Savory Stew of Styles 

A new Broad Street gallery supports black artists in Virginia.

His current exhibit, “Core Visions: Influential and Emerging Black Artists in Virginia,” attempts to remedy racial inequities in Richmond’s art scene. Pollard has been able to draw on art-school connections — he went to the University of Virginia for undergraduate school and San Francisco Art Institute for his graduate degree — to make his eclectic shows happen. But the discrepancy between his audience and the demographic around his gallery bothered him. Since he started the gallery, many artists had dropped off slides hoping for the chance to exhibit their work, but none were black. And few of those who visited the gallery were black. Yet ADA stands at the edge of Jackson Ward, a predominantly African-American community. Pollard felt that mounting a black art show would be the neighborly thing to do. It didn’t matter to him that the gesture might be conceived of as token, or too intentionally politically correct.

“Core Visions” has been Pollard’s biggest curatorial challenge so far. New to the area and lacking name recognition, he depended on word of mouth to find black artists willing to participate. He discovered that they were, for the most part, separated from the mainstream art network in Virginia.

Pollard was surprised by how few black Richmond artists were interested in showing at area galleries. He did find Earle Taylor, Dennis Winston, Ana Edwards, Lyn Stevens and Jose Williams during his search, but many of the artists in “Core Visions” are Norfolk State, Old Dominion University and Hampton Institute art faculty and graduates living in Hampton Roads. Painter Ana Edwards says she suspects that’s because, as she puts it, “Art thrives where it is nurtured.” Black artists sit on those institutions’ faculty, and black students study there.

Edwards’ work of calligraphic ink-painting on wood panels doesn’t involve African-American themes. This, she says, may separate her even more from the mainstream. She thinks that black artists who aren’t making “black art” may not fit within galleries’ comfort zones because some curators are stymied if they can’t categorize art and its creators.

Pollard says that if he hadn’t cast the net to find the 21 artists of “Core Visions,” he might never have met such remarkable individuals as Jose Williams, a textile artist and printmaker originally from Chicago who’s researched slave history to represent it in his art. Two of Williams’ pieces at “Core Visions” replicate the six-and-a-half-foot-long canvas bags carried by cotton pickers in the fields. For “Henrietta Slave Ship,” Williams screen-printed silhouettes of the Henrietta Marie, a slave ship that sank off the coast of Florida in 1701, and images of iron shackles found on the ship. By contrasting factual and stark imagery with the soft and fluid bag form, Williams gives unsettling subject matter an approachable, tactile quality that soaks deep into the viewer’s consciousness.

When asked about exhibition opportunities, Williams said he prefers to participate in shows that aren’t race-based. Although he appreciates Pollard’s efforts to build bridges, he feels that black art shouldn’t have to be separated. Art is art, he says, no matter who makes it.

Another example is Steve Prince, an artist living in Hampton Roads, who contributed several drawings and linocuts that speak to contemporary African and African-American issues. Prince executes tumultuous, action-packed crowd scenes with an articulate drawing style that seems to borrow as much from comic books as classical painting. Overt moral messages run through his paintings.

With Edwards’ Zenlike brush work, Williams’ historically based textiles and Prince’s bold images on paper, “Core Visions” fills ADA with a lively mix of approaches and interests. As if inspired by the diversity, just moments before opening the gallery’s door for the opening reception, John Pollard decided to make gumbo to feed exhibiting artists who might have traveled far to get to Richmond.

In keeping with Pollard’s expressive fervor, he ended up serving 99 bowls to artists and visitors. As he surveyed the ADA crowd, exhibiting photographer Earle Taylor exclaimed, “This is gumbo! Look at all the races here!” S

“Core Visions: Influential and Emerging Black Artists in Virginia” is on display at the ADA Gallery, 228 W. Broad St., through Dec. 3. 644-0100.


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