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  Eugene James Martin

Favorite Blues

September 5 - October 31, 2014

Black artists may have been marginalized, but one can no longer dismiss them as outsiders. They have been as central to Abstract Expressionism as Norman Lewis or Charles Alston and as central to the shaped canvas of the 1960s as Al Loving or Sam Gilliam. They have been as central to the space between abstraction and representation as Hale Woodruff or Beauford Delaney. They have been as central to the full recognition of women artists as Howardena Pindell or Alma Thomas, and they are central to art today.

The distinction takes on special urgency for a black Southern artist only now gaining his due, Eugene James Martin. Martin almost fits the fashion for outsider art, and if that will help others discover him, terrific. Yet nothing is half as naïve as it may seem. Born in 1938, Martin studied at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., and his work makes plain his knowledge of Cubism, including its spatial density and collage technique. Yet he also knew the bolder colors and outlines of postwar American art. His drawings, in overlapping curves of graphite or pen and ink, treat black and sepia as the rich colors they are for him as well. He started out playing jazz, and one could call that a key influence, too. He worked quickly in both acrylic and collage, like a born improviser bouncing off others in a band. Martin sometimes described his art as “satirical abstracts,” knowing full well that it is not at anyone’s expense. Yet the label does get at the seriousness, the comedy, and the eclecticism. For him, art cannot leave personal experience behind. That may be why a figure keeps making an appearance in Martin’s work, even at its most abstract, and to judge by early titles like Detective Jones or Food and Drugs, he could be on either side of the law. He could be wielding what looks like a hammer, in another work from 2000, before deciding whether abstraction can survive the blows.

Now that abstraction is back, big time, but often touched by representation, Martin’s questioning is newly relevant. Like many younger artists, he might have leaped straight from the clarity of an earlier Modernism to American Pop Art and the graphic novel, while some of those floating fields of color do have a parallel in Hans Hoffman. One can see him putting abstraction through its paces, but with plenty of interruptions along the way. Paintings from the 1990s, just before and after Martin moved to Louisiana, have a newfound energy, but also a greater simplicity. Their ground now looks like a grid, although a line of one color might leap across a rectangle, over a brushier green, to land on the other side. In his last years, before his death in 2005, his art becomes sparer, purer, and also less regular. Its subject might be a single descending brushstroke, but then Martin’s real subject was painting all along. And painting here begins and ends with abstraction.

Black Southern art can hardly avoid questions of identity in those enigmatic figures and the space in which they live, and Martin’s color contrasts resemble those of Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Yet that just adds to the ongoing riddle of whether one can distinguish an African American abstraction—and how. One might look for answers starting here.

Eugene James Martin (Washington, DC, 1938 - Lafayette, LA, 2005) is known for his often gently humorous works that may incorporate whimsical allusions to animal, machine and structural imagery among areas of “pure”, constructed, biomorphic, or disciplined lyrical abstraction. Martin called many of his works straddling both abstraction and representation “satirical abstracts”. His work is included in numerous Museum collections, including the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GA; the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans, LA; the Alexandria Museum of Art, Alexandria, LA; the Stowitts Museum and Library, Pacific Grove, California; the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, NY; the Paul R. Jones Collection of African American Art, University of Delaware, Newark, DE; the Mobile Museum of Art, Mobile, AL; the Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, NE; the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, Biloxi, MS; the Masur Museum of Art, Monroe, LA; the Louisiana State University Museum of Art, Baton Rouge, LA; the Walter O. Evans Collection of African American Art, Savannah, GA; and the Munich Museum of Modern Art in Munich, Germany.

Susana Solano


Sonja Rieger

Queen on the Nile

Jacques Charlier

Le Génie du Mal (installed 1848) or The Genius of Evil (shown on left), known informally in English as Lucifer or The Lucifer of Liège, is a white marble sculpture by Belgian artist Guillaume Geefs (1805-1883). Art historians mostly refer to the figure as the ange déchu, the fallen angel. It is located within the elaborate pulpit (French chaire de vérité, "seat of truth") of St. Paul's Cathedral, in Liège, Belgium, and depicts a classically beautiful man in his physical prime, chained, seated, and nearly nude but for drapery gathered over his thighs, his full length ensconced within a mandorla of bat wings. Geefs' work replaces an earlier sculpture, L'Ange du Mal (shown hereunder) created for the space by his younger brother Joseph Geefs (1808-1885), which was removed from the cathedral because of its distracting allure and being judged as "too sublime" by the clergy.

