Maryland and Asian art.
ABOUT THE ARTS PROGRAM AT UMUC Since 1978, UMUC has proudly shown works from a large collection of international and Maryland artists at its headquarters in Adelphi, Maryland, a few miles from the nation’s capital. Through its Arts Program, the university provides a prestigious and wideranging forum for emerging and established artists and brings art to the community through special exhibitions and its own collections, which have grown to include more than 2,800 pieces of art. Artworks are on display throughout the College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center at UMUC and the Administration Building in Adelphi as well as at the UMUC Academic Center at Largo. The main, lower-level gallery in Adelphi is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, and the Leroy Merritt Center for the Art of Joseph Sheppard is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. More than 75,000 students, scholars, and visitors come to the Adelphi facilities each year. Exhibitions at the UMUC Academic Center at Largo are open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The Arts Program at UMUC creates an environment in which its diverse constituents, including members of the university community and the general public, can study and learn about art by directly experiencing it.
CONTRIBUTORS Director, Arts Program: Eric Key Curators: Eric Key, Jon West-Bey Editors: Sandy Bernstein, Beth Butler, Nancy Kochuk, Barbara Reed Director, Institutional Projects: Cynthia Friedman Designer: Jennifer Norris Project Manager: Laurie Bushkoff Production Manager: Scott Eury Fine Arts Technician: René A. Sanjines Artwork photography by John Woo unless noted otherwise
Funding for this project was provided by the Wolpoff Family Foundation; Maryland State Arts Council; Friends of the Arts Program; and Eva J. Allen, PhD, and Nicholas H. Allen, DPA.
Mystical Unity (triptych) 1972, acrylic on canvas 96 x 138 inches On loan from Howard University TITLE PAGE ARTWORK:
Power is Knowledge, Knowledge is Power 2012, acrylic on paper, 31 x 31 inches