In 1986, the Belgian artist Jacques Charlier made Le génie du mal a focal point of his installation Himmelsweg ("The Road to Paradise"),  an art installation by the Liège-born artist Jacques Charlier on the theme of seductive evil and the danger of obscuring the memory of the Holocaust.

A framed photograph of the sculpture hangs over a slender pedestal table draped with a black cloth. On the table's top a display case contains three books: a Carmelite study on the subject of Satan, a scientific treatise on air, and the Memorial of Belgian Jews killed at Auschwitz. On the lower shelf of the table are metal chains and shackles.

It is not insignificant that Charlier would place a Carmelite study among the three books on the table, as this work was created during the controversy known as the Auschwitz Cross (1984-1993) - the installation of a congregation of Carmelites on the grounds of the extermination camp, the starting point of a serious crisis that quickly transcended the religious conflict to embed itself within the very fabric of Polish and world history.

Charlier has described his use of Le génie du mal as "a Romantic image that speaks to us of seduction, evil, and the sin of forgetting."

The German title of the work, Himmelsweg, refers to the Nazi euphemism for the access ramp that led to the gas chambers: "The Road to Paradise leads to Hell; the Fall is so close to redemption."

Appropriation of memory, instrumentalisation of images, “Auschwitz”, in the words of Annette Wieviorka, “has increasingly become disconnected from the history it produced”. Some realize that the saturation of memory threatens the very effectiveness of memory, and that it is difficult to know what it takes to desaturate memory by something other than forgetting. How then shall memory be reinvented, a working memory, a memory that is not a mere result, knowing that forgetting causes the eternally repeated fall.

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Mark Flood

new work


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Clayton Colvin

new work


Irene Grau

an exhibition
in collaboration with
Madrid, Spain


I paint in order to seek a space, and in this process the painting is integrated into structures simply to show the colour -colour, nothing else-. But that colour always extends over a surface, which no longer has to be flat, and 'that' which happens between the colour and the surface is what for me takes on an essential relevance. That halo that seems to go beyond the support and project itself over some other place.

I am sure that is what painting is, and also that it is not anymore.

-- Irene Grau

Irene Grau (Valencia, 1986). Lives and works in Valencia.
" She develops her work from relationships between color and space. Focusing on minimal elements of painting as the plane, the color and the support, looking for connections with the environment from two-dimensional chromatic objects that finally are unfolded and projected beyond the surface. Her interest in the context in which the painting is experienced leads her to include architecture and landscape, not as background but as a field that activates the chromatic space. And painting is articulated from the void, from the vibrating space between the different surfaces of color. The permeability of large sheets of transparent color or monochrome stretcher is constituted as a characteristic element of some of her recent series. Her work has been presented in various exhibitions, national and international, highlighting: VOLTA10 with Ponce+Robles, “Los ojos de las Vacas” curated by David Barro at Galería Ponce+Robles, Madrid (2014) “Idolatria Va” Galeria Laura Marsiaj, Rio de Janeiro (2013), “In medias res” Palau Ducal dels Borja, Gandia (2013), “Mutatis mutandis” Galeria Moura Marsiaj, Sao Paulo (2012), “El paso del noroeste” Galería I Leonarte, Valencia (2012), “Irene Grau / Pierre Fischer / Katrin Zuzacova” Michele Balmelli
Gallery, Belinzona (2010) or “Grau / Roberston / Widmer” Gallery Ratus Casty, Davos (2009). "

image:   Series: Enamel on stretcher on landscape, 2014

image:   2,63m3 yellow
(Dyed paper, wood and iron. 2 x 1,22 x 1,10m., installation at the Ducal Palace of Gandia, Gandia, Spain, 2013)

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  gallery     2411 Second Avenue North     Birmingham, AL 35203